Friday, August 27, 2010

How to Photograph Aurora

I’ve had a great February and March. After waiting months for the Aurora to show, I was rewarded. My first night out I was amazed at the activity and brightness of the lights...this is something that keeps amazing me. I’ve been out maybe 7 or 8 nights photographing the Aurora and in those nights I’ve learned a lot on how to frame my photograph, how to wait and how to read them.

Now, to photograph these lights there are certain pieces equipment that are ESSENTIAL. Wide angle lens, sturdy tripod, cable release, flashlight, warm clothes, forecasts and patience. I am assuming that if you’re interested in photographing the Aurora that you have a camera that at least has manual controls.

You need the wind angle lens to capture the Aurora, they are huge. They stretch straight across the sky. A tripod, not any tripod...a good one. One that has no problems operating in the cold and is sturdy on snow. I have been using my carbon fibre tripod instead of my heavier aluminum tripod for one reason...the carbon doesn’t absorb the cold as easily as the aluminum.

A cable release is a tool that allows you to activate your shutter remotely without having to touch your camera and therefore reducing blur causing vibrations. But the best part of the cable release is that it allows you to take photographs over long periods of time. A flashlight helps you see what you’re doing around your camera since you’ve already found the darkest area possible to photograph from (light pollution hampers the Aurora). Now, on to warm clothes...I wear an Under Armor layer, then a thermal tight layer with a second over it. Then I have my outerwear, warm North Face winter boot accompanied with wool socks keep my toes toasty, snow pants are usually adequate for my legs and my down jacket accompanied with a good windproof shell keeps me protected from the intense nightly cold. Another great tool has been my poly pro gloves. They are small and offer ‘great’ protection from the cold. They’re small enough to allow me to manipulate the controls on my camera but warm enough to use during the coldest of nights (and I’m talking -30C to -35C)

I take advantage of a couple websites that help forecast the solar activity, which ultimately produce the Aurora, and rely on them for long distance forecasting. The best method of seeing if the Aurora will be active that night, is easy...just look out your window. It’s simple but sometimes it’s hard to do, especially since they come by late in the night now.

I’ve found the hardest part of photographing the Aurora is anticipating the intensity of the light coming from them. The more active they are, the more light they emit and the less time you’ll need to expose them. I have found my standard exposure is around 50-60 seconds at 500 ISO on at least F3.5. If you expose for longer your waves of Aurora just turn into a blurry mess. Make sure your white balance is set to automatic.

So if you find your way north in February, March or September, October bring your camera and your warm clothes and happy shooting!


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