A week ago Sunday I set my alarm for 2:30 a.m. with the pur­pose of get­ting up and attempt­ing to take pho­tos of the Milky Way. It was a new moon night and the fore­cast was for clear skies. My expe­ri­ence with night sky pho­tog­ra­phy is very lim­it­ed and I want­ed to give it anoth­er try. I am not a fan of get­ting up in the mid­dle of the night but I dragged myself out of bed when the alarm went off, grum­bling about the ear­ly hour to our dog, who didn’t seem very empa­thet­ic. I made a cup of cof­fee and put it in my small insu­lat­ed mug to take with me.

I shut the door of the house, turned my head­lamp on, and walked the 150 yards to my cho­sen pho­to loca­tion, a barn near the house. The cat­tle were lying near­by and they, too, ignored my grum­bling. Using a flash­light I “paint­ed” the barn with light for part of each expo­sure so it would show up in the photo. 

Eventually, the cat­tle decid­ed my activ­i­ty was keep­ing them from sleep­ing and they got up and “moooved” away.  I con­grat­u­lat­ed myself for hav­ing the fore­sight to wear rub­ber boots as I stepped in a cow patty.

The fire­flies were more tol­er­ant of my pres­ence and put on a show. I was pleased that sev­er­al of them were cap­tured by my cam­era, seen in the low­er left-hand cor­ner of the pho­to. After what seemed like just a lit­tle while I looked at my watch and was sur­prised that an hour and a half had passed. Clouds were begin­ning to appear and it was time to make the short walk back to the house and bed.

The light pol­lu­tion was not obvi­ous to me while tak­ing the pho­tos, but it is read­i­ly appar­ent on the hori­zon of the pho­to. There is no town for many miles in that direc­tion; I think most of the light was com­ing from out­door secu­ri­ty lights some dis­tance away.

Light pol­lu­tion has great­ly reduced what we can see in the night sky. It is dif­fi­cult to see the Milky Way around here with just our eyes; it takes a long expo­sure with a cam­era to cap­ture the details. Street lights, cell tow­er light­ing, and secu­ri­ty lights are just some of the many sources of light pol­lu­tion. In a city, it might be dif­fi­cult to see more than a few of the bright­est stars. Even in the Kentucky coun­try­side, miles from the near­est town, light pol­lu­tion from dis­tant sources has a detri­men­tal effect on view­ing the night sky. Unfortunately, there are only a hand­ful of areas in Kentucky that are still cat­e­go­rized as dark sky loca­tions, and the size of those is shrinking. 

"Milky Way" by Wes Moody
“Milky Way” by Wes Moody. (Click to enlarge.) 

  • Wes Moody

    Wes is a retired engi­neer. He and his wife live in rur­al Clark County with their dog and cat. He is a nature and land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy enthu­si­ast, and also enjoys hik­ing and play­ing djembe.