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Light Pollution

Many of us think that taking long exposures at night requires crystal clear skies and twinkling stars, or does it? On many occasions I've been very keen to get out therewith a new idea for a shoot only to discover that there is 100% cloud cover but I'vefound that this can still produce some quite amazing images if you have an area of light pollution nearby. This can be anything from a small village to a big city, or airport or harbour. Really, any kind of human settlement will emit levels of light pollution. So, instead of having a grey or black sky and a dimly lit subject in the foreground, the light from your local town or citybouncing of the bottom of the cloud layer can light up your image.

You may want to employ a certain amount of light painting when shooting in murky conditions. While the shutter is open gathering your long night-time exposure, use a torch to light up the objects in the foreground. Sweep the foreground with the beam to fill in the shadow areas. This, coupled with a burning sky due to local light pollution can produce some striking results. And it isn’t as hard as you may think. Having taught numerous people on our photography workshops, I’ve discovered that they soon get the hang of itand quite quickly become addicted! I know I did!

It depends on the type of light pollution in your area as to what colour sky you will end up with. In myexperience, towns and cities leave you with a warm orange or yellow glow in the sky. Light pollution from airports and harbours often produce cool white lighting. Andthere’s often a certain amount you can do about the colour of your clouds with post processing software, be it Lightroom, Photoshop or whatever you use.

So go and get your tripod, point it towards the nearest source of light pollution, calculate your exposure time and leave your shutter open, paint in the foreground using a torch and see how your sky comes out. I’ve captured some very satisfying images in this way. During winter, when it can be grey and murky for weeks on end, you can still get out there and shoot. With this in mind, cast away the old myth that it has to be clear as a bell before you venture out with your camera at night and experiment with using light pollution to your advantage.

If you would like any constructive criticism about how you are going about your night photography then send us an email witha preview of what you have captured. Nightphotography is often shrouded in mystery and held as the reserve of pro photographers with the best kit in the world. In reality, it is much easier than you think and can be done with a basic DSLR, kit lens, a tripod and a torch.

Happy night shooting!