When I woke up at about 4:30 am I was amazed by the aurora outside the bedroom window. At first I was reluctant to get out of the warm bed, but once I got my camera assembled and outside, I was truly mesmerized by what I saw.
The weather forecast had been for partly-mostly cloudy skies, and the Aurora forecast wasn’t predicting something big either. Most of the time the Aurora is to the north behind Arkose Ridge, which rises 4000 feet above our house.
My first exposure was from the deck looking south towards the moonlit Chugach mountains. Living remotely in a cabin in a off-grid neighborhood, means that I have to deal with minimal light pollution. In the first exposure though, you can see the distracting city lights of Palmer, and how the cloud reflects it red glow.
Exposure for auroras can be a bit tricky at first, because the intensity of the light can change quickly. Manual exposure, wide open (f/2.8) at 6-10 seconds at ISO 4500, is often my initial guess. A quick glance at the histogram or the display will tell you how to adjust. Once I have a good base exposure, I keep watching the aurora as it fades in and out and constantly adjust my exposure accordingly.
Last night the Aurora was extremely active quickly moving across the sky, and varying in light intensity. I wanted to “freeze” the motion, so I kept pushing my exposure shorter and shorter to better capture the wonderful moving rays, with my shortest exposures as low as 0.5 second at ISO 9000. It also had very quick pulses of light that I was incapable of capturing (a future video challenge). They were so fast that I could barely discern them with my eyes.
I finally made it back inside 2 hours later, with numb fingers and quite chilled. Tonight I plan to be packed up, well-dressed and ready in case the Aurora comes back.
Most people don’t head to the Arctic after a long winter, but I went kite skiing with my wife Nancy in the High Arctic of Alaska. We arrived in Kaktovik in beautiful weather, that was a balmy (-2ºF) to the locals, but cold to us.
The Arctic Ocean in April.
Whale bones protruding out of the snow.
Kite skiing outside town.
Soaking in a Hot Spring, water temperature at 104ºF (40ºC) and air temperature at -10ºF (-23ºC).
The Aurora danced over our campsites almost every night. The cold -25ªF (-30ºF), quickly drained both camera batteries and the heat in my fingers during night photography. Breathing on the camera would freeze my beard to the camera.
The light quality was often amazing for photography with amazing blue tones. I found it was best captured by setting the cameras white balance to Daylight. I often shoot in Auto White Balance and have found that it works well for most subjects excepts in unusual light situations such as winter twilight in the Arctic.
We had no wind in the Brooks Range or in the foothills, so we spent the first few days slowly dragging our sleds back towards Kaktovik.
Finally Kite skiing on the Coastal Plain!
Of course we also had long periods of what we fondly call Kite-Waiting. In other words waiting for the wind to start blowing again.
With the possibility of Polar Bears on the Coastal Plain we experimented with winter Bear Camping practices. We strived to cook away from our campsite despite the cold and used an electric Bear fence.
Nancy catching a few turns off a pressure ridge on the Arctic Ocean.
We found our first Polar Bear track on the sea ice just outside Kaktovik.
I’m back from my winter trip to ANWR (pictures coming soon), but first I wanted to share a few Aurora pictures from last night. It was a stunning display and nature is likely to bless us with another display on April 21. The most important aspect for capturing aurora pictures is to be up and outside at night. Last night the aurora was fantastic around 3 am.
The first one was taken from my front porch.
Then I walked down the road to capture the Aurora above Arkose Ridge.