Northern Saw-whet Owl

I was all ready to go out to photograph the aurora again, but got distracted by this little fellow, sitting on a branch outside the front door. I have known for years that Saw-whet Owls live in the neighborhood, but this was the first time I actually saw one.

Aurora Surprise

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.

 Fredrik Norrsell

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.

 Fredrik Norrsell

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.