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The Northern Lights truly are Mother Nature's beautiful creation. Living in Northern British Columbia in Prince George we have the privilege of experiencing her beautiful dancing Aurora Borealis. This gorgeous performance in the night sky can be seen all year round with the proper tracking. This blog will discuss and answer a few frequent questions on how to see and photograph the beautiful Northern Lights.
Before discussing the best way to view and photograph the Northern Lights, many people want to know what the Northern Lights are and how they are created. After some brief research I discovered they are the result of many collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere and charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere. The many, many variations in colour in the Northern Lights are due to the type of gas particles that are reacting with each other. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 322km (200 miles). Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora. The Northern Lights can be seen in many different shapes and forms, ranging from patchy or scattered clouds of lights, to beautiful rippling curtains or shooting rays of light illuminating the sky with and eerie mysterious glow.
Another pair of common questions is: what is the best location for viewing the Northern Lights? and when is the best time? As a photographer I'm always searching for the next best location, but for anyone trying to view or take pictures of the Northern Lights I would strongly suggest a quick drive out of the city. Prince George has light pollution which can make viewing the Northern Lights difficult and less vibrant; it's not impossible but you need a much stronger solar storm for city viewing. A quick drive in any direction out of the city at one of our beautiful lakes would be the best suggestion (Nukko Lake, West Lake, Shane Lake, Tabor Lake, Bednesti Lake, or Purden Lake).
As for the best time, there really isn't one. My suggestions would be to Google an Aurora group and join one that has free email subscriptions for Yellow and Red Alerts. I combine an Email Notification, an iPhone Aurora app with Notification, and many Facebook groups with all sorts of Notifications. To chase the Aurora properly, I have found one must exhaust all options.
To successfully photograph the Northern Lights all you need is a camera and tripod, For a successful night shot you need your camera to be on a sturdy object. Secondly you need a camera; preferably a DSLR camera and some Smart Cameras with the ability to control your Shutter Speed to a minimum of 5-10 seconds. Normally I will zoom my camera out so I can see as much as the night sky as possible, (24-120mm I would use 24mm) For night shots I use between 10-20 seconds for my Shutter Time. Why 10 seconds? You want the camera to let as much light in as possible. This is why you drive away from the light pollution of the city.
It is also important to carefully select your ISO. I normally start off at 800 ISO, if it's too dark then bring your ISO up and vise versa. An easy set up guide for starting is: lowest focal length, 10-20 Seconds, and 800 ISO. Adjusting all the settings for the perfect shot is different every night and every location.
The number one tip I will give everyone is to always have fun and enjoy what you’re doing on your night adventure, regardless of whether you’re taking photos or not. Mother Nature can be tricky sometimes. Don't give up if you’re unsuccessful on your first try. Most photographers will visit the same spot 5-10 times before achieving the photo they want.
Thanks again for your time and reading my blog on the Northern Lights.
If you want to follow any of my recent work, you can find me on Facebook at K.Foot Photography and Instagram @kfootphotography.
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