Light Pollution and Why it Doesn't Always Ruin an Image

May 25, 2021

On the scale of photographers that like to follow photography rules and those that don't, I certainly lean towards the rule-following side of that scale. This is because I enjoy photography techniques and do not usually stray from the rules associated with them. However, I also understand sometimes rules are meant to be broken, especially if it's for the betterment of an image. 

Years ago, when I began dabbling in landscape photography, one of the first dos that I heard was that a landscape photographer should avoid nighttime landscape images in locations where there's the potential for light pollution within the scene. 

Now, I'm as enamoured with the stunning beauty of the night sky as much as the next landscape photographer, and I will always agree that a dark star-studded sky is captivating and worth the late bedtime. I'll also agree that photographing the night sky away from light pollution is often best when the goal is to capture the night sky in its full splendour. However, there are times when I think light pollution can infuse some pretty spectacular unique light into the night sky.  

The image below is an example of why you should always take the shot even if you're worried about the impact of light pollution in an image. On this particular night, the clouds hung heavy and refused to allow all but a handful of stars to put on their twinkling show. Despite feeling a little disappointed in the cloud cover, I choose to take the shot anyway. Well, I'm glad I did because I think the light pollution from the neighbouring towns bounces off the low cloud cover in the most beautifully unique way.  

ISO 2000, 14mm, f2.8, 20 sec

Don't be afraid to take the shot even if you're concerned about the presence of elements that may conflict with what you know about landscape photography techniques. Some of my favourite images have been taken when I've broken landscape photography rules and captured the image anyway despite the possibility of less than ideal conditions.

The presence of light pollution in a landscape image doesn't always spell disaster. It's worth your time and effort to capture the image because you might end up being pleasantly surprised by the outcome!