I’m Sam, physics and astronomy student and amateur photographer. I started shooting seriously when I bought a Bronica from the charity shop I was volunteering at four years ago. I say shooting seriously because I like to think that my interest in photography goes way back to when, as a child, I’d often hijack the family camera whenever we’d go on holiday. I have some artsy shots of the Sydney Opera House I took when I was 7 with whatever digital compact we had at the time. When people ask what kind of things I shoot I usually say “landscapes and architecture-y stuff” but I’ve been leaning more towards documentary project based photography recently, which is what lead to this project.

As an astronomy student and hobbyist, light pollution has sort of become my environmental issue of choice. Any outdoor lights, whether they directed downwards or not, contribute to the local sky glow, which is what outshines the dimmer stars in the sky. It was estimated in 2016 that the Milky Way was invisible to more than one-third of humanity, including 60% of Europeans and 80% of North Americans [1].

Not only is light pollution it an annoyance to astronomers, it has also been linked to multiple adverse effects on human health, such as increased rates of insomnia [2], breast cancer [3], prostate cancer [4] and more.

It also has a wide range of effects on the local ecosystems, from the stereotypical insects being attracted to (and often killed by) outdoor lighting [5] to causing sea turtle hatchlings to crawl away from the sea [6] and more general effects on biodiversity [7],[8].

I have taken particular notice of the amount of light pollution on my university’s campus lately as I am back living on campus after 2 years of living elsewhere, and my dissertation involves using the telescope on the roof of the physics building.

Thankfully my dissertation is focused on looking at asteroids, so I could just choose brighter objects to look at but my results are still affected by the light pollution as finding the positions involves looking at the background stars in the images taken using the telescope, and there would be more stars visible with less light pollution. Also with less light pollution, I would have the opportunity to look at some more interesting objects.

Honestly, when compared to other areas of the city I think the campus is quite good for light pollution but I do think they can go a lot further. Also, I chose to focus on the university campus because it’s where I’m living at the moment and I thought I’d have more of a chance of actually changing something here. The university does leave a lot of indoor lights on through the night, which, along with lights for back entrances and bins, should be on motion sensors. My other main concern is with the lights, primarily the bollard style lights seen in some of the photos here, that shine in your eyes as much as they do on the ground, which actually impedes vision more than they help. I also believe that the general frequency and brightness of lighting around campus could be decreased.

All of the photos in this series were taken between 11 pm and 2 am at Nottingham University in the UK. Outside of those times of the year when things stay open through the night (around exams and big deadlines) and mostly away from the residential areas, so this should show the darkest the university gets within term time.

This series was shot on my Hasselblad 500C/M with Zeiss Sonnar CF 150mm f/4 lens and Rollei CR200 film, developed by Palm Labs in Birmingham and scanned with my Epson 4180. Thanks for reading.

~ Sam


  1. Falchi, Fabio et al. “The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness” Science advances vol. 2,6 e1600377. 10 Jun. 2016, doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600377
  2. Min, Jin-Young and Kyoung-Bok Min. “Outdoor Artificial Nighttime Light and Use of Hypnotic Medications in Older Adults: A Population-Based Cohort Study” Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine vol. 14,11 1903-1910. 15 Nov. 2018, doi:10.5664/jcsm.7490
  3. Kim, Yun Jeong, et al. “High Prevalence of Breast Cancer in Light Polluted Areas in Urban and Rural Regions of South Korea: An Ecologic Study on the Treatment Prevalence of Female Cancers Based on National Health Insurance Data.” Chronobiology International, vol. 32, no. 5, 2015, pp. 657–667., doi:10.3109/07420528.2015.1032413.
  4. Kloog, Itai, et al. “Global Co‐Distribution of Light at Night (LAN) and Cancers of Prostate, Colon, and Lung in Men.” Chronobiology International, vol. 26, no. 1, 2009, pp. 108–125., doi:10.1080/07420520802694020.
  5. Frank, Kenneth D. “Impact of Outdoor Lighting on Moths.” International Astronomical Union Colloquium, vol. 112, 1991, p. 51., doi:10.1017/s0252921100003687.
  6. Verutes, Gregory M., et al. “Exploring Scenarios of Light Pollution from Coastal Development Reaching Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches near Cabo Pulmo, Mexico.” Global Ecology and Conservation, vol. 2, 2014, pp. 170–180., doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2014.09.001.
  7. Koen, Erin L., et al. “Emerging Threat of the 21st Century Lightscape to Global Biodiversity.” Global Change Biology, vol. 24, no. 6, 2018, pp. 2315–2324., doi:10.1111/gcb.14146.
  8. Hölker, Franz, et al. “Light Pollution as a Biodiversity Threat.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution, vol. 25, no. 12, 2010, pp. 681–682., doi:10.1016/j.tree.2010.09.007.

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About the author

Avatar - Sam Smith

Sam Smith

Birmingham/Nottingham based, all film.

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  1. Great article Sam and some excellent, atmospheric shots. Besides proving a point the images demonstrate a wonderful understanding of light and composition. I especially like the fact that they are devoid of people emphasizing that the lighting is unnecessary despite its beauty.

    BTW When you were 7 years old the family digital compact was a Canon Ixus.

  2. Good start Sam. I’d urge you to continue your efforts around campus, as well as the surrounding town. Get some images of the scenes from the rooftop near the observatory and be sure to include the sky in a number of the images too. If you have a chance, get out to a darker site so you can record the difference between that site and the campus. Our telescopes overlook Tucson and southern Arizona, and while we have some excellent lighting regulations here, our Near Earth Asteroid survey program is certainly effected by light pollution as well. Sadly since I joined the program in 2005, our sites have gotten a bit brighter, even with our strong regulations. FYI, our 1.5-m telescope reaches 21.5V in a 30 second exposure, and the field of view covers 5 square degrees . Good luck with your efforts!