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Shedding light on light pollution

August 2015 issue

Shedding light on light pollution

Cities are consumed by so much light pollution that we forget to look for stars because we see them so infrequently. Photographers Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic want to remind the public what the sky looked like before artificial light washed it out. Through a Kickstarter campaign, they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars to fund their Sky-glow Project, time-lapse photography work in North America’s dark sky locations (skyglowproject.com). They hope to compile the images into a book and complement them with essays that educate readers about light pollution.

INSPIRATION: Heffernan and Mehmedinovic met at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and began doing time-lapse projects together as a creative outlet and to connect with nature. Their image making would take two to three hours to complete, which left them plenty of time to discuss how difficult it is to find areas with visible stars. “We decided to do a project that not only would shine some light on this issue but allow us to go to the amazing places that we have not yet had a chance to see—the dark sky locations in North America,” Heffernan says. 

PREPARATION: Astro time-lapse photography requires a very fast lens—usually f/2.8 or wider—and 25-second exposures, with an ISO between 2500 and 6400. The duo uses Canon EOS 5D Mark III cameras and often must hike to remote areas to find dark sky. “We are leaving the camera in the middle of nowhere for hours,” Mehmedinovic says. “You use a lot of batteries.”

LOCATION: The International Dark-Sky Association has identified areas it dubs dark sky towns, or light pollution-free zones. National parks also are often skyglow-free. “Death Valley is an incredible dark sky area,” Heffernan says.

ILLUMINATION: Heffernan and  Mehmedinovic have also photographed cities at night and have superimposed the starry skies from their dark sky images onto the black sky in their city images, thus revealing what the world might look like if the Milky Way weren’t obliterated by artificial light. “More and more people are not seeing the Milky Way in their lifetime, and all of the sudden it becomes more exotic that we are putting it out there,” Heffernan says. 

Amanda Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer.

Tags: outdoorspersonal project

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