2020 Northern Lights Calendar – September Photo

September photo once again shot at the Hurricane River.

The September calendar image was photographed on October 10, 2016 at 2:48 AM over Lake Superior, where the Hurricane river pours into the lake. Hurricane River Campground in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. That fall, I was honored to be the Pictured Rocks Artist In Residence for 2016.

For 17 days in October of 2016 I was honored and lucky enough to be the Artist In Residence (AIR) at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It was an amazing experience. You can view my 50 favorite photos from my stay here – Top 50 AIR photos. As AIR the park gives you a place to stay, I chose a cabin out by the Hurricane River, of course, and you spend your time exploring and creating. My goal was to really get to know the park and work for some story telling images and not just the classic overlook spots to celebrate the parks 50th year. I wanted to create at least one image per day and I think I was able to accomplish that.

The cabin I stayed in during the Artist In Residence.
Backing up photos from the day inside the cabin.

In addition the park asks that the AIR do a presentation to the public and donate a printed photograph to hang in the park headquarters. I presented a slide show of images talking about the stories behind them during the parks 50th celebration and also a mini workshop on making better images in the park, especially with phone cameras since that is what many tourists use now days. The image chosen to hang in the office is one of my favorite shots. (see below) And the park superintendent at the time liked it best because it has the cliffs and the lake, plus shows how the shoreline became to be (and still evolves) from the power of the lake in one photo. Informative and educational, not only another pretty picture she said.

Waves crash on the rocks at Mosquito Beach.
Grand Portal Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

There were only 2 nights where the aurora was active or the skies were not cloudy, however on the morning of day 10 the aurora was out! I don’t remember if I had checked the aurora forecast that day as I didn’t have cell coverage at the cabin and it is spotty throughout the park. (Tip: you can get good coverage at the Grand Sable Lake parking area on the east side of the park.) But most nights it wasn’t cloudy I would check to see if I could see any activity with the lights.

A little before 2:00 AM I woke up and I could see clear skies from the cabin window and thought I saw a glow to the north. So I got dressed and went out for a test shot to see if the lights were active. Sure enough, they were. It was quite chilly out so I grabbed a warmer jacket along with some hand warmers and headed out for some nighttime photography. I walked across the road, county road H58, to see what I could come up with.

Test shot from the cabin driveway to see if the aurora was active.
I crossed the road for another test shot with less trees blocking the view.
A shot from the overlook just down from the cabin.

I wasn’t happy with any compositions I was working so I decided to drive the short distance down to the Hurricane River area to see what I could photograph in that location. There is a bridge that crosses the river for the hiking trail so I thought I’d try a shot from the bridge using the trees to frame the aurora. There wasn’t a large enough gab in the trees however to see enough of the sky. So I crossed to the west side of the river hoping to maybe work my way up that side of the bank where I had not shot before. The lake was fairly calm and the river wasn’t high so I was able to tuck myself up against the rooty riverbank and have the river in the foreground with the trees framing the lights in the sky. And I didn’t get wet feet! Well not too wet, my daughter laughs that I always end up wet when shooting around water.

View from the bridge crossing the Hurricane River.
Self portrait from the spot the calendar photo was crested.

This aurora was not real strong so I used a bit higher ISO, 5000, and a 25 second exposure. This is pushing the limit of not getting star trails, see link on this below, and it gives the lights a more wispy look. However it also lets the camera collect a bit more light in the shadow area for a better exposure of the water and sand in the river. Quite pleased with the image I moved back across the bridge to see if I could find another composition. There was a rock on the beach I was using but not really liking the shot, but I did get kind of a cool self portrait. I shot for a couple hours and was back to the cabin about 4:00 AM to get some more sleep as I planned a long day of hiking later, but not too early. LOL!

Another self portrait down the beach from the river mouth.

Exposure data: ISO 5000, 25 seconds at f/2.8, Nikon D750, 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 – HERE

Kp number was 3 when this image was shot.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however it’s a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here. KP Info Here.

Here is a link to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What are the northern lights?

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. More info here.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing! -Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – August Photo

Magic over Lake Michigamme.

The August image was photographed this year on September 1, 2019 at 3:50 AM over Lake Michigamme. Same night/morning as the July image during our family UP trip this year. Everyone else in camp and the campground was sleeping now so I had it all to myself. 🙂 This is also the cover image of the calendar.

After photographing the aurora with my daughter earlier than getting into the tent for some sleep I awoke about 3:00 AM. It was quiet and peaceful in the campground now as most all were asleep. My camera and tripod were already set up and I was dressed for the cold morning air so I threw on my jacket, hat and gloves, then walked back down to the boat launch for some more photography.

What a treat. The aurora was still quite active, Kp Index of 5, and quite wispy looking. There were light and airy clouds overhead, moisture in the air, plus the mist and fog forming over the lake which created a very magical look when I made an image and looked at the camera LCD screen. I sat for about an hour making a few images, but mostly just enjoying the early morning along the lake to myself.

I do have to admit, I so wish the sky looked like this to my eyes with all the shades of green. I would still be there. I could see the glow, the rays and the misty look however it was shades of white and grey. See my January post for a photo of how the lights actually look to me. There is a link below you can click to read about why what we humans see is different then what the camera sees. I have read and been told that when you get to Iceland or Norway, places like that, close to the arctic circle you can see the colors and the aurora is on a whole other level. Maybe someday I’ll witness that.

Photographing the northern lights and the night sky is still landscape photography to me. As just a photo of the sky, in many images, is just boring and plain. (Note, I’m not taking about astrophotography that shows space in detail, especially shot through a telescope, those are, well, out of this world amazing! LOL!) Composition is still important. Like in this image things that are included in the frame with intent. The trees and shore on the left to add a bit of layering and leading lines (subtle). Or if you look back at the July photo I shot low using the rocks in the foreground for more layering and depth to that image. It this one I like the wispy, magical feel to the clouds and the reflection of that in the water that falls off toward the bottom of the frame. In this photo I didn’t want the rocks to distract from the reflection.

Using the moving water as a foreground element and leading lines “into” the photo.
Using the foreground for framing is another way to create depth and layering.

Also notice that the horizon line is straight, which I think is important in landscape photography. Also the line is not in the middle of the photo. Very rarely would I have the horizon in the middle. Either close to the top or bottom of the frame. Maybe close to the middle as in this image, but almost never in the middle except on those rare occasions I wanted symmetry between top and bottom. Its still the rule of thirds which I still use in many photos. I mostly prefer things off center, then symmetrical. For example, you will never, well 99.9% of the time, see a sunset photo of mine with the sun in the middle. More Landscape photos HERE

Horizon line far to the top, sun in the far right, top corner of the frame.

So a quick tip for you is to slow down just a bit. Even when taking a picture with a phone camera. Don’t just raise it and push the button. Pause for a second. Would the photo look better if you tilted up or down panned left or right? Just a little? Give it a try. As always, thanks for looking.


Exposure data: ISO 2500, 15 seconds at f/2.8, Nikon D750, 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 – HERE

Kp number was 5 when this image was shot.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however it’s a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here. KP Info Here.

Here is a link to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What are the northern lights?

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. More info here.

Where have you seen the northern lights in Michigan?

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing!

Bryan