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6 photos here of the Northern Lights over Scotland taken 4 November, courtesy, BBC Weather Watchers website:-
Oops! I forgot to include this link to a further 7 photos of the skies above Shetland and the Orkneys.
Stunning images, Laurence! Thanks so much for posting the links. Will you be joining CAS’s trek to Finland for a sighting? It’s too far a reach for me this time, but hopefully one of these years I’ll be able to sign on. I can’t imagine anything more magical than to see the night sky dancing in all its wild aurora colorations.
Anyone that can make one of Gavin’s Aurora Holidays should really go. My wife and I went on CAS trips to Canada in 2017 and Norway earlier this year (unfortunately not to Finland, though). Right before your eyes, you could literally see the curtain’s movement across the sky. And you’re right, Keelin. It is a most magical sight.
This B&W view is from the Canadian trip. The original color version is a deep, deep green.
Thanks for sharing these inks Laurence. In particular I love the picture with the classical red telephone box on the second link. Surreal!
And making a picture of the aurora in black and white is also very surprising Don. Love it!
Yes, I would love to attend the CAS event in Finland but I’ve had a lot of big expenses to deal with this year plus more to come in 2019 so I have to keep my purse strings tightly drawn. “Shucks!”.
Glad you enjoyed the postings I put up. I hope one day I will see Aurora Borealis for real before I “peg out”, so to speak!
Ooh err – my return to the forum and it promptly loses my post about a red arc that same night in Finland. Try again
A different red arc
I booked a trip to Yellowknife in December. (That’s not because I love the cold weather but because that is when my vacation and my wife’s can align.) I am quite nervous about the temperature, so I would like some advice. I did a fair amount of research and we will be renting warm clothes. We will be taking a “tour” a couple of nights. What I don’t quite understand is how you take pictures at up to -40. I read advice to have hand warmers to keep your camera warm, but how can you put these on the camera? Or do you keep the camera in a warm bag, take it out for a couple of minutes and then put it back in a warm bag?
If anybody can share these details I would greatly appreciate it. BTW, I have a Sony mirrorless camera and I plan to use manual focus prime lenses, so there is little mechanical stuff that could fail. Though I am aware electronics can freeze too.
George – I went on the CAS Sky Holiday in Canada in early 2017, and learned several things of note :
1) take plenty of long underwear, including long pants, undershirts, socks and glove liners. Silk was the best for me. We took some polyester (I think), and while it kept me warm, I sweated heavily with it on; silk whisked away the moisture.
2) On top of these undergarments, I wore “smart wool” shirts (then on top of that a heavy woolen shirt) and heavy duty jeans. For my feet, I had purchased some heavy duty socks (several years ago) from a sock manufacturer outlet at the Frontenac Hotel in Quebec. Over my hands, I wore woolen, fingerless gloves. You can see the fingerless gloves on my avatar-photo, which was taken in Yellowknife.
3) I assume the warm clothes you’re renting is similar to what I have on. Snow pants, books, fur lined parka. I can tell you this, if you don’t have any -40degree clothes already, then pretty much nothing you can buy is warm enough by itself. Your rental will pay off, but you need the other things I mentioned just to stay warm. PS – I never took off the snow boots except to sleep.
4) You will be surprised how much you need to eat and drink. Keeping warm in cold weather is hard work.
5) You will need a tripod for the aurora pictures since you best shots will probably be around 10 seconds., I took one tripod and two cameras with me; one a fixed 20mm f/2.8 and the other a 16-25mm f/3,4-4.5. I used them both wide open, manual focus (on infinity) and used a shutter release. I also took along several large baggies, big enough to hold a camera and lens.
6) The baggies are there to keep moisture off your sensor when you bring it inside. Put the camera and lens in the baggie while you are still outside. Let the camera warm up and dry out completely before taking it outside again. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to wipe off the moisture that freezes on the sensor and lens at 40 below.
7) Bring lots of batteries. They discharge rapidly in cold weather. Bring a charges for the batteries so that you can always have some ready. While outside, put the spare batteries in your pocket; body heat helps a lot. Interestingly enough, the electronics of the camera did not really seem to be affected by the cold temps.
8) You need to be well away from even the dim lights of Yellowknife; at least an hour’s drive away from the city. It must be very dark outside for the kind of photos I think you are looking forward to. It’s also very easy to get lost. Everything looks the same, especially when your attention is skyward.
9) The aurora comes in around 9-10pm for awhile, then seems to disappear, only to return around 2am. Both were equally fantastic, so maximize your shooting time when you can. Sometimes the aurora was just a wide green stripe across the sky, sometimes an arc or a curtain. Sometimes the whole sky is full of greenish light that reflects off the snow.
I hope this helps a bit. Let me know if anything is unclear or if you have other thoughts or questions.
Here is a photo I took while I was in the Yellowknife area.
Thanks Don, these are very useful details. But I am still curious. Can you describe your steps when taking the pictures? What I mean, for example: you are inside (or in a tent or a car) where it’s not terribly cold. You put your camera on the tripod, probably turn it on and make some adjustments. Then you step out and find a scene. How long would you be out? How long did a battery last? (I have three, do I need more?) You’re saying that the camera itself was not affected by the temperature, so I guess you did not try to warm it up with chemical hand warmers. I wonder if you can shoot for 10 minute of for 30 or 60 minutes.
Thanks again for your advice.
George – I definitely did not use chemical warmers for the camera. BTW I have a Canon 5D DSLR (not mirrorless). I did use them for my feet, though. Very useful there. At forty below, the ice on the lake was 5 feet thick, below several feet of snow.
I stayed in a lodge, so, while inside, I would mount the camera on a tripod, attach the lens leaving the lens cap on, hook up the line/shutter release. (If you don’t have one, you need to get one; otherwise it’s too difficult to push the shutter release button on the camera with your hand warmers, etc on. Also for other reasons.) Put in the card (SD, CF whatever).
BTW I usually put the lens cap on between shots; no real reason- just seems like a good idea. And on that topic, don’t use any lens filters, like a “Clear” or “UV filter”. They just get in the way of aurora shots.
Then I would take the whole setup outside. After about 5-10 minutes, I would remove the lens cap. While waiting I would look up, around, whatever and check out where I wanted to point my camera. Pictures look better if a bit of ground/trees/etc is in them. Otherwise just looks like green goop in your photo (notice the shoreline in my color photo, also the person in the B&W one). Tilt the camera and start clicking away. Your feet will get cold long before anything else. I could stand about 2-3 hours at a time, maybe just because I was excited to revel in the green majesty of it all.
Like I say , I was at a lodge out in the middle of nowhere, so I would go in to get warm, drink some coffee etc. I’d leave the camera/ tripod setup outside (put lens cap back on). Each night the camera/tripod setup was outside 5-8 hours.
Battery lasted me about slightly longer than an hour; here in Dallas they usually last several days. I would take more than 3 batteries. You don’t want to miss a picture just because you’re out of power. Same thing with the recording cards. Take extras. That’s the main reason I took two camera bodies and several “short” lenses. BTW anything above 40mm is a waste of space for aurora. I had a 75mm that I used around town, during the daytime.
Another thing I forgot to mention earlier. Take a small red flashlight. Red lets you see without destroying your night vision. This is important since the aurora can be kind of dim. And when you’re out and about, try to stay away from roads. There is occasional truck traffic and those headlights are real killers on your eyes/night vision and ruinous to your photo.
Some have suggested setting your histogram to show each of the RGB channels separately. I did that, but only found it marginally useful. On a completely different note, try the Ethiopian food place for dinner one evening; it is really good.
Hope this helps. Offer is always open if you have other thoughts/comments/questions.
Don, I am very grateful for all he advice you’ve given me.
I have always followed the TV program, “Ice Road Truckers”, for some years. Viewable on UK’s “Channel 5” programme. I am sure you can view this series via Internet.
The folk, “Ice Road Truckers”, undertake precipitous trails to deliver goods etc to communities to far flung places and doing so put their own lives at great risk.
In the much earlier series of the program “Yellow Knife” was featured.
Temperatures outside the heated lorry cabin would easily drop down to about minus 40 or 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Make very sure to take every precaution against the cold!
George: Just want to wish you and your wife a wonderful trip to Yellowknife next month. May all the Lights and all manner of delights be there for you! I look forward to seeing the images you capture.
Don and Laurence: At present, I’m not planning any trips to anywhere with a minus in front of its temperatures, but will save your suggestions for the (hopefully not too distant) future. Thank you both for posting such sage advice.
Laurence and Keelin, thank you for your wishes ad advice.
For those of you thinking of taking a trip to visit the Northern Lights via CAS’s trip to Finland 2019, or elsewhere, here is something to tease and whet your appetite!
Photo comes from NASA’s APOD page released today (18 November)
George – Really looking forward to some of your aurora photos.
I am making my way back home where I can get the pics off the card and size them down to less than 3MB to be uploadable. We had three very successful nights of “chasing”. Tired but very happy. Will post a few soon.
Happy new year!
Happy new year George and all who reads this. Your aurora is an awesome start of the year. The curling curtains of aurora high in the sky are amazing. Must have been enchanting!
What a way to bring Light and Joy to the new year, George! A fantastic photo!! Thank you for sharing this beauty with us. The experience of being right there in the moment must have been breathtaking! Looking forward to seeing more of your images once you’re rested. Meanwhile, happy new year and best wishes to all for moments like these that inspire us to pause and wonder.
Excellent photo, capturing not only the green, but other colors as well.
For those not in the know –
The green comes from excited oxygen atoms. Actually the red is oxygen too, just higher up in the atmosphere. Different electrons emit different colors when coming back to their “rest orbit”; the amount of energy “pumped” into the atom causes the various electrons to absorb the energy.
PS – If you saw some blue, then that would be nitrogen.
For a more interesting, readable as well as technical explanation see :
AURORA : In Search of the Northern Lights, by Melanie Windridge (especially Ch4 and Ch5).
Not sure what causes the white I see in your photo.
One of the most awesome things to me was seeing the curtains actually move in front of my eyes. From your photo, I bet you DID see that!
Looking forward to a Cloud-A-Day from you.
Got home late yesterday. During the trip I did not have my laptop to transfer the pictures to. On occasion I used a hotel computer, but that’s not very productive. I still need to work on my pictures. Aurora is not so easy to photograph. It can be too faint or too strong. It can move slow or fast. Equipment freezes, it got as cold as -33F (-37C). But you are not cold when you see the aurora.
There are two kinds of aurora. One is rather static, large or small swaths of (mostly) green in the sky, moving quite slowly. You would have to watch them patiently to see changes. And then there is the dancing aurora. That is the magnificent one. These are the curtains that move and descend on you and the little fringes that travel along the curtains bottoms, typically red in my experience. If you have not seen the dancing aurora you will be very content with the “static” one. In fact, what we saw first was static and we loved it. We took pictures and we said, this is great. And then, things started moving. And everybody was saying OMG! At some distance there was a rather large group of tourists and they were screaming with joy. We were absolutely ecstatic.
That show is difficult to capture because the movement is what makes it sublime. I took some video, but that’s event more tricky than taking pictures. I’ll have to cut it a bit before I share it.
So here is one more quasi random shot. My (Sony) camera is notorious for being biased towards the green color. I have Light Room, which supposedly can be used to adjust just one color without reducing the others, but I still need to learn how to use it. I think the white in the shot above is also a camera sensor side effect. (And the white object in the shot below is the moon.)
Before I go, Don your advice was very helpful, thank you! And thanks to all for your compliments.
A very Happy New Year to you, and, of course, all CAS members!
Thanks so much indeed for sharing your “prototype” photos and I am sure you will have others to share with us once you are fully settled back in. So glad your trip turned out so well. You braved the cold very well.
PS. I am not, by nature, an envious person but I feel twinges of this state coming to hinge upon me when I see your lovely photos. “Hahh!”.
Thank you Laurence.
The most trouble I have with posting more pics is that they are huge. Anywhere from 14 MB to over 20 MB. So I am trying to resize them with various tools, but the result is tiny pics in the less than 100 KB range. Obviously, some detail is lost. So excuse the quality.
Anyway, here are two. The first is how we were greeted on the second night as we got out of the van. The second one is later the same night. I like it because clouds show up. Altocumulus.
After having learned how to reduce the size nicely in LightRoom, a few more. I hope not to bore you.
Oh, and Don, we did go to the Ethiopian restaurant. Excellent! And also to a place called Bullock’s Bistro in the old town, where they serve fresh fish caught from the lake. Very good too.
George – Yeah, we went to Bullocks too. Excellent fish there. Somewhere in there is a bit of my graffiti. Was the photo of the old lady smoking the pipe still there? The moosehead by the cash register?
These pics are excellent, the trees really give the viewer the scope of the aurora, the feeling that you’re really THERE! , Especially the moon over the trees. I’m still trying to figure out where the white comes from; I didn’t see any of that when I was out that way (reflection of Yellowknife off cloud/haze?). Try reducing the exposure in LR in those areas to bring out some additional color .
Also looked up your mirrorless camera. Seems the bias towards green is in the artifacts and noise that low light has a tendency to produce. I really don’t think that has an impact on your aurora pics. Any of that should go away when you clean up the pics in LR. (As mentioned I happen to use Canon; the RAW converter they supplied cleans up pretty much all noise quite well). Also proper exposure on-site eliminates a lot of noise too; . Looks like you got that part down pat.
The articles I read indicate that Sigma lenses also reduce noise better than Sony lenses do. I have a few and they are good lenses; you might want to check them out.
PS – These colors are very much what I remember, so congrats on accurate captures.
Be sure you certainly don’t bore us with these great pictures George. Like Laurence I am not the envious type but I feel the same like he so eloquently described. Love your pictures and the stories you exchange with Don. Thanks for sharing!
George, I echo all the comments and compliments noted above and look forward to seeing any and all images you wish to post of your Northern Lights adventure. I can almost feel the swirling movement in the photos you’ve shared so far. Beautifully captured, they make my heart dance!
Folks, thank you all for your compliments and encouragements to show more. I am glad to do that. Here is a link to the trip album I created. Not just the Aurora, but also a few “frozen” moments. And a Bullock’s Bistro interior pano, maybe Don can see his signature :-)
Thanks for sharing George. Fantastic series for sure. I am curious whether Don will find his signature on the pano :)
So many are my warm (pun intended!) appreciative thanks to you for sharing all the lovely photos you took during your trip. That you have taken the time, effort etc to share your photos with us is highly appreciated.
In one simple word:- Mesmerising. This is something you will never forget!
Best wishes, and, renewed thanks, good man!
PS. Have you thawed out now?!!?
Looks like a great time George! Thanks for sharing!
These all around shots make me feel like I was back in Yellowknife again. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing (given the pic of the thermometer reading). I’m sure you had a great time; I know I did. Thanks for the revived memories.
PS – I found my graphic ;-)
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