The Northern Lights in Southern Manitoba

On Monday Night (April 23rd) a group of photographers headed out to Sandy Bay Beach to see if we could capture the Auroras. I have been trying to see and photograph the auroras for almost a year with no luck. A number of things have to happen before we could see then in Southern Manitoba. The 1st of which is that there needs to be a solar event (i.e. a solar flare and that solar flare have to be headed towards earth). The 2nd thing is there has to a good number of particles hitting earth magnetic field. The 3rd is the Interplanetary Magnetic Field, which is part of the Sun’s magnetic field that is carried into interplanetary space by the solar winds. When this is oriented southward it allows more solar winds and particles to enter earth magnetic field which creates beautiful auroras and allows them to be seen further south than normal. The 4th is the KP index (which is the measurement of disturbance in earth magnetic field) should be above 5 which means a geomagnetic storm is in progress.  We were lucky enough to have all these combine together on Monday. One thing that you need when photographing the auroras is patience. Sometimes the auroras last for hours, which was the case on Monday night. Other times they last only minutes.  So if you are heading out to see or photograph them be prepared to be out most of the night.

A couple of tips for photographing the auroras. This was my first time shooting them, if I haven’t shot something before I like to do a little research so that I shoot them correctly. Here are some tips based on that research, and my experience:

1. A fast lens is ideal, anything with a f2.5 aperture or lower is the best – my wide angle lens has an aperture of f3.5 so that is what I shot at. Makes sure to take your lens of off auto focus as auto focus has a hard time focusing in the dark. Focusing your lens to infinity will ensure clear and crisp images.

2. Always take your filter off your lens before shooting otherwise it will create concentric rings on the image.

3. Try to shoot at the lowest ISO possible – I was shooting at 800-1600 for most of the night as the auroras were bright at one point.

4. As far as shutter speeds go, different photographers have different opinions.  Some swear that a 30 sec to 60 sec shutter works best, while others like it at 10 sec to 30 sec. For me I shot at 15 sec most of the time. However the next time that I head I will be trying a variety of different shutter speeds to see what kind of images I can get.

5. You will also need to be shooting on a tripod because of the slow shutter speed. A cable release is also a must.

I am part of a photo group called the Manitoba Foto Friends and there is a group that frequently goes out to capture the auroras. I figured it was time for me to try my luck again as a previous excursion resulted in the clouds not clearing.

We headed out to Grand Marais first. We didn’t stay there long as we couldn’t find a way down to the beach as it was too steep and trying to carry camera gear down there won’t have been pretty. I manage to get off a couple of shots as the auroras were active.

After that we head to Sandy Bay Beach. By the time we got there it had clouded over so we waited. Photographing the auroras with a group of people is great; the time passes more quickly when you are waiting for the clouds to clear or for the auroras to appear. Plus we had a lot of laughs! We knew the auroras were active because we could see them through the clouds.

Eventually the clouds started to clear and you could start to see the spikes in the auroras over the lake.

Then the clouds clear completely and then they really started to dances! At one point the auroras were so active I didn’t know which direction to point my camera in. Which lead me to say that I need a 2nd camera to shot the auroras that were going on behind me.

All in all it was a very successful and memorable night filled with a lot of laughs and some great images!

 

 

 

 

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