These are some notes that compliment my Second Aurora Picture Gallery. Here--as in the first "Notes on Auroral Photography"--you will find (a little!) on the science and techniques of auroral photography, and a play-by-play of each night that I was actually able to take some pics of the aurora. The aurora RULES!! :) :)
In the way of equipment, I use a Nikon D50 camera, a Tamron AF Aspherical XR DiII LD (IF) 18-200mm lens, and a tripod (a must--due to the long exposures). So---how did I know what equipment to buy? Well, I just asked our local photographic genius/specialist on the 7th floor of the GI (Geophysical institute), Poul Jensen. Poul *RuLz*!! :) :) :) :)
Pretty much all my exposures are for 30 seconds; however, if the aurora is REALLY BRIGHT (and sometimes this bright aurora can be fast moving), I use shorter exposures. I don't have any real "rules" for this---one just pretty much has to learn this from experience, I think. (I have learned--by hard (and sometimes painful :P ) experience--that one pretty much always wants to over-estimate the required exposure. (What one sees on the camera "screen," isn't always what one sees on a computer screen. . . .)) Don't look to this page for oodles of technical information--as I don't have it. :) I do all this (and pretty much everything else I do in my life :P :) ), pretty much holistically--intuitively.
Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention. . . . The naming scheme [for these pics, 'n stuff] is pretty much straightforward. The word "aurora" is followed by a three digit number, which specifies the order in which the "final pics" (MANY more were taken; only the best were chosen. :) ) were taken. The next bit is the date, in "American format" (sorry :P :( )---month.day.final two digits of year. (I leave it up to the intelligence of the reader to know that I have not been taking pictures since 1905---I'm not THAT old!! :) :) ) I used to have a convention of "AM" or "PM" added--to denote whether I went out in the evening or morning; I dropped this. It was cumbersome, and almost . . . well, silly. :) (Please note that I seem to have adopted some form of this convention, again. :) ;) )
8/7/06 Monday I was just coming back from a very long bikeride (Out the bike path parallel to the Johansen [Expressway], then north along the Steese [Highway], then back along "Farmer's Loop Road. . . .), when I looked up, and thought I saw some aurora. I thought, "Nah---it's just some sort of reflection of a car's headlights, off of a scratch on my glasses, or something." (I was thinking about seeing the aurora---after all, I had just put an alert out. . . . :) ) Then, I looked up again, and there was no doubt. :) :) :) :) This was eerily like the situation I found myself in the first time I got to see the aurora. . . .
This was just . . . extraordinary. I was just at the very end of a (very) long bike ride (any sooner, and I wouldn't've been able to get to my camera in time---any later . . . and I would have missed it. (!) ). It was as if it was God's Will---that I take aurora pictures that night. (. . .)
So, I went out and took them. :) This has to be the "earilest aurora" (in the season---I mean, it was still almost light out. . . . (certainly no "later" than nautical twilight. . . .)) I have *EVER* seen. (!!) I stood out there, taking aurora pictures---in little more than a windbreaker. This reminded me of northern Quebec, indeed. :) (Because of the megrims of the location of the "magnetic north pole," the aurora in Quebec extends further south than just about anywhere in the world.) It being so light out, the exposures were really tough. They came out (or at least "enough of them" ( :) ;) )---I took quite a few (This was the very first time I have ever taken the camera's memory to "full. . . .")) came out great. -Enjoy! :) :)
9/3/06 Sunday to 9/4/06 Monday I took the doggies :) to the Doggie Park. :) :) The aurora came out. While conditions were far from ideal (way too much "light pollution," etc.), I decided to take some aurora pics. (Having ~$1,500 of uninsured equipment out, with doggies running around in the dark, always makes me . . . a little nervous. -But hey! -If life gives you lemons---put 'em in vodka. :) :) (I can't take credit for that one---it is a quote by Red Green. ;) ))
[It was] Extremely challenging photography---with . . . interesting results. I particularly like the one where the ~red smoke of "The Golden Valley Generating Station," I think it's called, sort of "morphed" into the green curtains of the aurora. :) -It's not quite "Between Heaven and Hell" (famous aurora pic---not by a long shot :P )---but hey, it's still really cool. :) :) I also really like the one with the "ray," "reaching down" to the multi-colored (from the "interesting exposure(s)" going on :P :P ) spire of spruce. (You may have to select max resolution to see that. . . .) -And the just visible "ghostly images" in front of the truck? -That's me---playing games with really long (~30 sec) exposures. ;)
10/13/06 Friday to 10/14/06 Saturday The solar wind conditions were right for increased auroral activity. I had an alert out for Upstate New York. -I don't know if they got to see any aurora---but the display here was *FANTASTIC*! :) :) -I couldn't go wrong: no matter where I pointed my camera, I ended up taking a great aurora pic. :)
The display went on for a long time---I was able to capture many effects: Nothing says "Alaska" to me, than spruce trees silhouetted against a bright green haze. . . . (This has proved suprisingly difficult to photograph---at least for me. :) ;) ) The GROSSLY overexposed object in some of these pictures is a ?waning? gibbous moon. . . . For reasons which I still don't understand (This only happened the once---never before and never subsequently.), my lens started to "fog up." -The effect was pretty cool, though---so I kept some of the pics. :) :)
10/28/06 Saturday As I heading up to the GI, I noticed a bright ray, glowing to the north, behind the complex of buildings. I knew that there was a chance for some aurora, this evening--but had thought that it wouldn't amount to much. I stopped at an "out of the way" parking lot there, at the top of the hill--but things seemed to be pretty much "over"---so I didn't get my camera out.
Then, as I was getting ready to go in for some work I wasn't really looking forward to, I noticed that there was more going on. I drove back behind the Natural Sciences Facility--as I knew there was a dark place behind a big mound of dirt placed there so that people couldn't just drive back onto the trails back there. (One time I found a car behind it--with a gentleman sleeping behind the wheel. (He must've driven over 3/4 of mile (!!), by a different route, to get there. -But that makes for a different story, entirely. :) )) Scrabbling around on a narrow ~6 inch wide foot path in the dark--steeply up on one side, and steeply down on the other--carrying about $1,500 of TOTALLY uninsured gear . . . I realized that THIS WAS NOT THE WAY!! :) However, that is where the first pic(ture) came from. :)
So, I drove back to ~behind Harwood Hall. (I lived there---for something like 1 & 1/2 years. (! (!))) It felt pretty strange---being back around "my old stomping ground(s)." -'Cept'n now, instead of walkin', there, I was drivin'---and instead of just my eyes, I now had an at least reasonably sophisticated camera. :) That is where the next batch of pics came from. I thought (again :P ) that "the show was over"--and started driving back to the GI. . . .
THEN, on the drive back, the sky *EXPLODED*. It was remarkably brief---but, for about 30 seconds, I saw perhaps the most intense--and extraordinary--aurora I have ever seen. -Unfortunately, by the time I got the truck stopped--let alone by the time I got the lens on, and the tripod up and attached to the camera--the show was pretty much over. :P :( -However, the aurora was still so bright--that I was able to take some pics with [the lights of] Fairbanks showing. Although [they're] not going to win any awards for photography ( :) ), the last two of the set are pretty amazing pics. :) :)
11/27/06 Monday I got a new lens. This should markedly improve the quality of my aurora pics. :) :) *John grinning* :) :)
11/30/06 Thursday (I got to use my new lens. :) ) Rosie (and "Bubbles") decided that they urgently needed to go O-U-T---during the final five minutes of my second time through the first episode of the "New Doctor Who." :) :)
At first I was annoyed; however, when I looked up at the sky as soon as I got out the door, I noticed an extraordinary auroral dispaly. -It looked like (and I know this is going to "date" me :P :P ) the dancing of the lights on the front of one of the ships in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It was awesome. :) :)
So, I headed out to my back yard to take some pics. This display was pretty much over by the time I got there; however, with the enhanced light-gathering ability of my new lens, there were still shots to be had. (To be totally honest, I was--at least at first--disappointed with the performance of the lens---I mean, it wasn't the "magic cure-all" I was expecting. . . .)
There was, however, one *EXTRAORDINAY* pic that was taken. I was able to capture the aurora, light pillars, and an inversion---ALL IN ONE SHOT!!!! Please note that this pic is actively being considered for an Astronomy Picture of the Day. (!!!!)
I thought the show was pretty much over. Apparently, from reports I got from others in the Fairbanks area, had I waited until later in the morning, there would've been much more to see. . . .
12/12/06 Tuesday No new aurora pics---in fact, there haven't been any new ones in some time. . . . I just got my camera settings correct. Poul fixed them for me. :) Poul RuLz!! :) :) Apparently, I have been using the wrong ones--and the perhaps WORST POSSIBLE ones--all this time. . . .
Here is the first pic taken with the new settings:
Poul was amused that my elbow was what came out in focus. :) (I don't know why, really, I saved this one [pic]. . . . :) :) )
2/8/07 Thursday I believe this was the first time I got to use both the new lens--and the new settings. (It's been something like seven months--since I was able to update these "aurora notes." (. . .)) I caught at least one nice pic. :) Oh! -And I kept the first one (even though represents HORRIBLE photography (!!))---my very first (auroral) "overexposure." :) :)
2/14/07 Wed-nes-day :) Valentines day aurora. :) :) I was out walking the doggies :) :) --when I saw some *VERY* stange things in the sky. . . . After a while "up here," one gets an innate (word choice?) sense of how the aurora is going to behave (Well, at least I did, anyway. :) :) ). What I saw in the sky this time was . . . well---either something *VERY* stange was going on "up there"--or something VERY strange was goin' on in here (John taps the side of his head.) ( :) ). I was very glad to hear--from the (truly wonderful) Judy Triplehorn :) --that the "Hex II rocket campaign" was launched on the previous evening. -In fact, the rocket trails are visible, in some of these pics. . . . (In fact, for a while, one is looking more at the (time) evolution of said rocket trails---than at actual aurora. :) )
Oh! Ever since I saw one of Jan Curtis's pics of aurora through the clouds, I have been ~obsessed---with taking one as good. I still haven't made it---but one of these is pretty good. :) :)
2/27/07 Tuesday I was out walking the doggies :) :) , and--while actively in the process of scanning the northern horizon for aurora--I saw something out of the corner of my eye. -Looking over to my right (east), I saw something covering about a third of the sky. At first--it was soo large, and soo bright--that I thought it must be something else (a cloud, underlit by city lights, for instance).
But no, it was the very aurora I was lookin' for. :) A spectacular display ensued. Normally, when I am that far north (with the doggies :) :) ), the display is all but over--by the time I get back, and get my camera set up. This time, it [the display] hung around---and I was able to get some great pics. :) :)
4/1/07 Sunday April Fool's Day aurora. :) :) While walking outside ([the sky was] really too bright out for something like this [(viewing an) an auroral display]), I noticed some SPECTACULAR aurora overhead. I rushed back in, and got my camera and tripod set up. The photography was VERY challenging--what with the "bright" sky---and the RAPIDLY moving aurora. However, I was able to get a few [pics]---even a few good ones. :) :)
I was stopping people---to get them to look at the sky. One Indian guy was soo impressed, that he whipped out his cell phone--and started raving about the display---in Hindi. Now, I wonder . . . how many people in their lives, get to hear someone rant and rave about an auroral display---in Hindi.