A spectacular night with the aurora borealis

I haven’t done a lot of aurora shooting yet this season, but the forecast for Tuesday night was so incredible, I made arrangements to meet a friend for a night of dancing lights. After editing, I have 144 photos from this night, but I’ve only posted a dozen 🙂

We decided to go far out of Whitehorse, to Lake Laberge. There, man-made lights don’t interfere with the natural ones, a broad view to the north is available, and few other people go. Lady Aurora arrived at the lake at the same time we did – 9:30 pm – and five minutes later, I shot the first photo in this post. It was only a narrow band along the horizon but had some wonderful colours. Lake Laberge is way out of cell range, so I couldn’t even post a note about the activity to my Aurora Alert Yukon group, where over 500 people are waiting for posts like that.

Aurora borealis at Lake Laberge, Yukon
The aurora didn’t develop much for a while – the next photo was shot at 10:24 once it began to liven up.

Northern lights at Lake Laberge, Yukon
By 10:50 when the next photo was shot, the aurora was spreading beautifully and there was some good movement and shapes.

Aurora borealis at Lake Laberge, Yukon
The 10mm Rokinon lens that I bought specifically for aurora shooting (it’s the only lens I use for night skies now) wasn’t quite wide enough to get the whole display in the next photo from 11:15. That’s a “selfie” – set the 10-second shutter delay, move quickly, then freeze for 30 seconds.

Aurora borealis at Lake Laberge, Yukon
The first of the 2 vehicles to show up during the 3½ hours we spent at Lake Laberge was a couple from Newfoundland who were on the last night of a 3-week Yukon trip. Neither had ever seen the aurora, and when my friend suggested that we take a photo of them, I was happy to oblige. When I emailed the photo to them, I got a reply that that night was also his birthday – what a present!

Northern lights at Lake Laberge, Yukon
At about midnight, the aurora started to move higher in the sky. The next photo was shot 10 minutes later.

Aurora borealis at Lake Laberge, Yukon
The next photo was cropped a bit to better show some of the great patterns that were developing as the northern half of the sky filled with light.

Northern lights at Lake Laberge, Yukon
The other car that joined us was carrying these 3 guys, who moved to Whitehorse 3 years ago. This was their first night out trying to photograph the aurora, and Karla gave them some tips.

Aurora borealis at Lake Laberge, Yukon
Another double-selfie with Karla and I, just before 01:00, as we were getting ready to start back towards Whitehorse.

Northern lights at Lake Laberge, Yukon

A couple of minutes after we left Lake Laberge, a very dramatic display began, but we were driving through a forest and there was no opportunity to shoot it. By the time we stopped at a large pullout at the highway junction, the best of it was over.

As we headed south on the North Klondike Highway, I could see a good display in my rear-view mirror, and at 01:20 we stopped for a few photos.

Northern lights over the North Klondike Highway, Yukon
I dropped my friend off at her home so she could get a bit of sleep before work, but with the aurora still putting on a good show, I went looking for more options. I had no luck getting any good shots at the SS Klondike, so the Schwatka Lake float plane base was next.

Aurora borealis with float planes at Schwatka Lake, Yukon
The final photo, shot at 02:25, is one of three I shot of that scene. For this successful one, I “painted” the Turbo Otter slightly with light from my headlamp, to get just a bit of light on it.

Aurora borealis with a Turbo Otter float plane at Schwatka Lake, Yukon

Although Lady Aurora wasn’t nearly finished, I was tired and went home just after 03:00. This had been my best aurora night in a very long time, and it got me pumped for more 🙂


A spectacular night with the aurora borealis — 10 Comments

    • I generally use ISO 800. The intensity of the aurora can dramatically change those settings, though – on an exceptionally strong night I’ve been as low as 8 seconds at ISO 1600 to capture the movement better.

      • Thank you for the info. I’ve tried many times to photograph the aurora but have never been happy with the results. Too blurry, too grainy, too dark…

        • A common problem with blurry aurora photos is the new focus-by-wire lenses. If it won’t do real manual focus – that is, you can turn the focus barrel until it stops at infinity – it’s unlikely to be able to shoot the aurora. Grainy is almost always ISO – although I know people who go to ISO 3200, I rarely go beyond 1600, and prefer 800. And too dark is just a matter of experimenting – a reason that many of us shoot hundreds of photos during an aurora night 🙂

  1. Those displays were what the Yukon Questers of Feb. 2015 wanted to see ….but didn’t!!!

    Your photos are super . Thanks !

    • Thanks – I’m pleased that you’re enjoying the photos. It’s true that we haven’t had very good luck with Lady Aurora on the Yukon Quest trips – next time! 🙂

  2. I try getting up to see my family in Alaska later and later each visit, but haven’t been able to see the aurora in September yet (other times yes) so enjoyed your little adventure and the great pics.

    Hoping to see some shots from the new telephoto lense at some point this fall if you do any more trips before the weather really socks you in at home.