Technique Tuesday: Shooting the Aurora Borealis
Recently my staff received the following question in regards to the above image:
“Was this photo a single shot, an HDR composite, or some other technique?”
this is from the good ol’ days when you shot a slide (single exposure in this case) and waited a few months to see if anything turned out…
All the details – Canon EOS-1N, Canon EF 17-35mm lens, f/2.8 at 30 seconds, Fujichrome Provia 400 film, Gitzo G1325 tripod.
The aurora borealis, or the “northern lights” as they are often called is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs as electrically charged particles from the sun make gases glow in the upper atmosphere. Despite the dryness of this scientific explanation, it is difficult to view the aurora borealis without experiencing a sense of wonderment and mysticism. It remains one of the most dazzling sights in the natural world.
To get this image, I flew to Fairbanks, Alaska, then drove eight hours north to the Brooks Range on the famous pipeline road to Prudhoe Bay. The Brooks Range lies within the Arctic Circle and thus provides a more predictable chance to see the aurora borealis. I timed my journey to coincide with a half moon because the snow-clad range would be properly illuminated by the half moon’s light. A full moon might actually have been too bright during the required 30-second exposure. I discovered that despite the fact that the aurora is in continuous motion, a 30-second exposure is usually fast enough to yield proper exposure and reasonably sharp lines within the displays. When I photographed this display, I was unhappy with its color, which appeared to be a dull, pale green. When I returned home and developed the film, I was delightfully surprised to discover that the film picked up the reds.
This photo is featured in the book “Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky” as well as being available as a fine are print.
Are there any photos in my collection you’d like to hear the story behind? Drop a comment below – your suggestion could spark an idea for a future blog post!