2020 Northern Lights Calendar – October Photo

Aurora over Lake Superior during a full moon.

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.

Moonrise just after sunset.
Full moon over Lake Superior, I didn’t notice the aurora when shooting this image.

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.

Photo my son shot.
Lake of the Clouds at sunset in the Porkies.
A photographer shooting the valley at sunrise.

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.

If you want to see the scientific data, go to this link – Sept 30 into Oct 1

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.

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 – 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 created.

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

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – July Photo

July photo in the calendar.

The July image was photographed this year on August 31, 2019 at 10:28PM over Lake Michigamme. Same family trip as the May image, just the next night and a more active, better aurora display! And this time instead of just watching with me, my daughter photographed the aurora as well. It was our last night of the camping trip so always nice to finish up with an Aurora display.

This image was shot from the boat launch at Van Riper State Park again same as the January photo. Being Labor Day weekend the park campgrounds were jam packed! Not ideal, but we only needed a place to stay for the night so it was fine. When it got dark enough to see the lights my daughter and I was already heading to the spot. As it was so crowded there were several people at the boat launch this time all waning to see the aurora. We were still able to find a nice spot on the water’s edge with no one in the shot.

My daughter didn’t have her tripod so I let her use mine. A tripod is a must when photographing the aurora because of the slow/long shutter speeds used . Worked out well though. I made a small platform with rocks just on the edge of the water for my camera to sit on. This gave me a very low angle of the lake which I liked with the water and other rocks in the foreground, again, layering the photo. The camera was almost in the water, but didn’t get wet thankfully.

This is one of my daughters photos.

Traffic was still driving along highway 41 across the lake fairly regularly so we had to work to time our shots when no traffic was going by. Although it was kind of a cool lighting effect as you can see in the photo below.

You can see the lights from cars on highway 41 across the lake.

I was quite pleased with the image I made. I think my daughter enjoyed hers as well. We didn’t stay out too long but I did go back for more photos early the next morning. Read about that in the next post.

Exposure data: ISO 3200, 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 about 4 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.

Have you seen the northern lights?

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing!

Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – June Photo

This is the June photograph in my 2020 calendar.

The June image was photographed on September 2, 2016 at 12:20 AM looking through the trees over Lake Superior at Twelve Mile Beach Campground in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This image was shot on the same family trip in the UP as the April photo, just the night/morning before. And my family watched the aurora with me in the early part of the night this time!

We had left Marquette earlier in the day to start the drive toward Pictured Rocks. Until this year all drive up campsites in Pictured Rocks were first come, first serve, so we were not sure where we would be staying. We arrived at the Hurricane River Campground to find it full, its small so I wasn’t surprised as it was late in the day. So we hurried back to Twelve Mile Beach Campground and were lucky to grab one of the last two sites available for the night. It worked out well as I had never photographed the aurora from this location.

Lake Superior seen from the sandy bluff at Twelve Mile Beach Campground.
My daughter wading in Lake Superior.
Sunset through the trees at Twelve Mile Beach Campground.

After setting up camp we drove back down to the Hurricane River to hang out for a bit, the kids ended up in the chilly water of course. Then back to camp to make dinner, a campfire and wait for it to be dark enough to see and photograph the aurora. About an hour after sunset we wandered down to the sandy bluff and beach. And yes the aurora was glowing bright. However I think my wife wanted to see more colors with her eyes the way the camera can pick them up. And I must admit it can be a bit disappointing to some and not as spectacular in person.

I made a cool photo of her standing on the bluff watching the aurora over Lake Superior. Then while shooting through the trees I noticed some aurora rays higher in the sky. These were different then I had seen before. Not like the light pillars that shoot up from the aurora arc and these rays were much higher in the sky. They didn’t last long and although I did make a few images I wish I would have been ready and made a better image of them.

My wife looking out over Lake Superior and the Northern Lights.
Aurora rays higher in the sky.
My wife and daughter watching the Northern Lights.

My son wasn’t as into watching the lights much and I think if I remember correctly my wife was getting a bit cold. So they headed back to camp and the warm fire while my daughter and I went down to the beach to sit, watch and make some more photos. Sitting with her watching the sky and listening to the waves hit the shore was awesome. Having the opportunity to experience this together was special to me as I’m usually alone. One of the most relaxing and peaceful moments I’ve had in my life, I didn’t want it to end. Yet it was late, around 11:30PM, and she was worn out. So I walked her to camp before heading back to the bluff for some more photography.

My daughter relaxes on the beach watching the Northern Lights.
My daughter and I standing on the beach.

I reached the stairway that works its way from the bluff down to the beach and the aurora activity seemed to be increasing. It was around midnight now. I made a few images and while the aurora was quite active I wasn’t sure I liked the composition. Looking back at the image now I do like it more, but still not sure. I then walked along the bluff and noticed the light shinning through the trees more brightly than earlier in the night. That’s when I made the image that is the June photo in the calendar. I mentioned in another post, I try and include other things in the compositions, especially in the foreground, to give a feeling of depth and more dimension to the photograph. Not just shooting the sky even though it’s quite spectacular on its own.

I was approaching 1:00 AM and I needed to wake up early to try and get a campsite at Hurricane River (which I did) I decided crawl into the tent for some sleep happy with what I captured.

Looking out over Lake Superior from the stairway leading to the beach.

If you want to see the scientific data on that day go to this link – HERE

Kp numbers were between 5-6 for part of this night.

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.

You can order a calendar HERE

Have you seen the northern lights?

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing!

Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – May Photo

The May image was photographed this year on August 30, 11:58 PM looking at Little Presque Isle and Lake Superior north or Marquette.

I was on another family trip in the UP this year, so again photography was not my main focus. There was a decent aurora predicted this night so I figured after dark and the others went to bed I would head out. We were staying at one of the Little Presque Isle Recreation Area DNR cabins for a night so I figured I try a location nearby called “Top of the World” by locals and use Little Presque Isle as a backup, second location. Everyone else went to bed about 10:00 and that’s when I took off for a couple hours.

When I arrived at the small parking area, it was crowded with cars, some parked along the road. A car passed me asking, “is there a party here?” which I had no idea. College kids from Northern Michigan University like to camp and party up there so I figure that was why all the cars. I parked along the road and hiked up and was right, a bunch of college kids. Not too crazy though. So I walked past saying, “Don’t mind me, just doing some photography.” LOL! They did ask why and were intrigued, so I showed them the photos on the camera LCD screen and they seemed happy.

One for the images from “top of the world” Cool clouds, shooting start in top right corner.

I hung out for a bit, but didn’t like the location or composition I was making plus the noise and lights from the parties wasn’t the best. I decided to hike back to the car and head to the other spot. Oh yeah, I had never been up there in the dark and almost got lost. To be honest without one of the groups bonfires to guide me back, I might have wondered for a while. I have no idea how I got off the trail.

I arrived at Little Presque Isle about 11:15 PM or so finding a few cars in the parking lot but nothing crazy. I walked through the pines to the beach to see if I wanted to shoot there at all. I didn’t like the composition so I walked back to the trail and went out to the point.

First test shot at Little Presque Isle park. More clouds.

Once there I actually had a difficult time figuring out a composition I liked to include the island, the aurora and the stars. There is not much room on the sandy/rocky beach and I didn’t want to get wet. From there the island is more to the northeast and the lights were more in the northwest. There were several rocks and logs near me that I could use in the foreground. And as you can see the clouds were rolling in. Still not sure I like the composition, but I wanted to have another location I had not shot before. I will say to the west the clouds had a great texture to them. I’ll write more about that in the November photo blog post coming soon.

I shot some vertical compositions as well to include the milky way and also shot through the pine trees to include the forest. It wasn’t a spectacular display or the best composition, but its still watching the northern lights over Lake Superior in the UP! Not really a better way to spend the evening.

Milky Way over Little Presque Isle
A different shot with a few faint rays shooting up.
The area in the the daylight.

Exposure data: ISO 3200, 20 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 numbers were around 3 on this night.

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.

You can order a calendar HERE

Have you seen the northern lights?

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing!

Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – April Photo

The April image was photographed over Lake Superior at the mouth of the Hurricane River on the night/morning of September 3, 2016 at 12:39 AM. On this trip I was with my family and the Aurora was active 3 nights in a row, so they were able to witness the magic of the northern lights! More on that with the June photo. This image was shot the second night/early morning while everyone else was sleeping after a long day of hiking and sunset Pictured Rocks cruise on Lake Superior. I tried to get my daughter up but wasn’t going to happen this time. 🙂

Sun behind Grand Portal Point on the sunset cruise.
Another tour boat is dwarfed by Indian Head.
Sun shining through open section of Grand Portal Point.

As I’ve mentioned the Hurricane River Campground in Pictured Rocks is one of my favorite campgrounds in the state so when in the UP I and we often end up there. Always when visiting Pictured Rocks or towards the end of a trip working my way home. So I have quite a few aurora images from this location.

Our camp at mealtime.

I started photographing the aurora around 10:00 PM and continued for the next four hours moving to different locations along the beach and shoreline. The display was bright and pulsating with light pillars shooting into the sky off and on. As you can see in the calendar image and some of the others posted here I prefer to use the shore ling and/or some type of layering or framing instead of just shots of the sky. This gives the image for interest and a sense of place.

First image shot around 10:00PM
Self portrait shot along the shore a quarter mile or so from the river around 11:30 PM

There were a few other people on the beach and at first it was a challenge keeping them out of the photos especially when they would turn their headlamps on. Of course it was very dark and I was tucked up under a tree by the mouth of the river so I’m sure they had no idea I was even out there. I debated about including them in some photos, however ultimately the photojournalist in me took over and I decided to include that human element in the images to help tell a story. I think photos should tell a story, not just be pretty pictures, even though I don’t always succeed at that.

Another shot with the group of people watching the show.

I will say looking back on the images I wish I would have stayed in one place and really focused on the changing lights, and it would have been great to shoot a time lapse. I will say I often second guess myself on choosing where to shoot and what to shoot. Was it the best spot? Did I miss something? Would this have been better? Yet I’ve also learned I really need to choose and stick with it. Yes I might miss some shots. But if I keep changing while shooting I’ll miss all the shots. It also seems looking back at the images the activity was still going when I called it a night. Not really sure why I stopped shooting other than fatigue. I should have just sat in the sand and fell asleep.

Although I will say when shooting at night next to the lake or rivers/waterfalls at night I do think about bears from time to time. I have never seen a bear in Pictured Rocks, tracks on the beach yes, however I would never hear one walk up on me in the dark with the sound of the waves and water in my ears. I have to admit it would be cool though.

This is a favorite image of mine! (I wanted the shot with the people in the calendar)
One of the last shots I took on this outing around 1:00 AM.

Exposure data: ISO 3200, 20 seconds at f/4.5, 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. I want to mention you will notice many of my images are in the 20 second range. Looking back on the nights the aurora was very active I wish I would have shot more in the 5 second range to get a put more texture or detail in the lights. So I guess I need to keep hunting!

If you want to see the scientific data on that day go to this link – HERE

There was a G2 geomagnetic storm starting to hit earth with Kp numbers hitting between 4 and 6 through the night.

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.

You can order a calendar HERE

Have you seen the northern lights?

One more thing. I know I’m not good at writing. I plan to keep at it though even past writing about the calendar. Maybe you will find something interesting, useful or even learn something.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing!

Bryan