Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Aurora Borealis Experience

Last weekend I was in Whitehorse Yukon exploring a small portion of the territory with the hope of capturing an aurora borealis display.  Thankfully nature didn't disappoint, three of the four nights I was there I was fortunate enough to see the lights (the other night it snowed - northern clouds aren't as exciting as northern lights..).  I've also created a new Yukon Gallery I'll probably be adding a little more to it in the next couple days (and posting about some of the other pictures).

As for location I was part of a photo workshop put on by Langara, which meant it was a "tour" experience (albeit a customized one for photography).  For a first experience it was fantastic, I got to see a number of the major sites and the company had a nice setup for aurora viewing.  With that said however, if I was to go up again after this last visit, I'd probably venture out on my own (or customize things with the tour operator to incorporate different sites) to try to find locations where I could have some more interesting things in the foreground of my pictures.

Of course the down side of that means that to get the "perfect" picture, I may have to camp in the middle of nowhere in ten below for a few weeks just to see the lights and attempt my picture.  So while I think that might be a great experience, my photographer's assistant doesn't take very well to me freezing her, so I'm not too sure how that would work in practice..

Personally, given lots of time I'd check the weather, as well as the "Aurora Forecast" and only venture out after dark if I know it looks promising.  If it's snowing, I think I'll skip staying up until 2:00 AM that evening..  As I've already alluded, northern clouds aren't any more exciting than the ones in Vancouver.  This time of year because of the sun position Whitehorse if the land of the "golden hours" - there is fantastic light for photography in the morning, I'd wake up at sunrise a few times as well if given the chance to take in some of that gorgeous light.

The UAF Geophysical Institute has a great aurora forecast site, and even an iPhone/iPad App.  (I see tonight would be a great night to be there..)

For the technical aspects of aurora photography, I'd wander over to Photographer Patrick Endres' Blog, he's got all sorts of great tips and checklists.  (Quick seemingly random tip - Remove your UV Filters!)  For myself personally, I was trying to limit my exposures to 30 seconds or less (generally shooting at 800 ISO, and F2.8).  I'm not a huge fan of aurora and star trails, so I was trying to keep the exposures down so the stars looked like.. well.. stars.

Another lesson learned for me was to ensure I'm not over exposing.  I'd strongly suggest bracketing your exposures using different ISOs.  In my own experience, looking at my LCD I was completely happy with the exposures, but in reality everything was over exposed once I reviewed my shots on my computer.  Had I not done that, for night two (or if I didn't review my shots) I don't think I would have been happy with the results.

Whitehorse itself is an amazing little place, not withstanding all the beauty of the Yukon itself.  If you have an opportunity I'd strongly suggest you visit - I'd like to go back again, most likely for a long road trip.

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