It may be wise to invest in one of the best light pollution filters if you’re keen to photograph the night sky. While a century ago everyone could see the Milky Way in the night sky, now an estimated 80% of Americans can’t see it from where they live. That’s primarily due to light pollution, mostly from cities. Luckily, light pollution filters can help.
There are different kinds of light pollution, but the one that amateur astronomers and astrophotographers despise is skyglow. This brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas is what puts an orange-brown glow in nightscape images. It also makes it harder to see and photograph faint objects in the night sky, even with one of the best cameras for astrophotography. Sadly that includes most stars, with only the very brightest 20 or so visible from downtown in most towns and cities.
Light pollution filters block specific wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum associated with skyglow. As a rule of thumb, broadband filters are the best choice for reducing the light pollution in nightscape photos (from Milky Way panoramas to all-sky images of meteor showers, but also things that easily fall victim to light pollution as galaxies and comets) . Meanwhile, narrowband filters are the best choice to allow the light from faint nebulae to shine through to create more contrast and definition in deep sky astrophotography.
Best light pollution filters for astrophotography 2022: What to look for
Light pollution filters will always be most effective when used with so-called astro-modified cameras that have been tinkered with to be more sensitive to hydrogen-alpha wavelengths.
However, the new generation of LED streetlights found in cities are more of a challenge to filter out because they emit light across a broader spectrum.
Light pollution filters come in three distinct physical shapes and sizes: circular filters that screw onto lenses, square filters that need to be used with a filter holder and tiny clip-in versions that can be placed over a camera’s sensor. The former are best for wide-field starscapes and the latter for close-up astrophotography of celestial objects.
Exact specifications, ideal uses and prices vary wildly, which is why we’ve put together this guide to the best light pollution filters to help you find the best light pollution filter for you.
Here’s another broadband light pollution filter that works extremely well at subduing yellowish, greenish and brownish color casts from sodium and mercury-vapor streetlights and general urban skyglow. The results are clear, contrasty nightscape images with more natural-looking colors than would be possible without.
Don’t be thrown off by the ‘starscape’ name, it can also be used for cityscape and landscape photography to give your images a more balanced and realistic color.
Made in Japan, the high-quality Hoya Starcape comes in myriad sizes as a screw-on filter for camera lenses and has also now become available as a 100x100mm size for filter holders.
The Kase Wolverine Neutral Night light pollution filter is designed for all kinds of night photography — cityscapes, as well as astrophotography. It reduces the orangey glow from old-style (but still dominant) streetlights so you can get more of the reddish light from nebulae into your images. It comes in various designs, from screw-on filters for various lens sizes to a square plate (to fit Lee, Haida & Hitech, Cokin Z and Nisi 100mm filter holders) as well as clip-in style filters to fit over the sensor in mirrorless cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony. The Pro HD optical glass is toughened and scratch-resistant for extra durability, and it comes in a filter pouch for safe storage and transport.
One of the first artificial light reduction filters sold and specifically made for night photographers — Natural Night remains a good choice for general use by starscapers trying to suppress light pollution in their wide-angle images. Available in a dizzying array of sizes, the Natural Night broadband filter effectively removes, or reduces, light pollution by blocking the yellow glow from sodium street lights.
Natural Night is unique in being available for the DJI Phantom 4 Pro and advanced DJI Mavic Pro drones, though that’s aimed more at filming cityscapes at night rather than starscapes. The Natural Night filter also comes with a water-repellent coating, though it is slightly more expensive than its rivals.
A word of warning, the glass is a mere 2mm thick, so pretty fragile, you’d do well to purchase a hard-sided case (opens in new tab) to store it in.
Available in limited sizes of circular filter and not at all for deep sky astrophotography, this filter is all about affordability. It does reduce the appearance of orangey skyglow from sodium street lighting for night-sky photography. It’s only capable of blocking yellow and orange wavelengths of light from entering the lens, so don’t expect it to remove the effects of broad-spectrum LED streetlighting (though that’s true of many of the nightscape filters here). Since it filters warmer wavelengths of light the manufacturers recommend that photographers use manual white balance and select a color temperature between 700K and 1,500K to keep colors looking authentic.
Like many of the other broadband filters included here, the NanoPro Clear-Night Filter is designed to reduce light pollution from artificial sources and enhance starlight. It does that effectively, removing the yellowish glow in (and from) urban areas and allowing nightscape images a more contrasty look with a more neutral color cast. It doesn’t reduce luminosity, so your images will still appear bright, and you’ll likely have to darken the skies in a photo editing app.
Available in many different sizes, both as circular filters and as filter inserts for filter holders, the scratch-resistant NanoPro Clear-Night Filter is also available in tiny versions for putting inside DJI drones to improve their aerial footage at night.
If you’re into deep sky imaging of faint nebulae using CMOS or CCD cameras specifically designed to be used with telescopes, then you may have heard of the Optolong L-Enhance light pollution filter. The follow-up is the L-eXtreme, an ultra-narrowband filter for urban astrophotographers wanting more contrast in their deep-sky images of nebulae from their backyard.
This filter works by isolating two wavelengths of lights — H-alpha (Ha) and Oxygen III (OIII) at seven nanometers — thereby maximizing the faint light coming into a camera from nebulae while separating out and blocking skyglow as much as possible. However, expect a slightly darker image because the Optolong L-Enhance does reduce the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor. That can make focusing and framing trickier.
How dark is your night sky?
Do you live in or near one of the best places for astrophotography and skywatching? Probably not.
Whether or not you need a light pollution filter where you live — or where you intend to visit — will depend on where the location falls on a light pollution map. The measurements are done manually on the ground using a Sky Quality Meter (SQM), with results lower than 20 SQM meaning light polluted skies.
Another way of measuring the darkness of night skies is the Bortle scale, which rates skies from Class 1 (the darkest possible at 22 SQM) to Class 9 (inner-city skies at below 18 SQM). Read more in our How dark is your night sky? An observer’s guide page. If you’re in the latter, you’re out of luck — no filter will get you great-looking astrophotography, but if you’re in Class 5 or Class 6 suburban skies (about 19-20.5 SQM) then a light pollution filter can help night and astrophotographers enormously.