WHY SATELLITES AREN'T KILLING ASTOPHOTOGRAPHY

A lot of news articles have been popping up on my phone recently about satellites and astrophotography.    They normally have titles like “Are Satellites Ruining Astrophotography?” or “Have Elon Musk’s 10,000 New Satellites Put An End To Astronomy?

Although it’s true that satellites can be found in near enough every shot that I take of our night sky, I want to tell you why the answer to both of the previously mentioned questions is a huge, whopping and resounding NO!

CAN YOU REALLY SEE SATELLITES FROM EARTH?

It may come as a surprise to some people that satellites can be seen from Earth.  But if you go out at night, so long as there’s not too much light pollution you’ll be able to see them.  They usually look like small, faint stars; but instead of staying still, they move along at a steady pace in a relatively straight line.  Although they don’t emit light that we can see, they do reflect a lot of sun light, which is the reason that we can see them from so far away. 

There are a few thousand satellites orbiting around earth currently so there are normally a few in view at any one time.  Just be patient and you’ll spot them.  If you’re taking photos with an exposure longer than a few seconds they’ll normally appear as a thin straight line. 

Here is a satellite as you will see them on most night photographs. This shot was taken on a 14mm lens with an exposure of 30 seconds. I've cropped the image quite a lot but you can get an idea of how it appears compared to the stars.

SO WHY AREN'T THEY A PROBLEM?

Well I didn’t say that they weren’t a problem…. they are kind of a problem.  Not the sort of problem that completely disheartens me and makes me wonder why I bother taking photos of the stars; more of a niggling annoying problem, like gnats on a camping trip.

Let me explain.  They get in the way of almost every shot I take and they don’t look great… but there are some easy tricks that photographers can use to remove them in post production.  Aeroplanes are more of a problem, but only because they’re a bit brighter and bigger.  They can still be removed from the photograph quite easily while editing. 

The photo below that I call “The Night Guard” was a timelapse taken over two hours.  Before the editing was finished there might have been fifty satellites in the shot.  However, some really simple editing tricks have completely removed them.  Yes, it was annoying and very time consuming to do (mostly due to how slow my laptop is), but the photo is still something that I’m pleased with and proud to have taken.  The satellites have not detracted from the photo at all!  So how could I possibly say that satellites are ruining astrophotography?  I couldn’t.

Even though "The Night Guard" was taken over a two hour time period, not one satellite can be seen in the shot. This is entirely down to some simple editing tricks.

IF NOT SATELLITES, WHO'S THE REAL KILLER?

Even if satellites do become more of a problem in the future, they can’t kill astrophotography.  Why?  The real reason is that astrophotography is already dead (or at least severely wounded).  

That’s not to say “stop taking nightscape photographs”, please carry on!  Awesome nightscape photographs are being taking by photographers throughout the world every night.  The problem is that the vast majority of locations that would otherwise make stunning nightscape photographs are rendered useless by the real killer which is none other than LIGHT POLLUTION!

Even the coastal area where I live (Thanet, Kent) is plagued by light pollution from the residential areas inland and the boats and wind farms out to sea.  I swear I even pick up light pollution from France, Belgium and maybe the Netherlands!

Sometimes I’m able to use this light pollution to good effect in photos, but most of the time I’m just really sad that it’s there.     

This shot should be displaying the beautiful bright light of Venus. Instead, it is completely lost in the light pollution coming from the coast.

I don’t think that light pollution is taken seriously by most people because they either haven’t witnessed it or don’t class it as real pollution.

I don’t know what I can do about it but I really hope that in the future we’ll get our dark sky back.  

Leave a Reply