Using Lasers To Shut Down Street Lights And Get Better Space Photos

Feb 20, 2015

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

Using Lasers To Shut Down Street Lights And Get Better Space Photos

Feb 20, 2015

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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One of the biggest obstacles of taking good astronomical photos is light pollution, this is why almost every tip article on night photos has a tip about getting away from the city. But what if you want to take photos in your driveway? In that case, street lights will most probably kill each and every one of your photos.

Astronaut Don Pettit (previously) has a neat little trick he uses to shut down that annoying street light he has just outside his driveway. He points a laser at the street light sensor which tricks the street light into thinking that it is still day outside and preserve energy by shutting down.

Don actually has a rig set up so all he has to do is turn the laser on to temporarily kill the street light, then he can take his photos and stop the laser to bring the light back on. Of course, this little trick may have the neighbors call the Ghost Busters to see if the poll outside their house is possessed.

Last tip from Don: don’t use a green laser, the day/night sensor is more sensitive to light in the red side of the spectrum so only red lasers work.

[Smarter Every Day And Space via reddit]

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Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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36 responses to “Using Lasers To Shut Down Street Lights And Get Better Space Photos”

  1. Franklin Castro Avatar
    Franklin Castro

    Sounds like it could be a little bit illegal, maybe!?

  2. Scott Campbell Avatar
    Scott Campbell

    Street lights are there for a reason – safety. Suggesting that a photographer do something that may imperil another’s safety is irresponsible and this post should be removed.

    1. mike Avatar

      Safety my ass. They are there to make things appear safer. Someone that is planning on doing a crime does not care if there are street lights or not.

      1. Scott Campbell Avatar
        Scott Campbell

        Crime is only one aspect of personal safety. Another is dealing with falls. I can tell you, from personal experience of running every morning, in the dark and in the cold, that when there are streetlights, there is less of a chance of slipping on ice than when there are no streetlights.

        Another is visiblity. I can also tell you from personal experience that people wearing dark clothes on the road at night are easier to see when there are streetlights than when there are no streetlights.

        As for crime, I am not an urban planner, but I suspect that streetlights actually do cut down on crime.

        Bottom line, even if you ignore all of that, when my tax dollars are paying for something, I do not want some yahoo disrupting it just so he can take a photo.

        1. Jim A. Avatar
          Jim A.

          Quick note, when the light’s off for that brief period during the interloper’s photographic activities, the streetlight isn’t consuming electricity, so it’s not costing you more. I get that you don’t like someone else exercising control without your consent, but you should be able to find room in your tightly controlled world for others to occasionally change things up a bit. Try to consider another point of view from time to time. You’ll make new friends! Humans have survived greater hardships than occasional lighting outages…

        2. cnnspy Avatar

          What are the odds that some fool is running around in the dark on cold days while wearing dark clothing to make sure drivers can’t see him? Not real good. Drug dealers still deal under street lights (though they are not very smart) but then if you see it, call the police. Lastly, you are not the only one paying tax dollars so they may temporarily turn it off if they don’t break it. You won’t notice it’s off for a minute or two. If you do, there is something wrong if you stand watch over a street light to make sure no one turns it off (control issues here).

        3. Steve Thomas Avatar
          Steve Thomas

          I have paid $6.95 a month for the past 20 years to pay the bill on the streetlight in front of my house. I’ll shut the damn thing off whenever I want and laugh when you trip in the street. Bunch of whiney pansies.

      2. Chris Avatar

        Im with Scott. if so much as a single streetlight goes out we MUST declare marshal law because the city is about to plunge into darkness that not even batman could save us from.
        This sort of action should be a criminal offence, and i suggest we put together swat task forces to prevent these kind of shenanigans from cloaking otherwise friendly neighborhoods into impending rape dens of criminal behavior.

        1. Robert Avatar

          I seem to recall somewhere in the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”. Heaven forbid you actually carry a flash light or head lamp and wear reflective clothing while you do you nocturnal jogging?

          Or let me guess you are one of those attending quorum court meetings to advocate for more street lights?

          There is such a thing as Light Pollution and we should all consider doing our part to not add to it.

  3. Frank Underwood Avatar
    Frank Underwood

    It’s not like one light being out for an hour is a death wish. Calm down, rethink what it’s like to have one light be in your shot vs the rest of the lights on the street. Also, headlights.

    1. mike Avatar

      I find it much easier to see at night when there is no streetlights. This preserves your night vision. A streetlight only shines on the spot directly underneath it, casting a huge shadow and blinding any one nearby. It makes this even harder to see.

    2. Scott Campbell Avatar
      Scott Campbell

      If it is only one light being turned off, then how does that help with the light pollution?

      1. d Avatar

        if it’s directly next to his house/in view of where he wants to set up his camera (least tree coverage, etc), the light it’s projecting, even if not directly in his view, will have a serious effect on long exposure shots. Moisture in the air, bugs flying through the shot while fully lit by the street lamp, anything that catches a tiny glint of light will end up slowly building up light in the photo.

        I’m finding it kind of funny how angry people are getting over the ‘safety’ of the light going out for a few minutes (do they think he’s killing the light completely?). there’s a lot of street lamps in my area, and any other, that are either badly set up or the power isn’t right to keep the bulb at full brightness, and will glow normally for a bit, then turn off for a short while as they cool off or build up a charge again. They come back on within a few minutes but that normal activity isn’t getting anybody upset over public safety, just superstitious. Most people semi-regularly catch a street lamp turning off like that, and think the light is burning out entirely, but unless there’s a bright pop of light as it dies, it’s just cycling itself.

  4. SamJS Avatar

    Bottom line, IS IT LEGAL? I’m guess if a law enforcment officer saw you shut off a street light on purpose, you’ll be spending time in jail, going to court and possibly paying a big fine and spending time in jail. It’s one thing to have a streetlight shut down by itself due to storms, power outages etc. and a totally different scenario when someone does it on purpose. I’m not going to be the one to check out the laws in this area.

    1. Steve Thomas Avatar
      Steve Thomas

      Please tell us what law would be broken that might entail jail time.

      1. SamJS Avatar

        If I KNEW a specific law that woud be broken by doing it, there would have been no need for me to ASK if it were legal or not, because I’d know the answer. Street lights are there for a purpose, which is to light up areas that might be hazardous if there isn’t any light. Pedestrian crossings, high crime areas for added security, and many more. They don’t just stick up street lights for the hell of it or to be obnoxious to citizens. I’ll go one better, I will send a copy of the proposed usage of lasers to shut down street lights, to the top legal authority in my state and see what their opinion is.

        1. Steve Thomas Avatar
          Steve Thomas

          You stated that “if a law enforcement officer saw you shut off a street light on purpose, you’ll be spending time in jail…”. I was merely asking what law do you “guess” was being broken. The streetlight in front of my house was installed by the electric company at my request 20 years ago. I make a payment for the light every month. Even though everyone in my neighborhood benefits from the light (I live on the corner at the entrance to the neighborhood, thus lighting the way for everyone entering and exiting) the electric company has told me that if I stop making this $7.00 a month payment they will turn the light off. So it seems I have the control over this particular light and would challenge any law that told me I can’t temporarily disable it or even stop paying the bill thus, apparently, endangering everyone within a mile radius of my house.

          1. SamJS Avatar

            You left out the first two words of that statement which says “I’m guess” and should have read “I’m Guessing!” I didn’t make a specific statement saying you WOULD spend time in jail, it was strictly my opinion of what I believed might happen.

            As far as ths treetlight at your house, if YOU are paying that fee per month it’s your light and you can do whatever you want. I’m more concerned with those of us who live in an urban area who use the laser to shut down public streetlights. If someone comes driving down the street,and streetlight is off because someone turned it off and a kid on a bicycle rides out into the street and gets hit, and there’s any suggestion he may have been visible if the light had been on and not hit by the car, I would absolutely believe whomever turned off that light would be in court if they may have contributed to the accident by turning off that light.

          2. Steve Thomas Avatar
            Steve Thomas

            I put the word “guess” in the second sentence, referring back to your “I’m guessing” statement. Look, we’re getting nowhere here and this has been fun but I’m busy working on a scheme to throw my whole neighborhood into darkness so joggers and old people will trip over dogs and potholes in the dark (because everyone knows joggers and old people love the dark) and break their ankles (theirs, not the dog’s) and hopefully enable nefarious people to commit crime sprees while said joggers and old people are in the emergency room being patched up. So, you win. I have no more time to devote to this topic. Hopefully the streetlight police don’t read this post and incarcerate me for life in a lighthouse.

          3. SamJS Avatar

            I’ll still share the response I get from the State Law Enforcement Agency I contacted, so at least I’ll know where my State stands on this. It’s likely not all States are going to have the same law, and it’s probably best everyone checks their own state/local laws before doing it and possibly get into trouble.

  5. Don Pierson Avatar
    Don Pierson

    Pointing a laser towards air space to get a better photo? I think I’ll pass especially since I live near 3 major airports :(

  6. doge Avatar

    Wow what a terrible idea.

    1. Mark Campbell Avatar
      Mark Campbell

      because you have the perfect idea

  7. David Saucedo Avatar
    David Saucedo

    not worth the risk for a picture

  8. Bob Markin Avatar
    Bob Markin

    With a little common sense, this is not much of an issue. If the safety of the world relies on the performance of one streetlight, it is either a tremendous streetlight or a rather unsafe world.

    Some cities have in the past browned out streetlights to save energy. If you have ever photographed from a rail right of way, private property without permission, stopped in a crosswalk to shoot a photo you probably broke a law or rule. Live on the edge.

    1. mike Avatar

      Older streetlights switch themselves off when they overheat. In the summer months you see the blinking on and off in the city. I find this super annoying because you never know when the thing is going to try to blind you. (newer ones tend not to run so hot)

    2. Scott Campbell Avatar
      Scott Campbell

      Yes, try living in a high density community with no lighting at night (read: Africa). You will see why initiatives such as solar lighting has such a huge impact on their quality of life, for many reasons.

      BTW, common sense once said that the world was flat, that the sun and stars revolved around the moon, and that you had to burn witches at the stake.

  9. Morgan Glassco Avatar
    Morgan Glassco

    How unsafe! I mean, obviously every generation that lived before street lights were simply crippled at night. All those poor communities that have decide to ban light pollution and street lights are just running around crashing into stuff at night because the lack of street lights.

  10. Christian Pulido Avatar
    Christian Pulido

    Roger Soria you should try this

  11. mike Avatar

    I wonder if an infrared laser would shut the light off as well. Then nobody would see the big line pointing back and the person doing it.

    Granted, my neighbors would probably be suspicious at the guy with the telescope in his backyard every time the light goes out. But from everyone I have talked to, nobody cares about the streetlight.

  12. Lyle Avatar

    Safety? Bah!

    Where I live, alternate streetlights cycle on and off constantly thoughout the night to conserve energy. Even in the backlanes only every other light is on at one time. Our crime rates are steadily dropping but I admit it may not be due to alternating streetlights.

    This is a good idea. If I understand it correctly it only turns off the light briefly.

  13. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    I’m jealous! This guy got to visit an astronaut at his home.
    One thing that I discovered around the mid 1980’s was that firing a flash (aka speedlite) will also turn off street lights. That was an accidental find when I used a flash to capture snow falling at night.
    Now, I don’t have to worry about street lights. I live out in the country without any subdivisions near me. Perhaps Don Petit should move out to the country; but Houston is a sprawling place and I imagine that would lengthen his commute.

  14. Wil Fry Avatar
    Wil Fry

    Interesting trick. Of course, it would only work on the lights with light-sensors — a lot of the ones where I’ve lived are older and on timers (you can tell they’re on timers when they activate at the same time of day throughout the year, as the seasons change, which seems incredibly wasteful).

    As for the safety issue, it’s not just about crime, as someone noted earlier. I once visited Flagstaff, Ariz., which has light pollution laws restricting outdoor lights at night (due to nearby observatory). Trying to find out hotel was near-impossible, because we couldn’t read street signs and could barely see stop signs in the dark. When I went out for a customary pre-bedtime walk, I found myself tripping over things and nearly colliding with several objects.

    However, this “hack” isn’t related to that, because it only shuts off one light, and only temporarily while the photo is being made. It’s not as if everyone on a block is going to try it at once and all the street lights suddenly go dark for the whole night.

  15. Jayson Carey Avatar
    Jayson Carey

    My grandpa used to do this with a big handheld spotlight when we were setting off fireworks in his court for the fourth of July.

  16. Mark Campbell Avatar
    Mark Campbell

    un safe Lol…..LOL….LOL….he is right next to the light that went off. Forget about the “imperil others safety”OMG…LOL…LOL…that is a ridiculous snow flake line of bull. Concentrate the snow flake talk on a person 50 feet away ignoring the imperils of crime right in front of them. Blame the light. right?

  17. Tim Avatar

    The street light in front of my house is broken and has been long before I moved in ten years ago. The city hasn’t fixed it yet and probably isn’t about to any time soon. I hope they don’t. The electric company kindly removed the security lights on my property; there were two and they didn’t work either. meanwhile, there’s people here complaining about “safety” issues if someone temporarily turns off a street light with a laser? How laughable. Fact: people crash their cars in broad daylight. They don’t only crash their cars in the dark.