Last Aurora Night of the Season?

I was quite excited about the opportunity to photograph the latest aurora I’ve ever seen on Thursday night. Although the weather forecast when I went to bed at 8:00 pm indicated that I might have to do some searching for clear skies, the aurora forecast for strong (level 4) displays would make it worth putting some miles on.

When I woke up at 11:00, the skies were mostly clear, much better than forecast. With high hopes that the aurora would be strong enough to be seen over the city lights, I started the night off just before midnight at my favourite overlook on the Long Lake Road. No luck, though – the aurora was much too faint for this to work.

Whitehorse, Yukon, at night
Obviously darkness was needed, so I headed down the Alaska Highway to my most common shooting location, the Yukon River Bridge. I stopped for a few minutes at Macrae, though, and got a few shots of the aurora over the highway.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
By 01:00 I was up on the ridge above the bridge, hoping that good displays would appear. Clouds began to move in from the south, though, and a friend in Whitehorse posted on the Yukon Aurora Alert page that clouds were also moving in from the west-northwest.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
It takes a lot of patience to get vehicles on even the busiest highway in the Yukon at night 🙂

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway at the Yukon River
As the clouds got thick enough that I was about to give up, a strong display arrived and lasted for a few minutes. When it faded, I packed up and started west on the highway to what I hoped would be clearer skies.

Less than a kilometer down the road, I did a U-turn as another strong show started. I took this opportunity to shoot some images showing how to manipulate aurora photos. I don’t like “Photoshopped” aurora photos, but they’re very popular. A camera setting isn’t exactly Photoshopping, but the concept is the same – you’re just manipulating the image before shooting instead of after. The most common manipulation is increasing the green far beyond what it actually looks like, by setting the camera’s White Balance to Daylight.

Photographing the aurora with White Balance in Daylight setting
The aurora went flat after that, and although I did find clear skies, no display that was really worth photographing appeared. The displays turned to the vaporous, extremely fast-moving ones that we see occasionally. Although interesting, they make for very poor photos. This final image was shot at ISO 5000 with an 8-second exposure in an attempt to show you what they look like.

I had a nap for an hour before starting the drive home. I was back in bed at 05:30. It was a good night but not a great night, and I had high hopes for Friday night, with another level 4 aurora forecast.


Last Aurora Night of the Season? — 2 Comments

  1. You can shoot in raw and play with the white balance in post too. Nice photos. We’re so lucky to have you as a resource!

  2. Thanks, Teresa. I did try the Fluorescent setting last night – it adds a bit of colour but not as dramatic/unnatural as the Daylight one. I don’t shoot RAW because I don’t enjoy post-processing. If it doesn’t come out right I discard it. Like in the film days when some people liked darkroom work and others (including me) didn’t 🙂