2020 Northern Lights Calendar – December Photo

Light painting the December calendar image.

This image was photographed October 3, 2016 at 12:39 AM along along the beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I walked across the road, H58, from the park cabin I was staying in as the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore Artist in Residence (AIR) to make this image.

Relaxing in the cabin before heading out to shoot.

I didn’t get a real early start on this day because I planned a night hike later and would be up late photographing the stars and milky way in the night sky with no moon. I did a fairly easy hike after a relaxing morning in the cabin, then photographed the sunset after dinner before driving down to the Hurricane River for my night hike out to the Au Sable Light Station at Pictured Rocks. I wanted to photograph the light station at night with the milky way behind it. Turned out just as I had hoped with nice clear skies on a moonless night.

Sunset shot of the tree in the sand I would come back to later.
The milky way of the Au Sable Light Station.

While out there I noticed the northern lights becoming active. Content with my milky way photo I turned my attention to the aurora. I worked for a composition with the lighthouse in the foreground with the aurora behind. The lights were not really strong or very far above the horizon and I was struggling with finding a composition I liked. So I started hiking back toward my car looking for a spot along the beach or rocks to shoot an image of the aurora.

Northern Lights becoming active behind the lighthouse plus a shooting star.

I did make some images with rocks and sand in the foreground as well as the river. But, like I mentioned the aurora was not real strong, plus clouds were moving in from the south. So I packed up and drove back to the cabin. Once there, I don’t remember why exactly, I decided to walk across the road and down to the beach to maybe photograph a dead tree in the sand I had shot during sunset earlier. A evening shot of this tree was also one of the first photos I made during my AIR stay in the park.

Looking for compositions as the clouds roll in from the south.
Self portrait with the clouds and the aurora.
The first image I made for my Artist in Residence of the tree in sand.

With the clouds getting thicker I thought maybe I could get a shot with that tree along with texture in the clouds. The cool thing was those clouds had not reached the horizon line and I could see the aurora between that line and the clouds. So I decided to add some light painting to the shot. Light painting is when you shoot with a long time exposure (say 30 seconds) and take some type of light source and use it to light a subject in your composition with no, or very little, light illuminating it or use the light itself as an element. In this case it was my headlamp with the red light on. (Note: When shooting the night sky I try to only use the red light as it helps preserve my night vision.

So I first started by shining the white light on the tree to help with how I wanted to frame my composition. Luckily I had photographed the tree during the day so I had an idea of how to align everything. I set up my camera and tripod in the spot I liked an made a test shot with only the available light. Satisfied with the exposure I then added the red light. I set the timer on the camera for 30 seconds, quickly and carefully hustled down the beach and then walked back toward the camera with the light pointing in its direction. I started further away and ended up quite close also walking through the tree branches. It took a few tries to get the image I liked. The primary colors of red (the headlamp, green (the aurora), and blue (the clouds) play off each other nicely.

One of the other attempts. A little more back lit, not the right angle of light.
To much front light on tree.

So this is the last image in the calendar to blog about. I hope you have followed along and enjoyed reading about the images. If you are just finding this post, make sure and look through the other calendar image blog posts. If you have any questions on photo techniques, locations or my photography in general please let me know. Thanks again!


Exposure data: ISO 6400, 30 seconds at f2.8 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, go to this link – Here

Kp number was about 2.5 to 3, and mostly cloudy skies.

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