Posts from the ‘northern lights’ Category

Top Ten Winter Photo Tips

Okay, so much of the U.S. is snowless, but it won’t last. We will get snow and cold soon enough (fingers crossed). Here are some ideas to jump start your winter photography and get you out of the brown-gray-white-season blahs.

I will look at each tip in more depth in coming blog posts. Here they are in no particular order (paraphrased from David Letterman).

1. PATTERNS
Winter is a very graphic season. Elements of the landscape are softened and simplified. Isolate patterns for a winning image. [frost feathers on my Subaru’s door window against the sunrise; “pinkened” in Aperture]

2. COLORS
Winter is NOT just black and white (or brown). Seek out color to enliven winter shots. [Willows in late winter turn bright red and yellow]

3. BLACK & WHITE
Okay, I just told you to seek color. But monochrome winter shots can also make stunning black & whites [Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota]

4. TAME NORTHERN BIRDS
Maybe tolerant is a better word. Many of the northern/boreal birds that move south from Canada and winter in the northern U.S. are quite tolerant of humans. [Northern Hawk Owl]

5. HDR WINTERSCAPES
High Dynamic Range images are ideal for winter images where the contrast is too great to record in a single image. In this image of Lake Superior’s Split Rock Lighthouse, I took three images of different exposures and combined them in a program called Photomatix to get this interesting image.

6. SHADOWS
The sun stays low all day long so use it to your advantage with dramatic shadow images.

7. ICE IS NICE
Ice comes in many forms…icicles, lake ice, coatings on trees and bushes, icebergs…to name a few. Though usually clear or blue, try shooting ice at sunrise or sunset to add a bit of dramatic red/orange to the ice.

8. WEATHER PHENOMENON
Some interesting weather phenomenon occur in winter…like the “sun dog” pictured here…or sun pillars, steam from unfrozen lakes in cold temps, ice fog, etc. [sun dog over Canal Park lighthouse, Duluth, Minnesota]

9. BACKYARD BOUNTY
Winter is when most of us feed birds in our backyard (we start in early November when the local bears go night-night). Try setting up a blind to make natural looking bird images within feet of your house. [Brown Creeper on its way up to my suet cage]

10. NIGHT SKY
Night comes early in winter. Use it to your advantage. Star trails, full moon shots, aurora borealis, comets and more. [aurora borealis, Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Aurora Borealis—Northern Lights Time Lapse

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