2020 Northern Lights Calendar – January Photo.

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.

Photo for January in 2020 calendar.

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.

Our campsite at Van Riper State Park

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.

Test photo over the trees from outside the tent.

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.

Test photo at the boat launch.

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

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

Here is a good write up about why this is – What our eyes see VS what camera sees

More (not exactly) what I see with my eyes.

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

Order your calendar HERE!

Mountain bike riding with my son

11 tips to help improve your photography

An old weather beaten tree partially burred in the sand along Lake Superior in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Get close, and fill the frame. Lead your viewer

1. Get close. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough,” a quote attributed to famous war photographer Robert Capa. Getting close helps you to isolate your subject, or main subject, and shows the viewer exactly what you want them to see. If you can’t physically move closer for whatever reason, but try to, then grab that telephoto zoom lens you might have. Another bonus is this also helps your camera meter with the subject you are going for by isolating that subject. (Trust  me)

Not this. A bit scattered. (iPhone photo)

2. Fill the frame. Like getting close, make sure your subject is very dominant in the frame. Like real close on faces, don’t worry about cutting the top of someone’s head off sometimes. I don’t give this photo tip or getting close because you should always do it, as space for the subject to “breath” can convey a nice mood. But most beginners error the other way and have too much going on in the photo and the main subject gets lost. Getting close and filling the frame can help.

But more like this. Not great but much better. (iPhone photo)

3. Avoid Clutter, especially edge clutter. This goes along with the first tip. If there is too much going on in a photograph (and not a reason for it to be) it creates clutter. This can make it hard for the viewer to focus on the main subject. Or the subject even gets lost. This leads to #3.

This is one of those photos you might take I call a “record shot” just so you have it. Can’t get close, not long enough lens, very cluttered.

Try for a shot more like this. Much cleaner background, closer (with lens, and cropping) and not all the clutter. Not perfect but much better.

4. Keep your backgrounds simple. Just like clutter around your subject or at the edges of the photo, cluttered backgrounds can be quite distracting. I realize sometimes its unavoidable. But remember to also look past your subject and into the background so see what could be distracting. Branches or poles sticking out of a person’s head or neck (this is common), a washed out bright area, or maybe some unwanted people. Most the time the background is either distracting or for the most part unnoticed. Work toward the latter.

Use the rule of thirds in your composition. The girl, main subject, is in one of the thirds of the frame.

5. Use the rule of thirds in your compositions. Sure this rule can be overused, I’m guilty of that sometimes. However it’s something most beginners don’t do in my experience. So divide the frame horizontally and vertically into thirds and put your subject, or something important, where the lines intersect. By moving things away from always being centered you can sometimes give photos more drama and they can be visually more interesting.

The sun shining through clouds creating dramatic light over Lake Michigan. You’ve seen this light, make a photo.

6. Light, watch for good light, wait for good light. With sunlight the best light of the day starts a couple hours before sunset and in the morning up to a couple hours after sunrise. High noon tends to be the worst light to shoot in (but sometimes we don’t have a choice). The time of the year also effects these hours. In later fall, winter and early spring the sun stays much lower to the horizon. At least in more northern areas like where I live in Michigan. Also, don’t be afraid to shoot on overcast days. The same subject will look quite a bit different in that flat, even light. Overcast days are also better for waterfall photography early and late in the day in my opinion.

Don’t be afraid to shoot into light.

7. Shoot into the light. When I was young I remember being told to “always take photos with the sun to your back.” Maybe you did as well. I’m here to tell you don’t be afraid to shoot into the light. The sun, car lights, other artificial lights, can give your images more drama shooting into the light. Playing with highlights and shadows can create all kinds of cool looks with a subject.

This indoor action photo was shot at ISO 10,000.

8. Don’t be afraid to raise your ISO. Now I realize this isn’t always true based on the camera you have and how old it is. And if it’s a full frame camera (better high ISO, less digital noise). IMO there really is only one reason to raise ISO, to get a faster shutter speed for freezing motion. Possibly your motion trying to hand hold a camera without a tripod. But more for shooting subjects like sports. If you have blurry and/or dark sports photos in low light (not bright sun) then try raising the ISO.

My daughter jumping into the cold waters of Lake Superior.

9. Shoot more candid photos then posed photos. See my last blog post on this topic.

10. Always have your camera close and ready. Most of us have a nice camera on our phones these days. Remember, If you say to yourself, “I should be taking a picture of this”, you are right! And not just selfies. LOL!

11. Ok you are going to hate this one. READ YOUR CAMERA MANUAL! If you are just starting out down this photography rabbit hole you probably don’t have a grasp of all things exposure, depth of field, and the like just quite yet. But as you learn it’s important to know how to make all these changes on the camera you have. Even if you don’t understand them yet. Do you know how to change your ISO? Do you know how to change the autofocus mode? What does this button do? J You will also learn what you can set and mostly not worry about anymore or things you may never even use on your camera.

A few more tips for shooting with camera phones.

  • Clean the lens. Really, look at it right now. I bet you have fingerprints on the lens.
  • Hold the phone steady like a camera instead of one handed like a phone.
  • Zoom with your feet if you can. As good as the camera phones are the digital zooms are awful.
  • Try Snapseed to edit photos. (My favorite photo app)
  • On an iPhone, tap and hold the screen for an autofocus point and to adjust the exposure.

These tips are geared for those just starting out and not wanting a bunch of technical info yet. If you use a few of these tips I bet your photos will be better. They won’t make things perfect as there is much more going on and photos can still not turn out the way you want. But, this is a start. As always if you have any questions hit me up.

Thanks for being here!   -Bryan