Light pollution is a real problem-especially for the night-time long-exposure crowd. You never think about the cumulative effect of reflected photons until you allow a device to gather them for you over a period of time.
Case in point: The forecast for Aurora Borealis was favorable last Saturday. Spaceweather.com was reporting a 35% chance of something and a 20% chance of the rare red aurora due to a three-day-prior coronal mass ejection. I decided it was worth a chance to travel to the Minnesota’s North Shore and stake out the night sky for the chance of seeing spectacular Northern Lights.
Having studied many examples of auroral photography, I understood that a good foreground really nails the shot. I wanted water, earth and maybe a little exotic night sky in my shot. I staked out a spot at Tettegouche State Park and traversed the boulders to a narrow rocky point. There amid the pounding waves of Lake Superior, I awaited the darkness and the promise of the spectral lights.
During the wait (which was fruitless, btw) I occupied myself with test exposures and star trails. The shot you see above was a fish-eye test shot from later in the evening. This twenty-minute exposure was tuned to give me the look I was after should the eldritch lights make their appearance. Though I had hiked out into a very dark night on the lake, the distant lights of the parking area at the state park are brilliant in the left-hand middle portion of the photo.
In the enlarged section of the image shown above, you can see that the sickly hue of sodium vapor lighting extended far beyond the forest-clad confines of the asphalt. Shovel Point sits in the distance with a rough-hewn line of vertically columned cliffs. The distance from the parking area to the exposed cliff-face is some 1/2 mile. Yet, even though the distance is great and the forest intervenes, the parking lot lights are illuminating the distant cliff.
Our world today presents many photographic possibilities and even more obstacles. Light pollution is a very real problem. I had chosen my vantage precisely to avoid city lights by setting up in a remote area-far from towns and other signs of civilization. Sitting on the point looking up at the stars, the night sky seemed so brilliant and clear. Casting my eyes shoreward, I realized the primal dark was only an illusion.
As you set out to photograph the night, be conscious of man-wrought light and it’s long reach. You may not find a way to avoid it so you must learn to live with it.
Rikk Flohr © 2010