How badly does light pollution wreck your night photos? This great timelapse video will show you!
posted Friday, August 19, 2016 at 11:30 AM EDT
If you're hoping to get some great photos of the night sky -- and with the peak activity for the annual Perseid meteor shower having taken place just a few days ago, that's probably true for many of us -- then it will be simple common sense to realize that light pollution can make or break your shots. After all, if you've ever been in a reasonably rural area on a clear night, you'll have noticed that you could see a whole lot more of the universe than is possible anywhere near a major city.
But how much of a difference can light pollution make, and therefore how much is it worth your effort to seek out a darker shooting location? Well, that's answered incredibly well by a time-lapse video published a few days ago by photographer and amateur astronomer Sriram Murali. In the three-minute short, Sriram visits a number of locations in and around California, filming the starscape above -- or what is visible of it through the light pollution. Each clip comes accompanied by a light pollution rating which we're presuming uses the nine-level Bortle scale, which runs from a level one (excellent dark-sky site) to nine (inner-city sky).
The video is rather enlightening, if you'll pardon the pun. It's pretty clear after watching it that if you can find somewhere even just a little bit darker, it'll likely pay dividends for your own night photos and videos. The question which remains is how best to do that. From our own experience, DarkSiteFinder.com's light pollution world map is a great answer, giving you a really easy way to locate the nearest dark sky locations around you.
Of course, that's great for telling you what the ideal pollution levels are, but there's rather more to it. You'll also have to deal with natural and man-made air pollution, cloud cover, the phases of the moon and more in determining whether you'll have good viewing conditions on any given night. That's where our second-favorite night sky site comes in handy. At ClearDarkSky.com, you can find your location and see what's essentially an astronomy forecast, showing just what visibility you can expect at many thousands of locations around the world. (For example, here's my local chart.)
And with a little luck, you won't even have to drive that terribly far once the stars align, so to speak, and you find a location with minimal pollution and good environmental conditions. Speaking personally, I'm right in the middle of the light-polluted eastern USA in Knoxville, Tennessee, and yet even I can get to an area of minimal light pollution with just an hour or so's drive. Without these great tools, I'd never have known it was almost on my doorstep!