Capturing the Aurora Borealis requires long-exposure images and video is accomplished by timelapse photography (an exception to this is the new, light-sensitive Sony A7s, which, from what I’ve seen on the web, can capture video in real time). This was my first foray into shooting the aurora so the notes below are for meant other newbies.
- Book your trip around the full moon, as moonlight light can diminish the brightness of the aurora.
- Look at a lot of aurora photos in advance of shooting. Thee best ones for me have interesting objects in the foreground (trees, mountains, water reflections, etc.) as opposed to just the sky.
- Shooting more than one camera may sound like overkill, but the location of the aurora is unpredictable and I do recommend running two or more timelapses in slightly different directions in order to increase your chance of getting the shot.
This is by no means comprehensive, but here’s a summary…
1. Critical focus to infinity (may require adjustment on some lenses due to the temperature and may not be the infinity setting of the lens)
2. Open to widest aperture
3. Set ISO to 1000 (higher as needed)
4. Use the autoexposure feature of AV mode to determine how long of an exposure is needed BUT dim the LCD to the lowest setting for an accurate visual representation. Also, set the light meter to over-expose by approx 1 stop (this is the variable to determine by trial and error). Depending on the camer sensor, lens and available light, the exposure will likely be between 15 & 30 seconds.
5. For timelapse, use an Intervalometer, setting the camera to BULB with the exposure settings determined above. Leaving in AV mode will yield flicker when exported to video because the exposure will vary. Also, set the white balance to daylight (or other) but do not leave it on auto as it will also change from shot to shot. Shoot RAW if possible.
I used Panolapse RAWblend make the CR2s as uniform as possible and avoid image flicker from shot to shot. I then exported as jgs, imported into After Effects and created video from the frames. To date, I haven’t found a way to import CR2s into After Effects and maintain access to the RAW settings. [Please advise if you know of a way to do this]
I booked relatively last minute lodging at the Mount Aurora Lodge because they were a relatively new operation and didn’t have a lot of internet references yet. I must say that we had a great experience. My team also stayed a couple of days at Chena Hot Springs and I found the Mount Aurora Lodge much better situated for aurora photography. The staff monitors the forecasts and will even wake you if the aurora rolls in past your bedtime. Visitors use the common area as a staging area for viewing and you can come in and out quite easily to warm up if you get cold. The aurora was frequently on the horizon during my stay and the high altitude nature of the location enabled great viewing that otherwise might have been obscured by high mountain peaks (like Chena Hot Springs has).
The owners couldn’t be nicer or more accommodating and I fully recommend this venue if you’re up for adventure. As mentioned on the website, the bunk house walls are incredibly thin and conversations next door come right through the walls. However, the layout also provides quite a camaraderie for travelers and single travelers won’t feel isolated. Another caveat is that, unless you rent a suite, you’ll be sharing a bathroom with the guests next door, which can be awkward.