Another crazy thing – Photograph the Aurora Borealis

IMG_5669Photographing the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, had been on my original list of 50 Crazy things. It’s something you can’t really plan for, however, you just need to be ready for it when it can happen.

I asked friends and fellow photographers John Buchanan and Yvonne Odber if they’d like to do this one with me. We all agreed. John had shot them once before and had a place in mind in the Lac Du Bois grasslands that would work. We just had to wait. There were plenty of opportunities during the winter and lots of local photographers were very successful. The timing just didn’t work out for us.

While we waited I did a bit of research on how to photograph auroras. There is lots of information online. I also did some research on what the Aurora Borealis is. Here’s what Northernlightscentre.ca says:

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.

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This site has a lot of great information and is worth a look.

Typically I’m not a late night person so just staying up to do this was going to be a big part of the challenge. John and I had one false start in February but the skies were cloudy and they didn’t turn up where we were although there were plenty of coyotes! I had a backup plan for a Crazy Thing to include in my list in case this one didn’t work out. I believe I now have my nose pierced because of it!

I had downloaded a few borealis apps that would indicate when the aurora was going to be strongest in our area. On a clear night, theoretically, it should work. The best app we’ve found is AuroraNotifier. It sends us a message when the aurora is at a certain level for our area.

On Sunday, March 6th, the same day I got the lynx pictures in the morning, the notifier app went off and John texted me and Yvonne – were we in? The skies were clear so… yes! We raced to meet at Yvonne’s and jumped into John’s trusty truck, Ava. We were off. I still hadn’t caught up on my sleep from the night before.

We got to the spot where it was freezing and very windy. It was just getting dark when we were setting up our cameras. Then we waited. We weren’t disappointed. Not only were the stars spectacular, a dim green haze began to show up on the horizon. This wasn’t the most spectacular northern lights show ever seen, but they were pretty good for our early photography attempt.

We started taking pictures, experimenting with exposure length, ISO, and other settings. I discovered many things. I had a hard time focusing in the dark. My tripod is old and very light. It shook a bit in the wind. We also discovered we should have been wearing snowsuits! We were freezing! Eventually we were thrilled with our early attempt and are now committed to keep trying. I am soon going to treat myself to a heavy duty tripod and some warmer clothes. Possibly a new lens too. The place we chose would also be pretty good for star trails so we’re going to be trying that as well. Our goal, as always, is to perfect our photographic techniques and expose beauty whenever we can.

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All in all I was pleased with my first attempts at shooting the aurora. My pictures are a bit shaky but I haven’t enhanced them at all. These are straight out of my camera.

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Big thanks to John Buchanan and Yvonne Odber for helping make this happen. The joy is really in the adventure and not in the results. Even if the lights hadn’t made an appearance we would still have a great time and an adventure to remember.

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