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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Light Pollution in Arches N.P.

A mid-September Milky Way slices through a light-painted Delicate Arch, Arches N.P. ~ © Royce Bair
Last week, I was in Arches National Park teaching a "NightScape" workshop. We had a great time, and the conditions couldn't have been more perfect. This wonderful national park has been luring me here for over thirty years. I just can't get enough of the unique sandstone sculptures —and its obvious with the increased automobile traffic and the growth of the nearby town of Moab, that many others feel the same way. It not surprising that the calm and secluded experiences I had three decades ago can no longer be enjoyed —we must learn to share theses geological wonders with many others, both day and night.

Lights from passing automobiles now makes it quite difficult to photography Balanced Rock at night, because it is so close to the main park road. Although Delicate Arch is about a mile and a half from the nearest road, light pollution from the nearby town of Moab, less than 12 miles away, now makes a considerable impact on the night sky behind the arch (compare the photo below, with the one above).

The night sky BEFORE darkening (in Photoshop) the area under arch. The town of Moab is 12 miles
away, just behind the center of the arch. ~ © Royce Bair

The first time I came to photographed Delicate Arch, thirty years ago, there were only a half-dozen people surrounding the arch at sunset. Last week (and each time I've gone in the past few years) there have been over 100 people! Night photographers should still not be too concerned though, as the crowds quickly disperse after sunset. Other than myself and my workshop participants, no more than two or three stay longer than two hours after sunset, and none more than three or four hours.

The "sunset" crowd behind me at Delicate Arch last week... ~ © Royce Bair
...and the crowd in front of me at Delicate Arch. Usually, less than two or three people hang around
for the stars to appear, so night photographers are left with few distractions other than increasing
light pollution from distant cars, air traffic in the sky, and the town of Moab, Utah. ~ © Royce Bair
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5 comments:

  1. Royce,

    I visited Arches in August 2013 and did some night photography while there. As with other parks, I found it to see or photograph many features of the park without people crowding around. At night, I found just what you describe: many more headlights than I expected and a large amount of light coming from the Moab area (something that did not surprise me since I came from Moab before entering Arches).

    This of course parallels my experience at home (Michigan) in the last couple of years since I have been night shooting. In the rural area where I live, despite a very low population density, the LOCAL light pollution is turning moderately dark skies in to light polluted ares. A highway intersection some six miles away constantly lights the night like a stadium field. North of me, where there's few year-round residents, just a single gas station brightens the sky to spoil night shooting in the national forest.

    Success has always seemed to negate much of the beauty of our national park sites. Now it seems that is happening with the night sky at the same locations that were once great night shooting spots.

    I think the much higher efficiency lighting technology is not reducing light pollution. Instead, it is adding to it. Now anyone can light up miles of night sky at little cost.

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