This is a guest post written by Bud Kunzeli, Bud lives in Alaska and have been shooting Northen lights for years. He was kind enough to write this essay highlighting the most important aspect of Aurora Photography. Bud’s work can be viewed at http://www.pbase.com/santa
There are very few people who have more opportunity to view Northern Lights than those of us living in Central and Northern Alaska. I shoot the lights a lot. I shoot for 6 hours or more some nights. Some nights they are out 5 minutes other nights, 5 hours. Often it’s chilly.
Aurora photography is part photography and often, part cold weather adaptation and survival. Aurora photographers in Alaska have to deal with temperatures down to -50F (-45C) and even colder. I can attest to that, at least. So what do you need to shoot aurora?
Any camera that has a tripod hole and can shoot ISO400 for 15 sec at f2.8 -or equivalent exposure- can do a decent job of taking an aurora photograph. That is a very common exposure. So is ISO800 for 30 seconds at f2.8. Thirty seconds with a 16mm lens will give you very slight star smudges. OK by me, not OK with others, but that’s a ball park exposure for a common aurora as seen from a high latitude.
Obviously a tripod is required. My camera bag has a Canon TC-803N that allows me to automate some shooting if I want star trails or if the exposure goes over 30seconds for any reason. Anyone doing a lot of night photography needs that or the equivalent. Since most of my exposures are 18-30 sec I don’t use it every evening.
Currently I shoot a Canon MKII with a 16-35mm (version I ) lens. It is invariably at f2.8. I haven’t broken down to get a fisheye but I know I should have one. So should you. I set the focus manually to infinity and check it occasionally. Use Daylight as a good starting White Balance. Shoot RAW if you can, and play with it in Adobe Camera Raw or your other favorite editor to fine tune the WB.
I set my camera for a 2 second self timer or I use my remote cord. When it is very cold and difficult to remove my outer mitts even for a short time, the remote becomes invaluable.
I much prefer something in the foreground. A mountain, a tree, a house, almost anything of interest. I rarely just point the lens upward but occasionally that alone is fascinating. If you are lucky to be a in place for a few weeks in the Fall you may get some Aurora with lakes and rivers with water still flowing. That’s always nice as a foreground.
Locally the aurora is most active right around midnight. “Magnetic midnight” can vary on the globe, but locally 10PM to 2AM is prime time. Sometimes even before and after. I’ve shot aurora till dawn.
If you want to know if the aurora is going to be out, then http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/ is where you want to go. If you want to know if the aurora IS out (at least in the Fairbanks area), then http://salmon.nict.go.jp/live/aurora_cam/live_aurora_cam_e.html is where to go. That web cam closes down in the summer when the light makes aurora viewing impossible in the Fairbanks area.
The camera, shutter speed, settings and such are not a challenge. Finding nice composition is harder. Still harder is dealing with the cold if you are not used to shooting at -20F. My advice is to come in September or March. Both have darkness and neither is so cold as to be unbearable. You may need to invest in an inexpensive snowsuit or snow pants and some extra upper layers. A very thin pair of polypro gloves worn under some larger warmer gloves is just the ticket. Extra batteries. Extra batteries. Extra batteries. If you know the battery life of 1D MKII, you’ll be impressed to learn I have gone through six of them in one night, shooting less than 50 images. But you can rotate them back in when warm, so if it’s cold, bring hand-warmer chemical heat packs. There’s a tip for ya!
Leave the flashlight at home. And don’t bring a headlamp. Bring two. And don’t get just any headlamp. Get a headlamp that has a red-lamp ability. I use a Petzl, although I don’t use the camo version. I bring a spare – they are critical- and use rechargeable batteries so I always have fresh batteries when I go out, and I bring a spare set for each headlamp.
We are currently at a low point in the aurora cycle, which is an 11 year cycle, but we are headed upward. There is no long term forecast. If you have to plan ahead, just plan for any time in Sept. or March. If you can buy a ticket on Friday and leave Sat then you can watch the weather and aurora forecast together. You CAN get a good idea about potential aurora action in the next few days. To a lesser degree for weeks ahead. If you can come on the spur of the moment when clear skies are combined with a Kp of 4 or more you are virtually guaranteed aurora viewing in the Fairbanks area.
I’ll leave it to Antoine to insert a few images here as he wishes from my web pages at http://www.pbase.com/santa/aurora and http://www.pbase.com/santa/aurora_miscellaneous.
Feel free to drop an email to kuenzli [at] gci.net if you have any questions, and if you decide to make it up this far, holler if you’d like to go out shooting.
below, -20F in a 20mph wind self portrait with self timer and 550EX flash on camera. Note the frozen moustache and the lynx fur laying down in the wind. At -20F and colder, care must be taken when looking through the viewfinder. you must hold your breath completely when looking through the viewfinder or you will frost over the viewfinder and/or LCD and/or the lens itself.
good shooting to you,
Honestly I don’t know how I can introduce Patrick. Patrick for me is more than just a photographer I admire. In fact, for the past couple of year, Patrick has been for me a friend and an inspiration.
I met Patrick on Photosig and I was so amazed by his portfolio that I emailed him. Patrick’s reaction was much more than just a polite thanks, he took the time to chat with me and help me out many times by looking at my pictures and commenting on them.
If at a personal level Patrick is great his work is nothing less than wonderful. Although I have never seen a picture he took that was not landscape, he has a unique way of composition that, I think I could recognize his pictures just by looking at it. Any place through his lens would look just WOW.
A very quick note for those planning to buy the new Canon EOS 450D. The English manual is now available from Canon website.
It’s at the bottom of the Guides and Manuals section in the Drivers and Download page.
You can also download it directly through this link
I don’t own a Nikon D300 but I am sure many of you do or are thinking of buying one.
I stumbled today on a wonderful thread at DPReview full of resources that will help anyone still struggling with the D300 or about to buy one.
I found this compilation really informative and thought it might interest you so here it is
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I have been thinking of writing a guide about how to hold your DSLR but a quick search and a recent thread on DPReview revealed to me that there are out there much more than what I can write, so instead I have made for you a special list of the best articles I found.
Proper holding a SLR camera can make the difference between a sharp image and a blurry one, it can also keep fresh after hours of shooting or tired with arm and back pains after a short moment. No matter how old or new you are in photography I do not think it would be a waste of time to read an article or two of the ones I am about to present you. You might be surprised how easy we can pick up a bad habit.
Hand holding basics
- How to hold a digital camera
Digital Photography School
4 easy steps to better hand hold your camera
- Proper Technique for Wide Angle & Telephoto Lenses
A quick guide on how to use your body as a tripod
- Developing a proper hand holding technique
Illustrated “do and don’t” of hand holding techniques
Long telephoto lenses
- Mastering Big Glass Technique
Getting started with long and bulky telephoto lenses
- Advanced Long Lens Technique
A premier guide to long lens techniques with detailed setup instructions.
- On Monopod Technique
Because using a monopod is not as intuitive as you might think
Finally 2 short videos
Well folks that’s it, I hope you will enjoy your reading and hope you all had a good April’s fool day !