Last night I did it again, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Yup, when I bring someone out for their first aurora and they are so excited that they can barely stand, I share in that excitement. Their grin is my grin and their joy is my passion. Their exuberance was warranted, as the aurora put on a beautiful show for us over the dogyards of Black Spruce Dog Sledding and for Alaskans across the state. It was hard not pull up one of the empty sleds that beckoned to the watcher to layback, relax, smile, and enjoy the show. It truly is a beautiful world.
If you are interested in purchasing “Take A Seat for the Aurora”. Please top by my Fine Art America Site 🙂
A Happy Trio under the Aurora!
This image of empty sleds beckons the viewer to come take a seat and enjoy a beautiful show.
The aurora creeps in over the Dog Yard of Black Spruce Dog Sledding.
A powerful flare of aurora threatens to blow out this image. Such a beautiful scene!
The aurora lights up the scene behind these snow-laden black spruces.
I never leave out the horizon in my shots, but did in this one for some reason. And you know what – I kind of like it! The milky way is showing up alongside the aurora in this shot.
Jason and Megan were visiting Black Spruce Dog Sledding, and I was more than happy to get an image of them under their aurora. A great couple!
Wide vistas over Murphy dome showing off a beautiful sky.
I jumped when my alarm went off at 11:30 PM, and I looked at my surroundings to remind myself where I was. The sleeping bag wrapped around me and my reclined seat reinforced I was in my truck as my blurry eyes brought the steering wheel in focus. My memories flooded back to me; I arrived 30 minutes ago, and with no aurora in sight had set an alarm and took a nap. I was expectant that a G2 storm forecast was going to pay out, and as I peered out of trucks window it seemed I was in luck. The aurora was starting to show a band high in the sky. I turned the ignition, and drove down the road to find the “perfect”, golden tree – my goal for the night was to fuse autumn colors and the aurora together.
I stood on the road with my head craned up, watching a beautiful, green aurora band overhead. This aurora was Mr. Jekyll which soon morphed into Mr. Hyde – albeit a beautiful version of him. I was not ready for the full force of the aurora as it transformed the sky into a green and pink blanket of shimmering, dancing lights so different than what I had been looking at minutes earlier. The energy that rolled overhead, I learned later, was the result of a monstrous, KP7 event, that pushed the aurora into Washington and the Midwest. I was so overwhelmed by the aurora that I expressed myself by simultaneously singing, praying, and taking pictures by myself under the vast display of lights. For those who know me, you might guess that I was also grinning broadly from ear-to-ear. My smile would not have disappointed you!
For parts of the night, my only focus was to capture the overhead aurora corona to the best of my ability. The last time I successfully captured the corona was in Denali National Park last year. I couldn’t be more happy to show you this gallery of images from last night – there were many more taken! The gallery is chronological, and hopefully gives a sense of the scale of the aurora and how quickly it built. These images are taken at 9mm, and hence have a ~120 degree field of view!
Saturday was a dog day for me in Alaska. When my friend Brandon and I arrived at noon to Black Spruce Dogsledding the dogs greeted us with baying and loud voices. Or mission for the day :do some mushing and then shoot some night sequences of the dogs and mushing for an upcoming video.
My confidence was much higher from the last time I had been mushing. As my six dog team took off the same adrenaline rush hit me, but my newly acquired skills reigned the excited dogs to a more reasonable pace. My heel weighed on the drag a bit to control the sled speed, and my toe sat on the runner. The stance allows stability around turns and maintains control on the sled during downhills, it is a very useful position! As we headed into a north wind the -40 below windchills were exacerbated by the movement of the dogs. Any bare skin was out of the question! I pulled up my facemask over the tip of my nose and adjusted my ski goggles. Once encased inside of my cocoon I stayed very warm, in fact, my hands broke a sweat due to the activity!
Of course the temperatures were very limiting for shooting, but I do have some stills of the day which capture the dogs and some of the cold!
We settled into the house after our 9 mile mush and warmed up with some hot supper, by the time we stepped outside again at 8PM, magic was beginning to happen in the sky. A faint rivlet of aurora was growing, and by 10:15 had grown to a flowing stream which then topped its banks! Ribbons of pink, green, and purple aurora flowed and dashed across the sky. The show lasted for 15 minutes, and then mysteriously faded away. Sometimes seeing the best aurora is just about being at the right place at the right time. The images I captured that night are easily some of the most colorful and sharp to date! What a show!
Part of what I have to offer today is footage shot with Brandon’s Sony A7S. This camera can almost literally see in the dark. Although the footage is not of the highest quality possible (for that check out Ronn Murray’s incredible work!), I couldn’t be MORE happy to catch some real-time auroras for you! These have been sped up to make it a bit more interesting to watch (since we didn’t catch the show at the most epic point), but allows you to see all of the movements, rather than what you miss in the timelapse!
Last, but not least, I have a new photo project! You can check it out at the 2015 Photo Project!
While my friends on the east coast are getting pummeled by a record blizzard, here in Fairbanks, Alaska we’ve finally hit “seasonably cold” temperatures. As the mercury dropped On January 25th – 26th to 40 below, the clear skies were coupled with good looking aurora data. The humidity was only at 5% which for me meant perfect clarity to the stars! As I stepped out of the truck I sucked in my first breath of the cold air; it’s always the hardest one! The sting is from both the cold air and the dryness.It bursts into the lungs and bites the nose.
Although this was not my first 40 below night walking around in Alaska, it was the first time I took my camera out into those temps! Shooting at 40 below presented some unique challenges. First, battery life is depressingly short and I could only take about 300 images in contrast to over 1000 on one battery. Second, anything metal is extremely dangerous to the bare skin, and when you are out shooting metal is a common thing! I was carrying a magnesium alloy camera, and aluminum tripod with an aluminum head. Dealing with these items meant wearing liner gloves which resisted the cold like an ant resists a lollipop – I’ve never seen an ant that could resist a lollipop. The result is that I watched the aurora play across the sky in beautiful patterns on several occasions while warming my fingers! Of course, the disadvantage of that is I cannot print my photographic memory, but I still enjoyed a great show as my digits warmed up. Third, clumsy mits made adjusting a cold, stiff tripod head quite difficult! What did I learn: future cold excursions will include a better pair of gloves!
With my petty whines aside it was a glorious night of aurora and aurora photography. I really focused on composition of shots, and although I did shoot a very short timelapse, most of my night was spent wandering through knee deep powder in the black spruces. Through the night the aurora shifted from an overhead band to the northern skies and danced in vibrant colors. Now that I am indoctrinated, I am looking forward to more auroras in the -40 club!
This is likely my best aurora image to date! I was really focusing on composition all night, and this one has all the pieces of a great image!!
Tracks in the snow indicate where I came from as I moved along the firebreak.
The aurora is just starting ‘heat up’ in this great image looking through the black spruces.
Anytime you see pinks in the aurora it means there is quite a bit of activity coming in. The pinks came and went quickly in smothered by curtains of green.
Panorama from 2 images stitched in PS6.
A second image with the sentinel pine – do you like the square crop, or vertical crop better?
Bundled up for that -50 below windchill! Temperatures hovered at about -35 and a slight wind plummeted the “feels like” temp to -50
A lone, scraggly pine tree stands sentinel on along the fire break.
The other side of the story is the temperatures when I back to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I was hoping their thermometer would read an official -40, but couldn’t quite reach that. Although at 8:00 AM the sign read -40, so close enough! I’ve included a screen capture of the temperatures and humidity as a some proof as well 🙂
On Martin Luther King day I got to take a new ride out for a spin.This ‘ride’ was not like many you find in the lower 48! It had 16 legs and accelerated like a drag racer; when the dogs at Black Spruce Dog Sledding take off they do so with gusto! Check out the video below for an excerpt of an afternoon of mushing!
This actually wasn’t my first dog-sledding rodeo, but it was 11 years ago that I was on a on a dog sled. Some things I remembered well. For instance, I remembered the excitement! As you stand on the rear of the sled and the dogs are baying and pulling against the gangline the feeling of thrill builds! When the quick release (a rope and pin tied to a non-moving object) is pulled the team takes off like a race car. Rule #1 is to hold on! From the kennels we headed out with our tag-sled team for a 13 mile loop. The dogs settled into a rhythm of about 7 mph on the uphills and ~10 mph on the flats. That is the pace that Jeff tries for when racing his dogs for mid-distance (300 mile) and longer races (1000 mile Yukon Quest or 2000 mile Iditarod). The constant pace of the run is essential for the dogs, they perform the best by establishing that pace.
On this particular trail it’s not long before the beginner’s baptism-by-fire comes into a view. A 90 degree turn after a road crossing was looming and my senses were keen as I considered how to navigate the obstacle. Jeff coached me by telling me to lean into the turn and try to stand on one ski while peddling one foot on the outside of the turn. He deftly performed the lesson he gave to me and I deftly tipped the sled into the snow bank! “I’m Down!” was all I had to call before Jeff had put on the break and I righted myself. Rule #2 – hold on during a fall! Fortunately, it was the only time I dumped the sled on our tag-sled tour. However, that doesn’t mean other section did not feel harrowing! On steeper down hills it was critical to keep plenty of weight on the drag to slow the sled and the team down. Zipping between black spruce trees we hurtled over snow drifts, wound through tight corridors, and leaned around turns. It’s amazing to me how mentally active you have to be when riding with a dog team in those conditions! Anticipating the turn or terrain ahead was essential to placing my weight correctly in the sled. Being centered, on the left ski, or the right ski changed how well I coped with the turns and the terrain.
I think it took me about five miles to start to feel comfortable in the sled. I no longer felt that I was going to tip at each turn and I began to feel my body relax. The smile which had not left my face since take off was still glued on. The joy of running with the dogs is infectious and the beauty of the scenery was unforgettable. During the night and morning a heavy ice fog had built up scales of hoar frost on the trees. The encapsulated trees glinted in the sun that burned through the fog bank. We concluded our 13 mile tag sled run (2 sleds pulled by a larger team), and then I took my own 4 dog team out for a short, local loop. It was great to test my skills with my own (albeit smaller, but more manageable) team! By the time I left that day the sun, now low in the sky, ricocheted through the gem-encrusted limbs in an orange light ending a truly great day!
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!
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.
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.
It has been labeled by some as the ‘storm of the season’, and even down in the Lower 48 strong showings of Aurora were expected. It was a true frenzy across much of Canada and the Northern U.S. However, the storm didn’t pan out how forecasters predicted because our magnetic field rejected the onslaught of solar radiation .
I did get a real treat out on Thursday evening when the storm first hit, and it may not be in the way that you think! Jiake is a friend of mine and fellow graduate student. He’s Tibetan and has been in AK for year, but had not witnessed the aurora yet. All that was about to change. His reactions were the real prize of the night!
As sunset hit on top of Murphy Dome the aurora started to show itself. The smudges of green mixed with lingering fall colors were nice – but Jiake was wondering, “will it get better?”. “Yes”, I assured him, “Yes it will”. As evening progressed the auroral symphony started to tune its strings. Beginning to the north it solidified and moved into a broad crescendo of dancing lights, and then falling to pianissimo, the lights went out. But then from the orchestral pit, Double Forte! Overhead, starting to the northwest and spanning across the sky through half-moon, the lights exploded in reds, blues, and green. Above us they shifted so quickly and were so broad that every where you looked seemed like the proverbial greener pastures. Your perception of what was better continued to morph as the exploding lights show raised the bar.
Jiake’s reactions were what made the night the most memorable. He was awe-struck, and the opossum grin on my face was from sharing that moment with him, and remembering the first time I had seen a show like this, only a year earlier. Throughout the night as the aurora flared his favorite expression was “Look over there!! What is happening?!”. Seeing as the aurora is often indescribable as words, ‘what is happening’ seems a fitting way to describe the mysticism of the flowing shades of green. Jiake and I spent the night under the stars and the Aurora, and what a night it was!
Although the huge solar storm has produced no other auroras in Fairbanks for the last few nights, I’m still hopeful for another good show before the storm passes- and that includes possible shows in the lower 48 yet! The forecast is still high for tonight with more activity planned for early in the week.
This gallery is collected on 09/11/2014 as is the following timelapse which goes from sunset to sunrise.
The days are getting darker here in Fairbanks, Alaska and it is that darkness which has turned my thoughts to the Northern Lights. I can recollect the nights I spent out last winter like a hazy dream. However, reviewing old blog entries brings back the sensation and awe of each experience of dancing greens, yellows, reds, and blues of the aurora which highlighted many nights.
The video above is a compilation of my shooting from the 2013 – 2014 season. I am extraordinarily blessed to witness what I did, and watching this video stirs up many emotions (all of them good, of course). I must say the musical back-drop provided by Enya is profound to me. I hope you will find this footage of one of Nature’s Great Marvels as enjoyable and inspiring as I do.
Last winter presented a steep learning curve for viewing and photographing the aurora. However, this season will bring further improvements to my shooting experience by designing a better insulation system for my camera, and obtaining a lens speed booster which increases the f-stop of the lens and increases its field of view. What more could an Aurora photographer want!
For individual aurora photos and videos you can always visit the main Aurora Page or the posts (links below). Although the “aurora season” means long, dark days too, I cannot say that I am not looking forward to it!
Fairbanksians, Alaskans, and berry fanatics everywhere be advised : IT’S BERRY SEASON! 🙂 So, find your favorite spot, and start picking!
Kassie and I headed out to my favorite berry barrens outside of town today. With a cool, wet summer, we expected to find lots of green berries, but were excited to find lots of ripe blueberries! The first wave of blues have just come into season, and there’s a great crop of green berries in the chamber, ripening up behind them.
I will admit I lacked a bit of judgement on the trip. I wanted to take Kassie down to my “top secret” spot. It’s my little gem of local knowledge that I found the last autumn while out harvesting. However, the hike to the bottom brings you down a very steep grade, through an alder thicket that resists your ever move, and across uneven terrain full of pot-holes. The whole bushwhack lasts for about .6 miles. When we arrived, the berries were plentiful, but green. That meant straight back uphill! The bugs on the way back lived up to the Alaskan standard of a thick, buzzing cloud. I could wipe 10 or 15 from a shoulder at a time. On the way back I tried to skirt the alder thicket which only added more distance to the grueling hike; the moss which carpets the hillside eats step up like you are wearing moon boots. Fortunately, she didn’t beat me up when we were back at the top – I wouldn’t have blamed her.
There were many other things to marvel and look at during the day. We found only one cloud berry, but many, many plants. For some reason they are not producing fruit this year. Also, the low-bush cranberries do not seem to be yielding many berries. I did find my first high-bush cranberries of the year. I didn’t know they could be more tart than when you eat them in the fall, but the ones I tried had the same effect in my mouth as chewing cotton. Dry, dry, dry! In the barrens, patches of red and white club mosses colored the ground. Fireweed grew in small stalks and patches.
By the end of the day we could have been more efficient (grueling hike taking up most of the time), but we still managed to pick almost a half gallon of ripe, delicious berries. Pies, muffins, and pancakes to come!
Well, it’s no secret that we had a lunar eclipse the other night. Alaska was just on the edge of the full eclipse zone, and the skies were crystal clear; we were in for a great show! It did not disappoint, the transition of the moon from silver to red was spectacular!
I took my equipment out to Murphy Dome. It was also one of the hardest shoots that I’ve done for time lapsing because the moon moves very quickly! In 10 seconds it would shift a noticeable amount in-frame, making it exceptionally hard to timelapse. Secondly, the transition from a very bright moon to a dark one was difficult to work with. In order to control the highlights of the moon, I had to sacrifice the dark part and to get the reds I had to blow out the highlighted, white part. Third, I was shooting at 300 mm, and the longer exposures were getting jostled in the wind. I spent some of the night huddled on the upwind side of the camera to protect it. With all that said, I’m not complaining one bit, I had a great night out 🙂
So, the video I’ve compiled here is from the phase transitioning to dark. I had to go in post-shot and crop each to match as closely as possible. I developed a technique of centering my cropping grid on a crater to get it as close as possible. A bit time consuming, but I find image editing kind of therapeutic. Still, there is a small waggle of the moon- I hope you don’t mind :).