Northern Lights: Long exposures, a Satellite and a Satellite-Receiving Dish

Alaska, Landscapes, Photography

The Northern Lights visited last weekend, thanks to a solar flare that sent charged particles towards Earth. In a news brief, alerting northern residents to the likely lights display, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner quoted a NASA scientist saying “This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013.” It will likely be the last significant show of 2012-2013 winter, Fairbanks already has over 15 hours of sunlight, with dusk and dawn expanding far on either end.

I work late on the weekends, Friday night I had my tripod, but the lights weren’t very dramatic. Saturday night the lights were much stronger, but I foolishly was without tripod. I tried to find adequate surfaces to rest my camera and relied on the 2-second self timer, effective, but far from ideal.

2-second self timer, camera on the ground. A 40-second exposure allows the photographer to step back and enjoy the show, even while photographing.

2-second self timer, camera on the ground. A 40-second exposure allows the photographer to step back and enjoy the show, even while photographing.

Although April 10 recorded the strongest solar flare of the year, it did not produce the most dramatic lights I have seen this winter. Those came over the nights of March 16 and 17. I went out with a tripod that night.

Earth's originally satellite the moon, a satellite receiving dish and radio tower, all visible on top of Ski Boot Hill as northern lights streak overhead.

Earth’s original satellite – the moon, a satellite receiving dish and radio tower, all visible on top of Ski Boot Hill as northern lights streak overhead.
Setting the camera pointed straight up creates a fun, abstracted form. The Big Dipper is visible in the top-left portion of the photo.

Setting the camera pointed straight up creates a fun, abstracted form. The Big Dipper is visible in the top-left portion of the photo.

Thanks to all the wonderful visitors I’ve had over the last few days. I’ve greatly enjoyed viewing your blogs as well.

Tractor and barn illuminated by norther lights

Alaska, Landscapes, Photography

For one reason or another, the northern lights are something I don’t photograph enough. Being a heavy film shooter until recent probably played a factor, digital cameras are more cooperative in cold weather. Cold, lack of tripod, poor location  and early-morning hours have all played a role in deciding as well.

As the wind whistled and the lights danced overhead a few weeks ago, I said, “no excuses.” Less then a mile to get to my house I had a revelation: the hay field about half-a-mile up the road. Seems silly I had never though of it before.  Not wanting to miss a second, I decided to forgo finding my tripod and zipped to the field. I used the two-second self timer and the roof of my car. Directly off Farmers Loop Rd. subsequent cars driving by helped illuminate the farm equipment and barn. Foreground helps any picture, especially northern lights.

The image is actually two pictures placed next to each other. Photomerge, which creates panoramas, wouldn’t blend the images. The color is off and the horizon isn’t perfect, but I like it.

Worth noting, the Big Dipper is noticeable,  just up and to the left of the barn.

Northern lights dance above a hay field off Farmers Loop Rd., Fairbanks Alaska.