When Light is the Problem

Milky Way Light PollutionYesterday’s edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter featured a question related to photographing the Milky Way (or celestial objects in general) without getting star trails, the blurred motion of stars caused by the movement of the Earth during the exposure.

Much to my embarrassment, I managed to report that the surface speed of the Earth’s rotation was 24,000 miles per hour, when in fact it is around 1,000 miles per hour. The 24,000 figure, which is actually 24,901, is the circumference of the Earth at the equator, not the speed of rotation. Despite this embarrassing episode, since the New Moon happened to coincide with my arrival in California to teach a Lightroom workshop at Light Photographic Workshops, I figured I would take advantage of the relatively dark location to capture some Milky Way photos. After all, writing about astrophotography made me realize it had been quite a while since I had photographed the stars.

I knew that even though this area is relatively dark, the odds weren’t really with me. I wasn’t going to be able to travel to an especially dark area, and even when it seems dark, there can be a surprising amount of light drowning out the relatively faint light of the Milky Way.

Despite the clear challenges, I decided to give it a try, if for no other reason than to have some fun with the camera. But my photos quickly confirmed that even in this “dark” area, there was way too much light to photograph the Milky Way. In the photo shown here, you can barely make out the Milky Way at all.

Fortunately I’ll be in Austria next month, and should have an opportunity to get out into the middle of nowhere during the New Moon. So I’m planning to hold off, and save my enthusiasm for a situation where I’ll be better able to get away from virtually all light sources.

I find it slightly amusing that as photographers we’re generally chasing light, and yet sometimes even when it’s dark we’re cursing the light that is there, and wishing we could chase it away…

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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