The January photo was photographed over Lake Michigamme on August 31, 2017 about 5:30AM. More specifically the boat launch at Van Riper State Park, so not the most glamorous location. Michigamme and the park are located in the central Upper Peninsula of Michigan, about 40 minutes west of Marquette.
I was on a UP mountain bike trip with my son, 13 at the time, and we were camping at the state park in the rustic campground. So this was not a photography trip yet I always try to make some images if I hear the Aurora forecast is promising and the skies are clear. I don’t remember exactly, but I believe it was cloudy earlier in the night so I didn’t even look to see if anything was visible.
We crawled into the tent on a very chilly night thinking maybe later the skies would clear. I forgot to set my alarm so good thing I woke up at about 4:30 in the morning. I knew my son wouldn’t want to get up to go check the skies to see if the aurora was visible, not his thing. So I quietly got up, grabbed the camera and tripod and walked down to the boat launch, which is only a few hundred years from our campsite. The plan wasn’t to stay out all night anyway as I didn’t want to leave him alone for a long time.
The skies cleared and I could see the distinctive glow to the north, northwest. I had scouted the boat launch area the evening before while still light out and I had a good idea where I wanted to shoot from to keep the dock out of the image and include some of the shoreline. I liked that some lights from a cabin or house where on off in the distance. Just across the lake is highway 41 but at this time of the morning there was very little traffic if any so I didn’t have to deal with car lights in the trees.
I only stayed out for an hour or so as light pillars were coming and going and I hoped they would get real strong before dawn after which the lights would be too hard to see. So I was quite happy with the images I made, I wasn’t out all night and was able to get some sleep for mountain bike riding the next day.
BTW, exposure data: ISO 3200, 8 seconds at F/2.8. Using a Nikon D600, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm. My focus point on this lens is over the right side of the infinity symbol ∞ < on the lens at 17mm. Its closer to the center of the symbol if I shoot at 35mm.
If you want to see the scientific data on that day go to this link – Space Weather Live
There was a G1 geomagnetic storm with Kp numbers at 5+ but that mostly happened after dawn and sunrise so I would not have seen it. So my guess is this image was during the start of a good Aurora and maybe Kp 4.
The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however its a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here – Kp Numbers Info
People ask is this what lights look like with the naked eye? The short answer is no. It has to do with how human eyes see at night, basically in black and white and not very well
Here is a good write up about why this is – What our eyes see VS what camera sees
Some say they can see the colors and maybe so, but in my experience its a milky, white color. Although I have seen a faint glow of green with my eyes. And even though mostly white I have definitely seen light pillars shot up into the sky. But, just because the human eyes are bad a night vision doesn’t mean the color isn’t there. I would also love to be in Greenland or Norway close or above the arctic circle some day as I understand that far north you can see more colors, especially with strong geomagnetic activity.
Have you seen the northern lights?
Thanks for stopping by. – Bryan
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