Well, what can I say? It’s a dream of many people to at least once in their lifetime witness such a spectacle. Since Canada is located in high latitudes, most Canadians take the northern lights for granted. For most newcomers like myself, however, seeing an aurora is a truly magical experience.
The city where I grew up (Recife) is situated only 8º South of the Equator. So no, I didn’t have even a slightest chance of seeing an Aurora there. When I came to Canada, I wanted to learn more about this beautiful effect of the solar storms on Earth’s atmosphere.
For a long time after arriving in Edmonton I didn’t own a car, so in order to see an Aurora display from the middle of E-town I needed a rather intense solar storm. This is because of the light pollution, which makes it harder to see faint details in the sky, in the same way you don’t see as many stars from the city as you would from a darker place. Well, those very strong storms are very few and far between and I can recall only once being able to see a very weak green band in the sky, one night when walking back home from work, out of pure luck.
When I picked up my photography hobby, in the summer of 2012, I thought it would be nice to be able one day to register one of those events. Night photography requires lens with large apertures, a solid tripod, good control of the camera functions, etc, so I knew I had a lot to work on.
I started learning. I purchased a tripod, started reading a lot about auroras. Aside from the photographical side of things, the subject interested me quite a lot, and in time I started to gain a better understanding of these events. By now I had a car, so I started to pay more and more attention to the sky (and to the internet) in the hopes of getting my chance.
I drove to Elk Island Park – which is a Canadian National Park about 65 Km East of Edmonton – several times only to watch clouds, or to have the full moon bathe my T3i’s little sensor in light as I tried to capture a little of the night sky. Other days I felt too tired to drive all the way there, and settled for a less-than-ideal spot. Once I was about to fall asleep when I saw the scene below on my window. I was too tired to go out, so I only took a few pictures, they looked like this:
This is the view from my balcony and also my bedroom window, so I actually had the chance to go to sleep watching the lights dancing on the sky in front of me like this. How lucky!
In another opportunity, I was in Jasper with some friends and we planned to go out and photograph the night sky. Again, we were very fortunate and had the sky painted green as a background for our photos:
Night sky in Jasper, AB.
In the fall of 2013 two students came from Brazil to spend a year working in our lab at the University of Alberta, and they were very excited when I showed them the pictures above. They really, really wanted to see the northern lights before going back home. And I wanted a chance to photograph a strong one. We drove to Elk Island in the middle of the night numerous times during that winter even with less than favorable weather. The frustration started building up. They were supposed to leave in July.
Finally one day all the “stars” lined up: On April 30th, 2014, the thermometer was hovering around the zero degree mark, the moon was only 1% visible (new moon) and there were absolutely no clouds up in the sky. I got home and received an alert of auroral activity. It was late, about midnight, but I called them anyway. We had an aurora to catch!!!
It took very little convincing and before 1AM we were driving to Elk Island once more, and the results are the pictures below:
This next picture I use as wallpaper on my computer at work until today:
We returned home that day at about 4AM. Very tired, but euphoric, because we had just witnessed one of the most beautiful phenomena of nature.
Most of those pictures were captured with my Canon 18 – 55mm f/3.5 – 5.6 kit lens. This is not a high-quality lens and due to the low aperture, it made me use longer exposures than I would have liked, as well as higher ISOs. Other pictures were captured with a Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens that I borrowed from Diego that night. I now have a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 that will hopefully allow me to capture different pictures next time I go out chasing auroras.
Sounds like fun, wouldn’t you say?