What is and how light pollution affects us?
Let’s place ourselves long ago, before the big cities, before electricity, when moonlight and stars were the only night lighting. This light was so dim that it was even possible for people to see their faces in the darkest night and allowed the vision of a perfect night show. Now, back to today, we wait until the night comes and go out to the street or terrace with views to the sky. Now we realize we can only recognize few stars that can be counted with one hand’s fingers.
During an astrophotography conference I was surprised for the following statement; three out of four people in the world have never seen the Milky Way. This is a statement that it is true but also sad.
The “disappearance of the Milky Way” in the night sky is due to light pollution caused by thousands of lights distributed in populated and industrialized areas of the world such as street lamps, neon signs and the very light housing etc. All these lights, mismanaged, send their energy in all directions, including to the sky (which doesn’t need to be lit).
When I show my night landscape photographs, people often ask me if what I’m showing them is real. Some of them remember about seeing something similar long while the young ones, some of which have never been able to enjoy the vision of a light pollution free night sky, gasp at the prospect of a sky so immensely full of stars.
In nightscape photography, light pollution affects us negatively, not only by the inherent difficulty of seeing and capturing with the camera phenomena like the Milky Way or Zodiacal Light, but also unexpected colors in the sky of our photographs. We only have two options to mitigate its effects: one is to trick it manipulating the Kelvin degrees (temperature color) to force cooler tones and the other is to go to an area or a country that without this problem (it is known that in areas like Morocco and Atacama Desert there are clean heavens), but not everyone can afford this option.
What we can do is, following Sun Tzu’s sentence in his book, The Art of War, “If you can not beat them, join them”. What I mean by this? Well, apart from trying to mitigate the effects due to the color temperature to force the blues, what we can do is to take these warm and accentuate it creating unreal appearance and mystical scenarios with these tones. In my case, sometimes when I am photographing I see a purple dominant due to light pollution in the sky. What I do then is even forcing more color temperature and display clearly purple.
If this does not convince you, then you clearly need to take the car and go as far as possible from light pollution, in order to obtain the most starry and dark skies. Here you have a link where you can check the best locations to photograph the night sky around the world (zooming, you can approach the point that interests to you) and a link where you will find more information about light pollution, for those who want to deepen in the subject.