Into the Ether

Everyone should see the Aurora Borealis at least once in their life. It honestly does not usually look like most of the photos you see, unless it is exceptionally bright and overhead. But even when you don’t see it the same way the camera does, it has this way of making you feel alive and reconnected to the earth to see the night sky start to dance with fiery color. It has an eerie mysticism about it that defies any real description, much like seeing the center of the Milky Way for the first time in a truly dark location. The movement is so continuous that you have to shoot with very short shutter speeds to capture any detail.

If you want to see it yourself, you’ll need a few things:

  • A clear night with minimal clouds
  • A very dark sky, far from the lights of cities (and long days of summer)
  • A very northern or southern location. For example, the northern continental US can be good on a few rare nights, but northern Canada and Alaska are better in general.
  • Solar activity. There are websites and apps that predict this. The most basic thing to look for is the “kp-index”, which measures the strength of geomagnetic storms. In northern Minnesota, a kp-index of 7 indicates a good chance of seeing something in the northern sky, though you might see something with as little as a 5. The higher the number, the higher the likelihood of not only seeing something, but also of seeing more brilliant displays and overhead displays (vs the displays you see only on the horizon more typically limited nights). If you were up in Yellowknife, Canada, you’d see much more at lower numbers. It depends largely on your latitude.

Aurora Borealis - exposure blending with luminosity masks

This image is a blend of two RAW images using Lumenzia. One of the exposures was a short shutter with wide aperture to capture the ever-changing Aurora, and the other was a longer shutter with lower ISO and smaller aperture to capture the foreground with more detail and less noise. So truly a blend on multiple levels to pull this one-off. I used many techniques from my new course to pull it all together.

Below is the original RAW for the sky. The RAW foreground looked very similar, it just has a lot more latent detail that I then recovered in the shadows. While is isn’t obvious in the images, the foreground detail was helped a bit by the moon behind me (though it was largely obscured by clouds).

Before


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