Before our recent trip to the Yukon, I was lucky enough to attend Nights of Wonder, a three-day workshop (repeating in February 2015) on photographing the Northern Lights with Paul Zizka and Dave Brosha in Yellowknife. It was an awesome chance to meet and learn from other photographers, explore a part of our country that we don’t often get to and, especially, to see the amazing Aurora Borealis for the first time!

I was in Yellowknife for four days and we saw the Aurora on two of those nights. Hey, 50% isn’t bad! And the skies were clear every night, so no complaints! There were lots of chances to shoot the stars, use the moonlight, and on our last night, work with a delightful young model, who posed for us against a backdrop of stars and moon. I also found time to explore the area in daylight hours and the beauty is abundant.

Hope you will enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed making them. Mouse over the images for a caption.

The amazing beauty of the northern lights. This was a collaborative effort between myself (I had the tough job, sitting on the rock) and Serge Skiba. Great job, Serge!

For Photographers: Photographing the Northern Lights

I picked up many tips at the workshop that are useful for photographing the northern lights and I’m glad to share them with you.

– First of all, make sure you will be warm. You simply cannot concentrate on being creative if you are not comfortable.
– With regard to camera settings, you’ll be working with very low light so a fast lens will really help. Most of my images were shot at f/2.8. One thing I learned the hard way is that a shorter shutter speed is best to get a clearer definition of the display. I compared some of my pictures, shot at 5 seconds, with a colleague’s that were shot at 2 seconds and was quite surprised at much more defined his images were. So, after setting your aperture and shutter speed, set your ISO at lowest possible setting to get the shutter speed you want. It’s also worth experimenting with different shutter speeds, between 2 and 10 seconds.
– Be sure to use your histogram. The display on the camera makes your pictures look brighter than they will be on your computer, so you need to assess your exposure with the histogram to prevent underexposure which contributes to noise issues.
– My go to lens is a 24-70 mm lens on a full frame. It opens up fairly wide and would be suitable for the northern lights. But I was very pleased to have my 16 mm fisheye with me when the aurora really lit up the sky. It is the only way to capture it all.
– One thing that really surprised me is that sometimes the aurora is there even though you can’t see it with the naked eye. With the first picture, of me sitting on the rock, we had no idea the aurora was there. But the long shutter speed of 20 seconds revealed the colour that we couldn’t see. We began to use the camera as a detector for aurora when we thought it may be present but weren’t sure.
– an invaluable tool to have along with you is a headlamp. You’ll also want a flashlight for light painting. A great resource for flashlights for photographers is Kevin Adams. I bought a Coast HP7 flashlight and am delighted with it and used it for several photos in this series.

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