Aurora Photographic Experiment

I want to share a few images with you from the aurora a few nights ago. I spent the night shooting some great aurora, and in the downtimes of the show played around with a couple of fun, long-exposure techniques. So, as a result some of these aren’t my ‘normal’ aurora shot with a static tripod for a period of time.

First, in these two images I performed what I am calling a “focal pull”. During the exposure which lasted 15 seconds I moved the focal length from 16mm to 11mm. I chose objects to be featured at the center of the image, however, everything else becomes very blurry, but the blurs still hold the shape of the original object. It feels like we are entering lightspeed! What I like about the effect is how the star lines draw your eye to the center of the image. It certainly is an abstract technique!

Focal Pull 1 - In this image I centered the picture on this spruce tree top and then over the course of the exposure (15 seconds) drew the focal length back from 16mm to 11mm. This increases the field of view, but leaves the centered object fairly static. I think I see a pine tree man.
Focal Pull 1 – In this image I centered the picture on this spruce tree top and then over the course of the exposure (15 seconds) drew the focal length back from 16mm to 11mm. This increases the field of view, but leaves the centered object fairly static. I think I see a pine tree man.
Focal Length Pull 2 - For this image I focused on the stump before pulling the focal length from 16mm to 11mm through the shot. There was much more 'black' in this image to start with, creating strong shading in the image.
Focal  Pull 2 – For this image I focused on the stump before pulling the focal length from 16mm to 11mm through the shot. There was much more ‘black’ in this image to start with, creating strong shading in the image.

In these next two images I did a pan across the landscape during the long exposure. This, in effect, exposed the standing trees in multiple locations on the camera’s sensor and created the ghost-like trees shown. What I really like about the effect is this how it makes you perceive the dark. It’s eerie and full of shadows – these images seem to capture that for me. This stand of spruce was recently thinned – perhaps these are the ghosts of trees that once were.

In this panning shot of the landscape at night I took advantage of the long exposure by slowing panning across the landscape. This spruce stand has been thinned recently - maybe these are the ghosts of trees that were.
In this panning shot of the landscape at night I took advantage of the long exposure by slowing panning across the landscape. This spruce stand has been thinned recently – maybe these are the ghosts of trees that were.
Ghost-like trees stand sentinel in this long exposure pan of an aurora lit landscape.
Ghost-like trees stand sentinel in this long exposure pan of an aurora lit landscape.

Both of these artful experiments, and are first attempts at techniques I would like to continue to develop. So, now that I have explained and showed my experiment I would love to know what you think! What do you find appealing about these images? What don’t you like? What else could I try? One of the appealing aspects of these techniques to me is that noone does them! Naturally, I would love to be a pioneer of it, and your feedback is helpful!

For the rest of the night I did not take any more time to mess around with my aurora photography. This was the first night of a high amount of incoming activity. NOAA had released a ‘geomagnetic storm warning‘ for December 19-22 based on incoming coronal mass ejections (CME) from the sun in the previous days. This night was the first that these particles were scheduled to produce a show. As night progressed, the aurora came in fits-and-spurts (I think due to a flipping magnetic field which controls aurora intensity). When it was ‘on’ it was really on! And I wanted to make sure I captured that. The night ended up with some great reds and an aurora ‘selflie’ on one of the sleds from Black Spruce Dog Sledding.

Aurora Red
A stunning double band of aurora with a good showing of red!
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The pink sky in this aurora was actually (I think) high intesnity aurora coming in and being picked up by the sensor – although the naked eye couldn’t see it. For periods in the night my images had a pink hue to them.
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The pink at the bottom of this aurora and the height are features of an intense, and rapidly moving aurora. Here it was dancing across the sky in a jaw-dropping show!
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The Aurora hangs of a sled at Black Spruce Dog Sledding, Murphy Dome, Alaska.
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The Milky Way and aurora collided early in the night before the aurora really intensified.

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Aurora Selfie – This was a bit of an experiment in itself! I was able to use a headlamp to get fairly even, and bright enough lighting. Certainly a memorable shot!

At the Bottom of Winter : Alaskan Tradition

This composite of the sun was compiled from 6 shots throughout the day. Quite beautiful! The composite was compiled in the "Star Trails 2.3" software.
This composite of the sun was compiled from 6 shots throughout the day. Quite beautiful!

For months we have been losing daylight. June 21st marks a daylight decline which has defined cultures and natural systems in Alaska for millenia.  The short days of winter psychologically effects the mind and  physically alter the body. As it we roll out of our beds the morning after solstice we know that today is just a little bit longer the last! It is uplifting. Until that moment when the days lengthen, the waning light indoctrinates residents into the darkness. You simply get used to doing things in the dark! The changes of daylight we experience now have been celebrated by the traditions of the Inuit and Athabascan people of Alaska; their traditions are symbolic of change and new times. The Athabascan name for the solstice is “dzaanh ledo” which means “the day is sitting”. This description of the actual phenomena that defines solstice is fitting, the day is not gaining or losing time; it is stationary (ttp://goo.gl/cFN613). The Inuit of far north Alaska experience times of no sun at all, and during solstice communities held feasts where shamans prayed for the communities. Meat was eaten by each individual at the same time, and each person eating the meat focused on Sedna. Sedna is a diety of the Inuit underworld and a god of marine animals. After the meat was consumed, water was drank one person at a time in succession, and each person stated the time and place of their birth. To the Inuit this distinguished the summer and winter people. After a trading of gifts, the festivities ended by extinguishing lights in all of the homes which were kindled by a common, newly-lit fire garnering a new relationship with the new sun (http://goo.gl/aRyByZ). Inuit people were able to indentify the solstice when the star Aagjunk (literllaly “sunbeam”) lay directly below the sun which, although unseen, was just below the horizon (http://goo.gl/Rzzttg).

The solstice occurs at 8:30 PM in Alaska, but occurs at different times throughout the world (http://goo.gl/G6QEvw), and rekindles hope that winter is ending and that the new day will be longer.

I shot this timelapse of the Solstice sun on December 19th to give you a feel of the solstice sun (fear not, we only lost 2 more daylight minutes by the 21st). In Fairbanks Alaska, it barely crests the Alaskan mountains (Mount McKinley/Denali visible) before dropping below the horizon again. You can always check out the timelapse of summer solstice when it it never sets in the land of the Midnight Sun. Happy Solstice!

Finals Week Aurora Borealis

It’s finals week here at UAF and that means no sleep because you’re studying… or, because the aurora is out! Last night I simultaneously watched the aurora “oval” (i.e. the prediction of aurora visibility as provided by NOAA Space Weather) on my screen and studied for my evolution exam on Tuesday. When the aurora perked up overhead  at 10:30 PM I abandoned my books, and headed outdoors. For the sake of my education, I decided to stay close to home last night and shoot over the UAF Sustainable Village so that I wouldn’t stay out too late. It was a stunning night to be out!

I am continuing to improve on my timelapsing technique. Last night these images were shot at 1sec with no buffer for card write in the middle. In the past I have left 2 seconds for card write. Often in those two seconds the aurora changes so much that a small gap has been created. You’ll notice without that gap, that the Aurora is silky smooth! Although this isn’t real-time, at 1 second intervals it’s getting pretty close! The 1 second exposure captured the vertical banding of the high aurora well.

Here is the timelapse from the night:

And, here’s the imagery.

The Green flame morphs a little bit over the Sustainable Village. A beautiful night out!
The Green flame morphs a little bit over the Sustainable Village. A beautiful night out!
A Facebook Follower described this as a 'green flame' to me this morning. I think that's a pretty apt description!
A Facebook Follower described this as a ‘green flame’ to me this morning. I think that’s a pretty apt description!

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In all of these images I have desaturated the foreground to remove light pollution. I think the effect is pretty nifty!
In all of these images I have desaturated the foreground to remove light pollution. I think the effect is pretty nifty!

Moonlight Winter Wonderland in Black-n-white… or Color?

I’m looking for your opinion. In the future,  I’m going to try ask questions of you (the readers) more often, because you all always have good insights, and I love to hear from you!

Last night was a simply beautiful night in Fairbanks. We received a lot of snow over Tuesday and Wednesday, and typical windless conditions in Fairbanks have left it hanging on the trees. A 90% full moon floated to the south over the Tanana and the temperatures hung around 8 below. It was the kinda of night you could read a book by! I was out chasing the aurora, and the data online looked AMAZING, however, I think a northern facing magnetic field kept the show at bay. In the end, a smudge of aurora was the best it got.

Of course, no aurora does not mean no pictures. So, now here’s the question. How do you prefer to see the moonlit landscape of Fairbanks? In black and White? Or in color? I think this is a case where black and white wins the day – but maybe you think elsewise?? These images will open in a gallery if you click them for easy comparison. Let me know! 🙂

This small band of aurora was the best that the heavens could conjure last night. Still a beautiful night to be out!
This small band of aurora was the best that the heavens could conjure last night. Still a beautiful night to be out!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Them Into Photos!

Ice fog and hoar frost greeted me as I stepped into the inky-darkness on December 1st at 7AM. I was snowshoeing up the Pinnell Mountain Trail in search of caribou. Specifically I was hoping to harvest an individual from the “Forty Mile Herd“, because the hunt opened on December 1st, and would be closed by December 2nd due to a high amount of animals near the road. The goal of the hunt was to harvest 283 animals, and it was projected that hunters would achieve that in one day. In short, it was expected to be a zoo of hunters steaming around on their snow machines. I wanted to skip the crowds and headed north over the snowfields where most people head south. Robert Frost would declare I took the one less traveled.

The sun finally broke over the horizon in 10:15, and I glassed over the shrubs again in the drainage that I sat high above. The sled that I drug made an excellent seat; I was anticipating filling it with caribou! However, 60 minutes of glassing used up 20% of my available daylight, and I decided to move to the next basin. After looking into the nooks and crannies of the next valley, it seemed the drain had been pulled in this basin, if there had ever been caribou there they had emptied out!  By the end of the day I had traveled over 7 miles over mountains, and through the snow, but no caribou to be found.

However, on a beautiful day like this one, there is always a silver lining. Each mountain side was filled with hoar frost encrusted spruces and the day finished with a great moonrise/sunset combination. So, rather than pictures of a trophy, I bring the pictures I shot of the Alaska Winter Wonderland!

By the way, let me know which shot of the moon with trees you like the best, I would love to hear!

As the sun rose the clouds went pink and orange overhead. I was in the shadow of the moutain, and wouldn't see the sun for a few more hours until I reached the otherside!
As the sun rose the clouds went pink and orange overhead. I was in the shadow of the mountain, and wouldn’t see the sun for a few more hours until I reached the other side!
This lone spruce is toughing out an existence on along the ridgetop. Sure is beautiful!
This lone spruce is toughing out an existence on along the ridgetop. Sure is beautiful!
The sun sets along the Pinnell Mountain trail. A great way to end a beautiful day!
The sun sets along the Pinnell Mountain trail. A great way to end a beautiful day!
One more look at the hoar frost as a rounds a large clump of spruces encased in hoar frost.
One more look at the hoar frost as a rounds a large clump of spruces encased in hoar frost.
A beautiful moon splits some spruce trees in the alpine tundra of Twelvemile Summit
A beautiful moon splits some spruce trees in the alpine tundra of Twelvemile Summit
Unfortunately computer screens are too small to do a panorama justice. However, here the moon rises and the sunsets. Pretty cool to capture it all in one image!
Unfortunately computer screens are too small to do a panorama justice. However, here the moon rises and the sunsets. Pretty cool to capture it all in one image!
Up in the alpine tundra of the Pinnell Mountain trail, the moon sits high over all.
Up in the alpine tundra of the Pinnell Mountain trail, the moon sits high over all.
Christmas came early to the Pinnell Mountain Trail - star on top of the tree!
Christmas came early to the Pinnell Mountain Trail – star on top of the tree!