Wednesday, May 9, 2012


One of the first twitter accounts I started following was @Aurora_Alerts, and it is still only one of two accounts that I have pushed to my phone as text messages.  In the last couple of years, there have been very few times when everything is aligned to see the northern lights from Calgary (51.0775° N): geomagnetic activity needs to be at least "Very Active,"  or close to "Storm"  levels, it needs to be dark, and the sky needs to be clear.

It's not that I've never seen them before. Growing up in Medicine Hat (51.0775° N) we used to see them several times a year. And when I lived in Edmonton (53.5472° N) during my undergrad they were even brighter, and once I even heard them.  One of the first years I lived in Calgary, I saw them dancing away behind the downtown skyline. The thing is, all of this was before I had the right equipment to even attempt to photograph them.

One night, in early March, I was heading to bed around 1am when I got a text about an approaching "storm"  (this was actually a few days before the big magnetic storm that was all over the news). I checked the forecast and looked out the window at the crystal clear skies.

I did what any normal person would do--I bundled up, collected my camera gear, and headed to the park a couple of blocks from home. The park is on a ridge, facing north, and it turned out to be a really good place to watch and photograph the northern lights. Even a coyote thought so (although he didn't appear to have any camera gear with him).

Considering this was my first time photographing the northern lights, I'm happy with the results. For next time, I'll remember that I can't see properly in the dark and I need to find a better way to focus the camera so I don't have a blurry foreground. Even with a tripod and a cable release I should probably stand stiller than I actually did. Lower ISO would probably help too.  But I'll get there (if all the conditions align again before I move too far south to see the auroras).