Midnight on the Taiga

Last evening began with very high expectations : the forecast was for clear skies, and the aurora predictions were for another busy night. And when the first lights appeared early – about 8 pm – we settled in for what we thought would be a long, busy night.

Then began what can only be called the “dressing ritual”, the donning of multiple layers of clothing: hats, scarves boots, gloves, over-gloves and over-mittens. (At -35 C., you need to be pretty well-padded to spend the evening standing around outside.)

For an hour or so, there was a lot of activity, with waving bands of green filling the sky. Loops formed and then untied themselves, and fleeting curtains of dancing light appeared and then, just as abruptly, vanished.

Green is the most common color in the aurora, the result of the excitation of oxygen molecules high in the atmosphere caused by incoming charged solar particles. Other colors – red, purple, violet – are possible, but are more commonly associated with stronger solar events. Some of these are not visible to the human eye, but are recorded by film and sensors. So it was not until I had a chance to open images on the laptop that it became clear that tonight’s lights did not have some of the red tinges of previous nights.

Whether or not that itself was a kind of indicator of diminishing activity, the lights faded quickly before midnight, and never really re-formed for the rest of the night. What was supposed to be a Big Night, became a quiet evening, and a chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Today, meanwhile, the skies are clear again, and expectations are as high as ever for tonight.  In about 12 hours, we’ll see what happens.

Aurora Coils

p.s. I have been told that this is not really a “live-blog” since I’m not giving minute-by-minute reports on the aurora activity. True enough – but frankly I’d rather be out shooting!
Nikon D3, 28mm f/1.4 lens, 13 sec. ISO 1000


    Tuscano – Sometimes I include people in my images; I simply haven’t posted them here! My primary mission, however, is to photograph nature: animals, landscapes, light — not people. Other photographers enjoy shooting people and do it better than I do.

    Lovely work Kevin! I’ve been up here shooting the aurora for a while and I’ve often thought about picking up an F1.4 lens…now you’ve convinced me to get one!

    I’m in the NWT shooting at Hay River. Where abouts are you? I didn’t get too much tonight (March 4th morning). How did you fare?

    Hey Adam, We’re out at Blachford Lake north of Yellowknife. Thursday night was pretty quiet here, but with a pretty jazzy burst of activity around 11 pm. Yeah, the 1.4 lens has been great – making short exposures possible. At one point my exposures ( at ISO 1000) were 3 seconds. This really stops the motion of the aurora – and lets you get a lot more pictures than 30 seconds! The only downside is that your stuck with that focal length. Zooms are a lot more convenient but you lose two stops of light at f2.8. Life’s full of trade-offs… Good luck: we’re headed home tomorrow…

    I had some decent shots last night and I’m working on two panoramas …we’ll see if they turn out. It’s too bad that you’re leaving tomorrow, Sunday should be a great night too!

    I was shooting on Jan 31st at ISO 500, f2.8 at 6 seconds..the movement was amazing.

    Do you find your way up here often?

    I was last up here in 2002/3 when there was a lot of activity – but terrible weather. We feel kind of spoiled after this week! Like everyone else, I’m hoping that the upswing in solar activity promises much more aurora in the next few years. After taking a couple years off, I’m happy to be back.

    If you were doing 6 seconds at f2.8, those puppies must have been bright! I got caught off guard two nights ago, didn’t re-adjust my exposure fast enough – and lost the highlights on some really bright lights. Live and learn!

    That happened to me on the 2nd. I lead a workshop out on Great Slave Lake, when we had a great burst of auroral activity I didn’t adjust my shutterspeed to compensate for the speed and brightness of the burst. I ended up with a shot or two of a white blurry mess.

    If you find yourself in Hay River, NT next year let me know. It’d be great to meet up with you.

    And congrats on the great work!

    You can see those shots on my blog from the last month, I haven’t posted any of the new week’s work yet though.


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