Double Ditch Auroras

auroras_37499As I hinted a while back, I got to go out chasing auroras last weekend.  While I was a zombie Sunday afternoon between church services, I was glad I went.  Without a concrete advance plan I defaulted to Double Ditch, which was also because a friend of mine was already there.  We started off by hiking down to the river with the aid of abundant LED light.  In fact, I was astonished at how much light I was carrying.

 

auroras_37505We took some time to venture out to, and even into (in my friend’s case).  We caught a waft of skunk smell, so going back up top started to seem like a pretty decent idea.

 

auroras_37511We hiked out to the little stone hut, an attraction to which one used to be able to drive.  There we camped out for a while as we worked various angles of the structure and the lights came and went.  They started to settle down and we both started thinking about our responsibilities in church in a few short hours, so it was time to pack it in.  I’m pleased to say we each got some pretty decent shots for our effort.

Auroras from the road

auroras__34823I watch solar data pretty closely.  Thanks to a couple of guys at NOAA, I’ve learned which numbers are the most important to us here in North Dakota.  The way the numbers were peaking on Monday, I was going absolutely nuts.  The sky was on fire, but unfortunately we were on the daylight side of the globe.  As darkness approached, I made plans to go out to see them.

 

auroras__34821I had planned some dramatic foreground objects, but things didn’t time out the way I’d planned.  I found myself along the side of a rural highway with some friends, however, which was cool in itself.  I started to swing the camera around to see what I could capture.

 

auroras__34820Again, I’m of the opinion that any sky photo is made 10x better by having an interesting or unique foreground.  That was driving me nuts as I didn’t really have one, but the Lord put on a lightshow that was so astonishing that I began to just look upward and not focus so much on the camera.

 

auroras_34825I keep little LED flashlights in my camera bag, and I grabbed a blue one to illuminate the roadway with blue light so vibrant I actually had to tone it down for this photo.  I played around a little bit until the clouds began to roll in, I began to get tired, and the lights began to wane.

 

There’s a really good chance of more Northern Lights tonight – keep your eye on the skies!  I’m going to be on the road for a shoot all day and don’t expect to get back until after dark…but I may have the opportunity to transition from work to play just in time to catch more Northern Lights.

Late for the party

weak_auroras_33458I had my phone on vibrate Monday night, so I didn’t get the aurora alert when they began blazing.  Then I watched in agony all day as the K-index shot up to (and hovered at) a scorching 8!  Then the clouds began to roll in.

My friend Zach sent me photos later Tuesday evening with some really nice auroras, but he had to head considerably north and east of Bismarck to escape the thick clouds.  I took a gamble that I could have simliar luck and agreed to meet him at the abandoned church at Arena.

I got the last fleeting bit of aurora borealis as it faded from view.  Dang.  Better luck next time, I hope!

A couple more Aurora photos to add some color to your day

auroras_28780When I returned from my recent Aurora Borealis photo trip, it was around 4am.  On a work day.  I hastily grabbed and processed a few shots to share, grabbed a combat nap, and went on with my day.  This weekend was busy, but I had the opportunity to peruse the shots from the day and found a couple more that I really like.  The above shot is one that I used for this blog’s Facebook page.

auroras_28792While the layout looks a little jumbled, this one by far had the best colors.  The Northern Lights are a fleeting target, and you don’t often get the same light twice.  In fact, I don’t have a whole lot of different angles from the night because the peak of the lights came and left so suddenly.

I’m going to take another look to see if I have anything else that I haven’t shown already.  Hopefully the next time they come along, I’ll be ready!

Back in the saddle a bit

auroras_28783After dozing off early in my recliner tonight I woke up to a text from a friend who was out on patrol tonight.  He noticed that the Northern Lights were in full swing.  I grabbed a good friend, hopped in the truck, and took off.  We were not disappointed.

 

auroras_28789As I mentioned recently, I’ve had some health issues and other things that have just plain sidelined me as far as photography and blogging.  This was a great way to get back in the saddle for a bit as much as my pain would allow, and happens to have been one of the better aurora borealis nights in a long time.  Just because I’ve been in my recliner doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching what the sun and skies are up to.

auroras_28793

We appear to have arrived along one of my favorite rural roads just in time to see some very spectacular lights.  We saw spikes, we saw ripples, and we saw a lot of them.  I worked the area the best I could within the time allowed, and we pointed the truck back toward the Bizzo once things began to taper off.

I can’t speculate on the frequency with which I ease back into my beloved photo hobby, but hopefully this is a harbinger of good things to come.  With the weather changing in our favor and another spring and summer on the way, things are looking pretty good.  I hope to be on the mend in time for mountain bike and volleyball season, too!

Tree with a view

Here’s something I never expected: to be out photographing auroras Friday night instead of tucked snugly into my bed! I was caught off guard by a sudden impulse warning from the Space Weather Prediction Center, and took off to catch any auroras that developed.

My ace in the hole: friends on patrol for local law enforcement who can let me know if it’s worth saddling up the truck and throwing my gear therein. I got a text that the auroras were “crackin!” and that was all I needed.

Things didn’t pan out at the first place I went to, but I did notice this little tree in the middle of nowhere as I went looking for a suitable foreground object. I figured it would do just fine, and I was right.

You can bet I’ll have a better plan for the next time the auroras spike! I have dozens of places marked in my GPS, it’s just a matter of being ready to bolt there at a moment’s notice.

Love tractor

Sunday night I went out on a limb to stay out late and chase the auroras with some friends. While they went for the wide shots on a hill overlooking our favorite farmstead (which we visit with permission), I decided to brave the dark alone and head toward a pile of old equipment. I knew I wanted another crack at photographing this baby, a nearly hundred-year-old Rumely Oil Pull kerosene-driven tractor!

A curious and somewhat protective owl landed just above me on an old threshing machine as its young screeched in a nearby tree. I used my 6-D-cell “Louisville Slugger” style Maglite to do some “light painting” on the tractor once I was set up in place. I got the tractor, the Northern Lights, and the Big Dipper in the shot, lit to my liking after many attempts. Evenly lighting something in the dark by waving a flashlight at it isn’t as easy as it may sound.

If you’d like to see what such a beast looked like in its heyday, check out this video of a restored 1921 model:

I love this machine and hope to photograph it again under different circumstances…thus the title of this post, also a reference to the name of one of my favorite 80’s Athens bands.

Morning alignment

From an astronomy point of view, this was a pretty cool deal: two planets aligning with the Pleiades star cluster. To top it off, the Northern Lights were at play as well.

This is actually an even better catch than is readily apparent; right before I snapped it, the clouds were covering Venus. Right after, the auroras faded from the northeastern sky. A sliver of moon appeared above the horizon as well, but only at the expense of the Pleiades fading from sight as sunrise approached. All in all, it was a matter of delicate timing.

No, I didn’t really sleep last night. Yes, I did get Northern Lights photos. More on that later.

In case you thought I ran out of Northern Lights photos…I haven’t (with lurking Cougar)

With permission, I was able to roam an amazing old farmstead for the last huge solar blast, shooting time lapses and stills until nearly four in the morning. I didn’t even get to explore every corner of the yard, but I did get an amazing variety of shots…even though I’ve never seen the place in the daylight to scout it out! For instance, the shot above shows a stoic Rumely Oil Pull kerosene-burning tractor…facing south, it appears oblivious to the amazing lightshow taking place behind it.

This rustic garage is home to a few noteworthy artifacts, the most obvious being the 1971-1973 Mercury Cougar peeking around the corner at me. Once again, with the rainbow colored sheets of light shooting across the northern sky, this is a bad time to be stuck on blocks inside the garage.

I’ll continue to roll out Northern Lights photos from time to time, but hopefully I’ll be able to acquire even more in the near future! We’re approaching the peak of the solar maximum, so I expect this to be a very interesting summer. With any luck we’ll have plenty of opportunities for photos like these!

Out for a spin, and the most unique aurora photo I’ve ever taken

I decided to go out on a limb and head out on this breezy night in the hopes of seeing some auroras. I spotted a dull glow in the northern sky and set up to take a quick shot. As you can see from the blurred windmill, the breeze was blowing tonight. The auroras didn’t ever do anything for me other than cast a dull green glow near the horizon, so I started coming home. I did, however, spot something really cool…

Too bad I couldn’t get the Northern Lights in the background of this shot, because that would simply be too darn cool. I could Photoshop it, but that’s not how I operate. In any case, I came home with a unique “Aurora” photo to show you!