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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More wonders of wildlife: An addendum to Crazy Thing #22.

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When I started this year’s ski season I had many goals –distance skied, covering all the trails in both directions, and photographing wildlife. My photography goals included photographing a moose, lynx, and owl. On Christmas Eve I got the most awesome Moose pictures I could imagine. I kept seeing lynx tracks, and other people were getting photos of them, but I kept missing out. As the season was drawing to a close and conditions (at the time) were not spectacular, I wasn’t holding out much hope.

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“Are you coming?”

On Sunday, March 6th, I was coming home in the morning from enjoying a great night with some friends in Logan Lake. I had been up until 2 am and I was seriously tired. I stopped at Stake Lake for a short ski. It was a bit slushy and it had been too warm to get the big groomer out so the tracks weren’t great and it was a little slippery. Still, any ski is better than no ski. I headed out on the green trails and felt myself following instinct again. I had no plan. I started on Ponderosa and thought I would turn right on Hoss but after making it about 10m on the trail I changed my mind – I almost NEVER do that. I decided to go back and finish the loop on Ponderosa. It was nice but uneventful. When I came to the other end of Hoss I headed onto it for real this time. This is not my regular way of doing these trails and I’m a creature of habit so I don’t often vary my routine. I passed some snowshoers crossing Hoss, and right after them I met an elderly man skiing toward me. I said hi and kept skiing. Right around the corner I nearly crashed – there was a lynx walking away from me on the trail, about 20m ahead of me. I could hardly breathe. I looked around and there was nobody else coming. I grabbed my big camera in my right hand and both of my poles in my left and started skiing on the slippery track. Suddenly I was less afraid of going fast or falling – I wanted those pictures! The lynx stopped and looked back at me, almost as if it was saying, “Are you coming?”

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The lynx walked on the skate lane in the middle of the trail up a hill and around a bend. I skied after as fast as I could. I got pictures from behind but I really wanted pictures from the front. The corner is a blind corner and the cat disappeared at the top of the hill. Seconds later a guy skate skiing came flying around the corner toward me  in the middle of the trail and nearly fell because he saw the lynx just off the top. I caught up and both of us watched as the lynx walked about 5m from us. If that skier had been a minute or so earlier he would have run right over that cat! That would have made for an awesome picture!

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My glasses were fogged up so I just kept taking pictures hoping they would work out.  I kept taking pictures at the top and, while I didn’t get ahead of it, I did get along side of it and took some awesome pictures. It disappeared in the trees right after that.

Again I proved to myself that magic really does happen when I let go of control and follow my instincts. I was finally on the right trail at the right time and I was given an amazing reward!

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Recap

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With Dawn Nelson at the Polar Bear Swim – blame her, she started all of this!

The dust is starting to settle after my birthday and the completion of 50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year. I’ve heard congratulations from many of my friends, and even people I don’t know. I’ve heard of how my adventures have inspired others to try new things, and even some people planning their own list of crazy things before a significant birthday. It’s amazing how we can have an affect on people just by being ourselves, and sharing our lives.

In the past year I faced some of my fears head on. Think dating… and trapeze school! I may not have conquered them, but I stared them down and made them just a little smaller, and a little less powerful. Each time I try something that fear monster will keep getting smaller – I definitely confirmed that in the past year.

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The Scream

I did things in the past year that were just silly, or spontaneous like driving to Kelowna to do an escape room, or getting my nose pierced with Krista, Monica, and Jody – I definitely didn’t see that coming. These are the things we hear about and think, “Gee, that sounds like fun…” but then we get to busy and never do them. I’m happy to say I did them… and more! What I discovered is looking at the world in a certain way becomes a habit. If I saw the opportunity for adventure I usually took it, and I put it out there for others to join me. The cool thing is, they often jumped at it, and then we were all a little more spontaneous or silly.

When I went back to Meadow Lake, SK, in the summer with my mom I went back to the place where I was born. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. It’s not like I was born somewhere exotic. But I’d thought about it for so many years and found all kinds of lazy reasons not to do it. We went, and it was a good thing for both of us, facing the past and the future. I’m so glad we took the time to go.

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I did some things alone, and they were magical. I hiked the Berg Lake Trail, having never done an overnight backpack before. I spent time with myself and discovered not only a beautiful outer landscape but a special inner one as well.

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On the Berg Lake Trail – my first glacier

Friends and family jumped at the chance to get crazy with me, and several jumped multiple times. I had enthusiastic bridesmaids for the Rock n’ Roll 10K, a group of crazy people did the Conair plane crash hike with me. Amanda flew to Florida with me, ran her first half marathon (actually ran her first anything), and rode rides with me while risking the fact that I could very well throw up on her. Krista, Monica, and Jody (all repeat Crazy Thing participants) even ate bugs with me… that is true friendship! And I can’t even count how many people generously supported me by helping me raise an insane amount of money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand while they enjoyed “dressing the fairy”. Dawn Nelson, the crazy woman who suggested my 50 Crazy Things in my 50th year, even did the Polar Bear Swim with me and together we encountered magic we truly weren’t expecting. There were also countless people who supported me in the best way they could – by cheering me on, reading the blog posts, and enjoying my frequent episodes of discomfort. Support comes in many forms and I recognize and appreciate all the support I have in my life.

I want to thank all of the people who helped me, participated with me, and cheered me on. I love all of you.

The biggest thing I learned, or maybe remembered, is that life rarely happens when you’re sitting on the couch looking out the window. It happens out there. Habits are meant to be broken, and rebuilt as new habits. Bars are meant to be raised. Fears are meant to be faced.

What next?

I plan to continue my crazy things – just not with a deadline. I plan to live a crazy life. There were a lot of things I couldn’t fit into my year. The list is still there and it is growing. I will keep blogging about it because people seem to enjoy reading about my discomfort.

My whole reason for starting this journey was to stop the trends I saw solidifying in my life. My life was getting smaller… I’m stopping that. I was saying no more than yes… I’m stopping that too. I want a life that is richer, and one that is filled with more great adventure and more great people. My next 50 years are going to be very busy!

Oh, and to answer that question AGAIN… I am still not jumping out of a perfectly good airplane or tying an elastic around my ankles and jumping off a cliff! Crazy… not stupid!

The list

So here it is, the complete list of my 50 Crazy Things with links to each of the blog posts. Thank you all for sharing this with me. It’s been a wild ride and I’m only getting started! Who’s in?

#1 – Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon
#2 – Ride a roller coaster without throwing up
#3 – Fund raise for a charity
#4 – Run a 10K and a Half Marathon back to back
#5 – Run half marathons on each coast in the same year
#6 – Join the circus (Trapeze School)
#7 – Embrace Obstacles (Foam Fest)
#8 – Walk above the water (Suspension bridge)
#9 – The Berg Lake Trail
#10 – Return to the place where I was born
#11 – 10X up the steps to the lighthouse in Cochin, SK
#12 – Let my cousin drag me around a lake while she tries to kill me
#13 – Hike to the Conair plane crash site
#14 – Go on a date
#15 – Beat the Blerch – Get out of control
#16 – Ride on a motorcycle
#17 – Wear a wedding dress
#18 – The Moustache Miler – spontaneous mingling
#19 – Drive home in my pajamas
#20 – Night skiing away from civilization
#21 – Do a virtual run
#22 – Follow intuition and rediscover magic
#23 – Go out for New Year’s
#24 – Polar Bear Swim
#25 – Make a snow angel
#26 – Give blood again
#27 – Eat a bug on purpose
#28 – Ski the hills without putting the brakes on
#29 – Learn to paint
#30 – Climb a tree
#31 – Go ice skating
#32 – Go rock climbing
#33 – Get passionate (Passion Party)
#34 – Snowshoe race
#35 – Improve at a sport (Cross Country Ski Lesson)
#36 – Downhill Skiing
#37 – Have headshots taken by a professional photographer
#38 – Let a photographer do a portrait
#39 – Get a tattoo
#40 – Visit an Escape Room
#41 – Run a half marathon without training – just because
#42 – Volunteer somewhere scary
#43 – Ladies’ choice (get my nose pierced)
#44 – Ski a half marathon
#45 – Write a screenplay
#46 – Street photography
#47 – Photograph star trails
#48 – Take a selfie every day
#49 – Self portrait
#50 – Turn 50 with a smile on my face

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #49 – Self portrait

I thought for a long time about what a self portrait would look like and I never really came to a solid conclusion. In reality, it would be who I am in the moment – writer, skier, runner, friend, dreamer, chef (occasionally)… so there is no one image that would actually define me. This was very interesting. I wanted to do a self portrait that was the most me and for today, on my 50th birthday, this is what it is. I wanted to take it today as a record. I might take another one next year and see who I am then.

Right now I feel quiet, creative, light, layered.

Why was this crazy?

How often do any of us put the thought into who we are in a given moment and then act on it. This didn’t take long to take, but it took months of consideration. It’s not the prettiest, or technically the best photo … but it’s who I am in this moment.

Would I do it again?

I think I have to.

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Self portrait, February 24, 2016

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #48 – Take a selfie a day

I wanted a different way to document the year so I decided to take a selfie a day for the entire year. I’m happy to say I only missed 6 days because I was busy and forgot. I had a daily reminder set on my phone but most of the time I managed to get it done before the reminder went off. Most of the pictures here are in no particular order, but some I’ve pulled out for special mention.

I wanted to do this because I hate having my picture taken so I wanted to desensitize myself to it. That worked – by the end I really didn’t care how I looked and some of them definitely reflect that attitude. What I noticed, going through my selfie folder today was how much time I spend with certain people in my life. Jody is there at least once a week – she’s either running or skiing with me on Sundays and has done a bunch of my crazy things with me. Monica, Krista, and a few other people show up a lot too. I also noticed how often I really did forget – there are a lot of pajama shots because my alarm went off at 8pm every night. Also, I spent a lot of time bored and waiting in traffic lineups thanks to the bridge resurfacing that happened last year. That was often when I remembered to do the selfie. When I did something special or was with other people I tried to do a selfie that reflected what I was doing. A lot of them, though, are either driving or in pajamas.

 

The other things I noticed were that I, like probably everyone else, have days where I think I look awesome and days when I just cringe. They’re all valid and don’t really say anything about me at all. There were a lot of days when I made dorky faces. One night I didn’t remember until 11pm and reached over to my night table, held my phone up and snapped it while I was half asleep. I started to care less and less about my image and started to see joy in the images that weren’t ‘perfect’. This was a great thing for me to do on so many levels and I’m really glad I did it. I’m only including a few here but there really are 359 in that folder!

Why was this crazy?

It was a project that took a whole year and I had to be persistent and disciplined. It was actually harder than it seems and there was more than one day when I was inwardly grumbling about it.

Would I do it again?

Yes, I might just keep doing it. I like the idea of documenting the time.

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #47 – Photograph star trails

This was one of the crazy things that was weather dependent and I wasn’t sure I was going to get to do it in time. I’ve wanted to photograph star trails for a long time but I lacked the proper equipment (still do), a truck to get me away from lights of the city (still do), the ability to stay up late at night (still do), time, and clear night skies. Star trails are the night photos you see with circles of light (the trails of the stars over time) racing around the sky. They actually aren’t one long exposure photo. They are tens, often hundreds, of photos layered on top of each other to show the movement of the earth.

Kamloops has been drowning in fog and clouds at night in the last few months, although if I’m fast asleep it seems to magically clear and other photographers have been getting star trails and the aurora photos almost every night it seems. Apparently they have no day jobs and never have to sleep!

Yesterday (February 23) I had planned to do my backup crazy thing, which I will now save for another day. The sky was clear all day and I knew I was going for a night ski at Stake Lake. The stars at Stake Lake can be amazingly clear so I knew I might get a chance. I went for a short ski and was nearly blinded by Orion, the Big Dipper, and a sky full of stars.

The perfect picture was not the goal

I had printed out some instructions for photographing star trails and brought them and some tea along. My goal was not to get a perfect picture. Any kind of night photography takes practice and since I wouldn’t know how it was going, or if I had any success at all, till I got home. My goal here was actually something that showed some movement of the stars (actually the earth is moving but that’s a physics lesson).

I knew I had some things working against me. It was a full moon night and it’s best to do star trails on a night with no moon. I chose a spot that was safe for me and my little car, but it was on a busy road and the lights of the cars played more of a role than I thought they would. I have a light tripod. It was a bit windy and I think that caused some camera shake. Also, the lens I used is OK, but I would love to upgrade! Finally, it was cold and I was alone … star trails are actually pretty boring so if it was warmer, I had more time, and brought a book or something it would have been better.

The end result isn’t perfect. I only had about a half hour before the moon was too bright and star trails photos, to get the good ones, take hours. I am pleased, however, that it does show some movement. My photo consists of about 60 images layered together so the lines aren’t very long (longer lines mean more time). I also need to find a better place to take them because focusing north put me in the lights of the city.

Why was this crazy?

The biggest thing was I had to be patient and I had to be willing to fail. Nothing in nature can be scheduled. I had to wait for a somewhat perfect night, and I had to make the effort to get out there. There was absolutely no guarantee of any success here and I wouldn’t call this the best picture I’ve ever taken by any means. It is a first step, however, and there will be many more before I get something I’m really proud of.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely!

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Not a great picture, but a great start

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #46 – Street photography

I needed another backup for some weather related crazy things that I knew might not happen. When I mentioned it to Dani, my co-worker who took my pictures earlier she suggested trying street photography. My stomach clenched. I knew that would make me really uncomfortable and therefore I should do it. Being seen with a camera and taking pictures of people, even with a long(ish) lens, would make me feel very exposed. Therefore, it must be a crazy thing.

I decided to go out on February 23 (today) and spend a couple of hours in the afternoon taking pictures of people. Dani and I both agreed that this would make both of us extremely uncomfortable, but she had good ideas about how to make it more doable. Avoiding faces and just taking pictures of interesting body parts or actions – hands, feet, body position, etc. This made it easier for me and I realized it would be a good thing for me to do.

It reminded me of when I was 23 and lived in Dublin, Ireland. I was almost always alone and I always had a journal with me. Pretty much all I did in those days was walk, hitchhike, and write. I loved going to venues to hear local bands and I would often go early get a table so I could have a good seat, and write. I learned very quickly that nothing freaks people out that idly looking up (actually daydreaming but they didn’t know) and then looking down and writing something. They all think it’s about them. People would actually go out of their way to walk by my table to look down at what I was writing. It got to be pretty funny and I may have made a bit of sport of it. I would intentionally stare at a group of people and then start furiously writing. Half the time I was writing letters to friends or my mom, but my victims didn’t need to know that.

Being seen with a pen, however, is a bit different that being seen with a camera, although the situations may have had in influence. When I was in Dublin I was a foreigner who was intentionally avoiding deep friendships or commitment. At home it’s different.

I parked in the West parking lot of Riverside Park and decided to warm up to the idea by trying some pictures in Riverside Park. I realized I liked looking at feet – running, walking, standing, all interesting. I got some good pictures and my confidence increased a little bit. I still had to take a non-people picture every once in a while just to calm down a bit. After going through the park I crossed the pedestrian train bridge (the same location where my first date (see crazy thing #14) got really interesting, and headed toward Victoria Street. I walked west, back toward the park, and I noticed my confidence increasing with every click of the shutter.

When I got home I looked at the pictures and realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be – very interesting!

Why was this crazy?

I was exposed, and drew attention because I had a camera. I don’t really like drawing attention – not sure anybody’s picked up on that yet!

Would I do it again?

Yes, I think it’s good for me to do that. Summer and places like the Farmer’s Market might make things easier!

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #38 – Be seen – Let Dani Photograph me

 

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photo by Dani Johnson

Along the lines of Crazy Thing #37, Dani Johnson and I completed two crazy things when we were out at the beach by the airport. The first was the portrait (#37) and the second was to let her do whatever she wanted with me for interesting pictures. Not necessarily pictures that made me look good, but interesting photos. She could do whatever she wanted and I wouldn’t complain. I have a bit of a reputation as a slight (understatement) control freak and I am pretty skilled at controlling how I’m seen – or at least living under the illusion that I do. Even for the portrait / head shot, I knew it had to be outside, I knew the colours I wanted to wear and the type of photo I wanted it to be.

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photo by Dani Johnson

Out in the world I am somewhat stubborn when it comes to not being seen exactly how I’d like to be seen. See Crazy thing #19 (Drive home in my pajamas) – this was mortifying. Having to sit still while Dani picked how I would be portrayed made me want to scream.

So I knew I had to just give up control and be seen. Now, I trust Dani and giving control over to her was a bit easier than it would be to a stranger.

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photo by Dani Johnson

The results are interesting. Not the photos, I love the photos, buy my reactions to them. Oh sure, I have the reaction that most of us would have – still have some weight to lose, my hair looks stupid, my glasses magnify the lines around my eyes… blah blah blah. After I got over those reactions, or at least parked them in a different part of my brain, I started to see some other things – things I liked. I look like someone who likes to laugh, is strong, smart, and maybe a bit of a geek. I like the intensity of my focus, they way I notice small and simple things. I like the fact that I’m serious and quiet at times. This was the surprise to me in this exercise. I saw things I liked and Dani and her camera saw them too.

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photo by Dani Johnson

I’ve included four of the pictures here. There are lots, and there are lots I like. I think these ones caught different parts of me.

Why was this crazy?

I had to park the controlling part of my brain and let myself be controlled.

Would I do it again?

Under the right circumstances.

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #37 – Have my portrait taken

For years I’ve been asked for head shots to go along with magazine articles and other things I’ve written. For years I’ve come up with creative excuses along the same lines as “My dog ate my homework” for why I don’t have one. My resistance to having my picture taken comes from not liking what I see, for one thing, and the other is not liking being vulnerable, or being seen. But I knew that’s what I needed to do. There is a difference between a great portrait and a picture. I needed to step up.

I asked a co-worker, Dani Johnson, who has tone professional photography in the past, to help me out. She takes great photos of people, and food. Not sure why but that mattered in my decision. We’re good friends so it’s a bit easier to stop moving long enough to be seen by her. She took her job very seriously

We got together February 8th, Family Day, and went out to the beach near the airport. I told her ahead of time I wanted casual pictures, think book jacket cover, something that accurately reflected me. I don’t like corporate headshots and I will never ever be a corporate type of person. I wanted something outdoors in settings where I feel the most comfort.

Getting there was easy. Staying there was hard. I really hate sitting for pictures so she had her work cut out for her. She’d get in my face with the camera and I wanted to run away screaming. She took a lot of pictures in a lot of different settings. Looking relaxed was not really an option. We were out there for a few hours, completing two crazy things (see the next one) and tracked about a billion tonnes of sand back with us. It was a great experience to give up control… something I need to do more often.

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This is one of the ones from that day.

Why was this crazy?

I had to give up control, sit still, and be seen. A good photographer brings more than the skin to the surface of a picture. I had to let what’s under the skin be seen. Not an easy thing for me.

Would I do it again?

With the right person, yes. It would have to be someone I feel comfortable with, though.