There are certain hazards being married to someone who is fascinated with seeing and photographing the Northern Lights. Being kept outside in the dark in the wee hours of the morning is one of them. Granted, I don’t have to go along on those nocturnal excursions, and if the odds of seeing anything are poor I tend to exercise more restraint and stay home. But being a neophyte photographer myself, and enamored with the elusive night time glow, I do accompany him on many of these outings.
Recently he discovered he had company. A lot of it. The Great Lakes Aurora Hunters is a group of photographers from across the Midwest dedicated to finding and capturing images of the Northern Lights. And last weekend they convened in Two Harbors to network, share techniques and hopefully see the elusive Aurora Borealis. We joined them for a photo shoot on Saturday night.
The timing and location were carefully selected. It was a full moon, so there would be no competition from that bright orb. And our destination was deep in the countryside, far away from the light pollution of any city. We headed inland and drove for miles on a long dirt road. The further we went, the narrower and more rutted it became. But still we inched on. Although we had been strongly encouraged to carpool in order to reduce the number of cars, our caravan still stretched 20 cars or so. We thought it must have been a strange sight for locals who may not see that many vehicles in a week.
Arriving at our photo spot, we had to agree it was excellent. We had a long accessible stretch of shoreline facing north, which could easily accommodate the large numbers of photographers and tripods. The darkness was absolute, and it was an eerie feeling to be out among so many people, camped behind their tripods in spots we could barely see. We could hear voices and cheerful chitchat among members of the group, but there were few other clues to tell us where they were. Carving out a spot for ourselves on the shore of the lake, we set up our cameras.
The weather was perfect – no wind, clear skies, calm water for beautiful reflections, and a modest chill in the 27 degree air. The night had everything – except the Northern Lights. That was no real surprise, however, as all of the forecasts showed a distinct lack of activity. But that didn’t deter the group. The stars were glorious, and nicely reflected in the lake. The path of the Milky Way shone clearly across the sky. And the Big Dipper was in strong evidence. Occasionally we’d see a shooting star, and a cry would go out “Did anyone get that?” We took photos over the lake, then turned our cameras to frame the stars over the trees on the other side. We tested different settings and angles. We chatted with others in the group. But eventually our interest waned. Our fingers cold and our brains weary, we were ready to be done. We could see that this was a hard core group, likely to be out there for hours yet, and we just didn’t have it in us. The only trick was extricating our car without making enemies of the rest of the group by ruining their photos. Slowly we threaded our way back through the photographers by the the faint glow of our parking lights, catching brief glimpses of more people and tripods than we knew were there. They seemed docile enough, so we can only assume we exited the scene gracefully.
As it turns out, my photographs weren’t very good. They looked a whole lot better on the camera LCD than they did on my computer screen. But I chalk it up to a learning experience. And going out with the group proved to be inspiring as well as educational. Rich fared better, especially after he did a bit of post-processing on his shots…
Hopefully by the next time we actually see the Northern Lights, I’ll be better at my photography techniques. Heaven knows, I’ve had enough practice out in the dark.
Molly – do the Great Lakes Aurora Hunters group know when the northern lights are predicted? I would love to find someplace I could check regularly to even know when to go out and look. It seems I only hear about them the next morning when pictures start getting posted!
Joan, my husband Rich has researched this thoroughly. He uses a number of apps and websites on his tablet and phone that send him alerts and tell him the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights. Here is his most recent blog post that lists his sources and describes them in detail. http://www.northstarnerd.org/econtent/2013/06/monitoring-the-northern-lights-via-your-ipad-or-android-device-updated.html
I hope this is helpful!