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!
PC200101
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.
PC200155
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!
PC200178
The Aurora hangs of a sled at Black Spruce Dog Sledding, Murphy Dome, Alaska.
PC190046-2
The Milky Way and aurora collided early in the night before the aurora really intensified.

PC200109

PC200185
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!

2 thoughts on “Aurora Photographic Experiment”

  1. Fun to tinker. A tinker-suggestion: Shoot a typical exposure at a fixed focal length to establish a firm image…then finish the shot with a focal pull. By doing so, the core images will be more distinctive and the “ghosts” more subtle. Try the above using a dominant forward image…such as a nearby pine tree…with less-dominant images (pine trees) off in the distance. I think the dominant tree will be less ghosty than the off-in-the-distance trees. Similarly, use a stand-alone pine tree to establish dominant solitary forward image, then do a pull to stretch the stars. Pull should be from wide to narrow ie: 11-16, and your pine tree silhouette will retain distinct lines as the zoom tightens, but the stars will stretch. Images of Star Wars come to mind.

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