The October image was photographed September 30, 2012 at 9:31 PM over Lake Superior at the Porcupine Wilderness State Park in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There was a full moon, it was the first time I’d ever tried photographing the aurora, there was a G3 solar storm, and I almost missed it not knowing anything about it.
This was a family camping trip to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. I had never photographed the northern lights at this point and only briefly seen them twice before, years ago. We were staying at the park campground near the entrance, sitting my the campfire when my wife noticed some light in the sky. It was a full moon, so I thought that is what she meant. No she said, I think it the northern lights. So we walked down to the shoreline and sure enough it was! I was surprised to see them with a full moon.
A bit before that I was down by the rocks photographing the shore with the full moon rising and didn’t notice any lights. Looking back at the images I can see them faintly in some of the images. However, as the night went on the activity grew and turns out into the next day there was a G3 geomagnetic storm hitting earth making the display very active. I didn’t know anything about G3, Kp or any forecasting back then, I was just happy to see them.
So my kids and I are on the rocks, heads to the sky, while I was making photos. All of a sudden the display blew up. I ran back to the campsite to get my wife and left my camera sitting on the tripod. My son took the liberty to make a few images, I think he was 8 years old at the time, and a couple are kind of cool. I have a print of one sitting on my desk.
So you see the fall colors of the trees lit up my the moon on the September image. When out along the shore on a full moon night out in the UP wilderness its so bright you don’t need a flashlight to see. So I was surprised we could see the aurora with the naked eye. Looking back on it, I wish I had realized what a powerful amount of activity we were witnessing and stayed up through the night shooting more photos. What a great introduction to northern lights photography. I envy those who live far enough north and in such dark sky places that can witness this year round.
Exposure data: ISO 200, 30 seconds at f/4 Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm. (Quite different then my other shots.) 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.
Kp number was about 4, according to the historical data, when this image was shot. Yet as the night went on into the morning of October 1 the Kp rose close to 7! Very strong activity.
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.
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