Shooting the Milky Way from the streets of LA

There are two groups of people that will be especially shocked by the title of this post. The first is the group of people that have tried to do astrophotography on a clear night, especially in a city.

It probably went something like this: you drove to the top of your nearest mountain or out into the darkest field you could find then pointed your camera skyward. Then, if you’re skilled enough to set all of your settings just right, you obtain a beautiful image revealing thousands of stars above. And as you look down at your 3 inch camera display, you have to wonder if that shot was worth the drive.

You could snap another photo, but it’ll look nearly identical. Why did you drive all the way out here? Why can’t you just shoot these photos from the comfort of your backyard? Ah, that’s right, light pollution.

Since the invention of the electric lightbulb cities have never experienced the night sky the same way. It’s simple, really. Light is emitted, scattered around in the air particles above, and interferes with the light from the stars trying to shine through. So the first group is anybody that has ever tried to shoot the sky in a city.

The next group is anybody that was born in, was raised in, or ever visited Los Angeles. I am a member of this group, when in LA you’re lucky if you see the North Star on a clear night. Light pollution is large factor, yes, but smog is the biggest player. You don’t have a city reliant on automobiles for transportation without clouding up the night sky a bit. It’s these two groups of people that will have the hardest time believing a photo such as this one:


Yes, believe it or not, that is the Milky Way galaxy viewed over the Hollywood sign, shot from downtown Hollywood (just a few blocks from downtown Los Angeles and definitely under the light pollution “umbrella”). The photos were shot by Canadian photographer, cinematographer, and director Gavin Heffernan. While he hasn’t released the method in which he captured the images, there’s a certain magical aspect of these photos that’s created when you’re left to wonder.


It’s important to realize how rare the night sky is to Angelenos. Legend has it that back in the 1990s there was a massive power outage that cut out the power for a majority of the city. There were several records of residents calling 911 to report “strange clouds” in the night sky. It was later determined that the clouds in question were actually the Milky Way galaxy.

If you’re interested in Mr. Heffernan’s photos, you’ll love the video he posted on Vimeo that takes the same stills you see above and brings them to life, showing the awesome rotation of the Earth as stars pass behind skyscrapers and palm trees.

Source: Light Stalking

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