It turns out light pollution might be worse than it appears by satellite. The problem has been steadily increasing over the years, which creates added difficulties for night photography.
Satellite data previously estimated that light pollution was increasing at a rate of 2% annually, but new research puts that number closer to 10%, according to a new research article published in Science. The problem in getting accurate numbers, according to the article, is due to LED lights. This is equivalent to a doubling of light pollution every eight years.
“Satellites can measure the light emitted upward, but they are not sensitive to all wavelengths produced by LED lighting or to light emitted horizontally,” the article states.
To obtain the new estimates, 51,351 citizen scientists from 2011 to 2022 were shown maps of the sky at different levels of light pollution and selected which maps best matched their views. The gap between the two figures is likely due to the fact that LEDs have become more common and have become a go-to option for replacing older, less-efficient bulbs.
The increased light pollution can have effects on sleep patterns and even agriculture as the light can distract insects, The Verge notes. However, it also presents an issue for night photographers. While a washed-out sky of an urban area will always make for a more difficult canvas for astrophotography than a dark, remote sky, increased light pollution anywhere will require adjustments when shooting at night. There are light pollution filters, and photographers can upgrade their overall gear. PetaPixel‘s astrophotography guide suggests a number of cameras to check out. Additional light pollution might mean more tweaking of ISO and apertures settings as well before a photographer can take that perfect shot.
Even before thinking of camera settings, it might be more difficult to figure out where to shoot in the first place. Light pollution maps, which guides photographers on potential shooting locations, may not be entirely accurate, especially if they’re heavily reliant on satellite imagery.
Based on the Science article’s findings, unfortunately, the problem is growing, meaning current and future astrophotographers, and others who shoot at night, will have to continue finding workarounds.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.