You don’t take Aurora Alerts lightly if you’re a photographer. So when Ryan forwarded the University of Alaska’s email that a major solar storm was happening, I was ready. That was three days ago and that night I peeked out the front door at the northern sky several times…but no green energy in the sky. Then last night (Friday, August 5th), after an email from another photographer, I checked the University of Alaska Fairbank’s website and the solar activity was EXTREME (+6). The maps showed that the aurora would be visible as far south as Minneapolis. This time I saw a faint glow in the north. It was 11:30pm.

My first stop was a little used public lake access spot, but a few flashlight-toting partyers nixed that. The next stop was perfect. The Spring Lake landing is right on a dirt road and with the lake on the north side, it is great for reflections. Green Frogs were “plunk”-ing and it was dead calm. Plus the moon had gone down. I set up my tripod right at the water’s edge. A few test shots confirmed that the lights were worth shooting. Digital sensors are much more sensitive to color than our eyes and the faint aurora was not so faint on the back of the camera.

Just then the lights started getting good…No time to attach my intervalometer, so I stood behind my camera and pushed the shutter button over 500 times…about every 7 or 8 seconds. The exposure I settled on was 4 seconds at f4 at ISO 4000…Not ideal as you really would want shorter exposures and shorter intervals so the time lapse would be smoother. But I don’t have a Nikon! (amazing High ISO capabilities). I shot in RAW so I could batch tweak images later. This meant “only” about 300 some images on an 8GB card. I did make one rookie mistake…I left the white balance on AUTO. This meant that each photo could have been a different white balance temperature. Fortunately this was easily remedied in a simple “Lift and Stamp” batch change in Aperture.

At one point, the lights were flaring, flowing, speeding across the sky in rippling ribbons of green…Almost directly overhead. The simple scientific explanation of this magical phenomenon is that solar storms (sun flares) throws highly charged particles towards the earth. Around the poles, they come into contact with oppositely charged particles and the energy from the collisions is light.

I got home at 1:45am but it was worth it.

Time Lapse organized in Aperture, assembled in QuickTime Pro and movie created in iMovie.

Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens set at 10mm, 4-seconds at f4 (widest aperture at 10mm), ISO 4000
Reflection/waterlily leaves shot: Canon 7D with Tamron 60mm f2 lens set at 1 second at f2, ISO 4000

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