Auroral photography: A guide to capturing the Northern Lights: Digital Photography Review

Via Scoop.itNWT News

[excerpt] 3. Location, Location, Location Photographers in search of exceptional aurora imagery will generally need to travel a significant distance. This is because aurorae form in oval rings that, roughly speaking, circle the magnetic north pole (the ‘aurora borealis’) and magnetic south pole (the ‘aurora australis’). When observed from far away, these rings will appear as a faint glow on the horizon. When viewed from the arctic or antarctic, however, even an ordinary aurora will often appear directly overhead. Overhead aurorae tend to be more photogenic, clearer and brighter because of reduced atmospheric interference, and will more effectively illuminate the foreground. Auroral displays over snow, for instance, will generally cause the snow to take on the coloration of the aurora. In comparison, when an aurora is low on the horizon, the foreground will often appear as a less-interesting silhouette. In addition to finding a location remote from the equator, you’ll want to situate yourself far away from city lights, airports, and other sources of light pollution. To give you a quantitative sense of what this means, when photographing around Fairbanks, Alaska (population under 100,000, counting the surrounding boroughs), I prefer to be at least 30 to 40 miles out of town. The farther, the better. Even from 100 miles into the bush, my photos will occasionally still show a faint orange glow on the horizon. Here are a few popular spots: – Central and Northern Alaska: Relatively easy access from most of the United States, via Fairbanks. Hundreds of miles of beautiful mountain scenery, with year-round road access. The best locations, in my opinion, are along the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot. – Iceland: Astoundingly beautiful landscapes abound, and unfrozen water suitable for reflections is abundant, even in winter. Frequently overcast, but still one of the world’s most wonderful countries to visit. However, travel from most places outside of Europe can be time-consuming, and staying in Iceland can be very costly.- Yellowknife, Canada: Well-situated in the auroral belt, but most photos from Yellowknife seem to feature flat fields of snow with pine forests. – Greenland: At the time of writing Greenland is quite difficult to reach directly from the United States or most other countries, unless you’re a world-class swimmer. No road system, but Greenland is a superb place to snowshoe around in the dark, searching for aurorae. Greenland isn’t for the faint of heart though, it’s a rough country and polar bears can (and do) attack humans. – Tromsø, Norway: A very long trip from North America, not even counting the time required to find the “ø” on your computer when booking the flight. This location offers picturesque mountains and water in which auroral reflections regularly appear, but you might struggle to completely exclude the glow of town and city lights from your photographs. – Antarctica: Exotic, and one of few locations where one can photograph the aurora while huddling for warmth with a colony of emperor penguins. Unfortunately, unless you’re a scientist overwintering at a research station, it’s virtually impossible to access the continent when aurora are most prevalent.
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