Astrophotography: Adventures of a Noob, Lesson 1: Light Pollution

Like many out there, I started out shooting family events and gatherings, moved on to travel photography when I was a little more mobile and then I picked up the odd wedding, portrait session and event gig. Eventually, I turned to stock photography before asking myself what I wanted out of photography.

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Views from a bungalow. Still so much to learn about editing and dealing with foreground objects.

Most of it was fun, the paid work really forced me into getting to know my gear and forced me into more efficient workflow habits and better asset management. My post-processing skills picked up a bit as I moved from the most basic photo editing software to more sophisticated, and expensive, software.

Travel photography has always been there, and probably will, but I eventually stopped taking on any paid work and wanted to follow my own interests in my spare time. Travel work is fun and I get to incorporate my favorite form of photography, street photography.

Street photography and travel photography have overlapped for years and I can’t see getting tired of it anytime soon.

Two other types of photography have piqued my interest in the last few years, macro work, and astrophotography. I tried some macro work very, very briefly and found out that it required a lot of specialized gear and I wasn’t ready to get into carrying around extra gear on my shoot.

So, that left me with shooting the stars as a new photographic pursuit. For years I followed forums, admired websites and read the occasional blog. Then, a few years ago, I spent some time with my father in Yosemite. I tried taking some star trails photos with mixed success. That was fun, but what I really wanted were those photos of the Milky Way and nebulae.

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Light bleeding off of Dhigu and other surrounding islands, Maldives.

Jump forward a couple years. I had collected several TB of street photos and moved to a gear set that revolved around rangefinders, not really a system known for astrophotography. The Leica was and still is my main camera, but recently, I found myself in possession of a Fuji X system camera, first the X-T1 and recently the X-H1.

About a year ago my wife and I started planning a trip to the Maldives. Through the research, I came across some more astrophotography work and thought, “Hey, the Maldives will be perfect for astrophotography!” Thinking that light pollution is the greatest threat to astrophotography, I was sure that being in the middle of the Indian Ocean would be the perfect location. It wasn’t.

  • Lesson number one, light pollution is just one of the many challenges to overcome when engaging in astrophotography. Even when you think you’re far away from light sources, you will be surprised what shows up in a long exposure. 
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Light pollution is leaking into this image from the island.
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Here’s an edited version of the image above. The edits help, but it could be better.
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The light leaking from the island is hiding stars. Fortunately, that shooting star is visible.
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Even with heavy-handed editing, the light pollution is working to destroy the night sky.

The other, enormous source of light pollution on this trip was the moon. It was almost full and wouldn’t set until 3:30 AM, giving me a small window to work with between the moon setting and the sun rising.

On a side note, Maldives was paradise and I can’t wait to get back.

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Astrophotography: Adventures of a Noob, Lesson 1: Light Pollution

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