(August 4th, 2010) After a long day of sweltering heat with very little shade, I was able to take this last, long exposure photograph of N275P and my friends Phil Bryant Bert Mann, and Dale Tibodeau as they took off on their adventure. It was dark and pitch black. The brightness comes from having the lens wide open for a long time.
Phil Bryant(L), Bert Mann(back to camera) and Dale Tibodeau(R) can be seen going through their exhaustive checklist the last moments before launch. We all got together in prayer for their safety, and wished them a bon voyage. They landed the next morning. You can follow their flight path on Spot (no longer available). They landed safely at about 8AM.
Last photograph I took before launch-towards decoupling from the Air Liquide truck (to the right). The black hose is delivering the hydrogen.
We are still very much newbies, having seen the Aurora twice, but we have learned there is a process we can follow to help us capture images. The caveat is that we have yet to use a film camera, my preferred type of camera-but it is on my list!
This is a very minimal list, not exhaustive, of things you need or can use, but it should give you enough to get you started. There are a lot of web sites containing good advice. Foggy Lens Photography got us started by giving us an evening class and lab where we captured our first images.
First, some basic equipment. I found having everything in one place really helps so I made a boogie bag with the cameras, and stuff, and a second one with chairs, so I can just grab and go. In my boogie bag I keep:
Camera – You need a digital camera, with low noise at high ISO and either a timer functions or cable release (remote), and white balance control. Practice to feel comfortable working it on manual. At a minimum you need to become familiar enough with your dSLR to understand and manipulate:
Setting your camera to RAW
Lenses – You can use what you have of course, but in general the wider the better. (Don’t forget to remove all filters),
Tripod – Sturdy tripod that won’t wobble during long exposures is a must.
Extra batteries – Always have backup batteries. And a backup for the backup. In cold weather, like we have here in Alaska, you will find batteries can drain quickly, sometimes without warning. Warming them against your body can sometimes get the power up.
Extra memory cards or film, you never know what can happen.
Cable release or remote – This will help you trigger the shutter while not touching the camera and tripod which causes shaking. An alternative I use is the timer function, so when I click the shutter, it will wait X amount of seconds before the shutter opens.
Second, Your camera will perform best on manual. Shoot RAW for the greatest flexibility. We left white balance in auto, but others liked how Tungsten came out. To start I,
Set my lens to its widest (lowest number) and focus to infinity.
Set my ISO to 1600
Set my time to 15 seconds
Set timer to 2-5 seconds.
Now you set up your feedback system. Look at the results you are getting and start adjusting the settings as you need. If you dark, increase your ISO and/or time. If too bright decrease.
Third you need to find aurora. Even during the best time, the Northern Lights are fickle and will display when in the mood. You can ask around and look at local web sites for information on best place to hunting. There are sites you can visit or sign up for that will give you notification when something is about to happen.