A first glimpse

28 May 2015

In the beginning of the year I had a feeling there would be some Northern Lights out. So I called a friend and we went into the dark night. Not long into the trip the Northern Lights started to show themselves, even with the city’s light pollution not far behind us.

Spikes!

Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon in Canada, but highly unpredictable. When all conditions seem about right, you can still end up with empty pockets. On other nights, when nothing seems to be right, the lights show up and present a great show.

This night was somewhere in the middle. I created a page with good indicators for Northern Lights under the “Aurora Weather” link in the above menu. This is, however, only an indication of whether something might be happening or not. No guarantees here! Smile

Slowly lighting upSlowly lighting up

So we left into the dark night in the hope to see the lights. We ended up near Libau, off of Highway 59. A small church would give us a great foreground in case the lights showed up again. By the time we got there, we could no longer see the lights from inside the car Sad smile . But they were still there, except that we needed our cameras to see them.

Milky Way and AuroraMilky Way and Aurora

We tried out different settings and different angles of view to find what worked best for us. I came up with the shots you see in this post. By the time we had set up, the lights flared up again and the Milky Way in combination with the Northern Lights made for a great show. Even if it was only a modest one.

Light paintingLight painting

But once you have the lights and that Milky Way, you want something more. Some interesting foreground or something. Luckily I also had some small lights with me so that I could light-paint the objects. Without that, they would have been dark and uninteresting. It looks like the white balance of those little LED lights is far beyond white, going to the purple/violet range of the spectrum.

The effect of light pollutionThe effect of light pollution

So then it was time to light up the church itself. My small pocket LED light wouldn’t do the trick here, so I pulled out my SB-600 speedlight. Shooting towards the church from the north (the lights had left for a while already) you can see the very visible light dome of Winnipeg, a mere 40km away from where we were. This is a shutter “speed” of about 30 seconds, so in reality you won’t see that light this bright. It just shows that light pollution is something to keep in mind when you go shooting in the night. I can also imagine that some nocturnal animals are feeling threatened by that light, but that is a different subject.

Church lit upChurch lit up

From close by, the church can be lit very easily with a simple flash or speedlight. For the above shot, I used it several times on minimal output just to “kiss” the church and not mess up the trees or anything else. All the while keeping a decent exposure of the newly arrived Northern Lights.

Beginning of spikes and an airplaneBeginning of spikes and an airplane

All in all not the best show of Northern Lights and we decided to pack up and go see Grand Beach instead. We thought that the light pollution would be way less over there with no cities close by. As it turned out, the Lights were still willing to put up a little show for us.

The spikes of lightThe spikes of light

The above two shots were taken in succession, just to show how the lights can have “spikes” within  seconds of other displays. These shots have no foreground other than the frozen marsh at Grand Beach. There were no bears to bug us and no bugs bearing down on us either. All was quiet and nice Smile.

Purple hazePurple haze

The last shot shows how an Aurora can have multiple colours. Often you cannot see them with your own eyes and you’ll need a camera to gather more light for you. Here you can see the purple layer of light caused by the excitement of different atoms in the atmosphere by the solar winds and their particles. While some people believe that solar winds and particle storms may cause the end of the Earth, I continue to believe that they are simply good for some nice night photography.

This was only a first glimpse on the Sun’s power this year, a few weeks later, one of the biggest shows burst out over our heads. But that is in a different post.

Until next time…