Light Pollution & Pukey Photos

Light pollution is the bane of night-sky photographers. We drive miles to get away from it so we can photography the sky in all its natural glory. I’ve never had anyone look at any of the photos I’ve attempted under light-polluted skies tell me how much they love the pukey brown and yellow color casts. They just want to know why the photo looks so bad.

Cloudy night sky

Light pollution affects the color in this photo shot on a winter night. Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, f/3.2, 20 seconds, ISO 1600.

One exception, however, is when it’s foggy or there are low clouds and the fog and clouds pick up the color from the lights. In the right conditions, the photo can look really cool. It all depends on the type of lights and how they’re positioned relative to the clouds.

I have a spot near my house where light pollution affects the view to the north. A small town is about 8 miles away and there are a few streetlights and home floodlights nearby. And a nearby pulp mill adds to the mix. On a clear night, I usually can’t get a decent shot looking in this direction, but when there are low clouds or thin fog, the light pollution creates a wild, colorful effect.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I like light pollution. In fact, I’m a strong proponent for controlling it through public education and legislation. There are many reasons why I think excessive light pollution is a bad thing, not the least of which is simple economics. However, being the contradiction that I sometimes am, I’ll happily take advantage of it if it makes my photos look a little less pukey.

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