Northern Lights captured by Z 6II / Z14-24f2.8

Many years ago I was in Barrow, AK, and late one night while tucked into my warm room, I heard howling. I thought it was just sled dogs calling so went back to sleep. Nights later long after lights out, there was a panicked pounding at my door. I got up to find Bunna standing there all excited. “The Lights are out, let’s go!” On the shore of the Beaufort Sea on a gorgeous clear night, I experienced my first North Lights shoot. The howling was the locals celebrating the dancing heavens and it was a celebration. The skies were magical, my photographs of them, not so much. I vowed to go back and do much, much better. Fast forward the clock fifteen years and you find me outside Fairbanks, AK a couple of weeks ago doing my own howling.

The shooting process begins with scouting during the day. The day had only five hours of light from the sun appearing over the horizon. Basically from 10AM to 3PM, I looked for locations with dark skies and some sort of character in the foreground. Using Aurora and Aurora Forecast Apps and heading to the Geophysical Institute, I’d determine the activity and likelihood we’d see and photograph the lights. The first couple of nights, they were just screaming overhead but we couldn’t see a thing. Clouds, snow clouds prevented any observation of the heavens. The last two nights though we had totally clear skies and the times of our lives out in the -34 degree temps shooting up a storm!

The photography was really very simple. The Z 6II / Z14-24f2.8 were attached to the Platyball and set up on a tripod out in the cold. The Z 6II was connected to the MB-N11 which has two batteries. The Z 6II was set to Aperture Priority and I changed the exposure comp based on the lights, from 0 to -2 stops. The Z14-24f2.8 was set to Infinity and I had the self-timer going taking nine shots at a time. Did that for two reasons. The first is the lights are moving, it’s like waves crashing on a shore and at the same time, changing in intensity. The second reason for the self-timer, get my hands back in my pocket to stay warm between shots. The first night we stood out in the cold for a few hours with no issues. The second night the cold set in so we went inside our running vehicle and controlled and fired the Z 6II with Snapbridge.

And the whole time, we just enjoyed the amazing show. The lights lasted two hours one night, nearly three the second night. The Z 6II had no issues, operational or battery being out in the cold that whole time so all we had to do was enjoy the light show. The -34 really wasn’t an issue since there was no breeze. We just took in the lights. I more about the Arctic that I’ve enjoyed for so long and have a new appreciation and love for Northern Lights. I am going back in ’23 just to see the heavens dance!

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