Capturing the Aurora Borealis is a lot like hunting, there’s a lot of chase involved and there are many things that need to align in order to get the shot: aurora activity, weather/clear skies, new moon/dark sky and your travel availability (and/or accommodations). You spend a lot of time on various apps and websites, following the fluctuating predictions, activity location and cloud cover. I spent a week in Alaska without a single shot and then… the weather cleared. By that time, I was back from Fairbanks and in Anchorage, not a prime location for Aurora viewing due to light pollution. However, I was able to get these timelapse images from a driveway in Bear Valley, on the outskirts of town.
Sony a7s II w/ Rokinon 14mm 2.8 (via a Metabones Speedbooster EF), Canon 5D Mark III w/ Canon 24mm 1.4.
First thoughts on the a7s in this capacity:
This camera has fantastic low light sensor capability and is able to shoot with a shutter speed about ½ that of the Canon 5D Mark III (2 seconds, compared to 4 seconds). Next time, I’d like to try a wider aperture or cranking up the ISO even more in order to get an even lower shutter speed and interval. I tried a couple of actual video shots but even the a7s needs a longer exposure time than that allows. The footage is fairly dark and murky (or super noisy at really high ISO), at least for the level of Aurora activity I experienced. The 2 second still exposures are far superior to the video I was able to capture.
a7S II settings:
- ISO: 4000 ISO
- Shutter: 2 seconds
- Interval: 4 seconds
- F-Stop: 2.8
Canon 5 D Mark III settings:
- ISO: 1000
- Shutter: 4 seconds
- Interval: 8 seconds
- F-Stop: 2.8 (for sharper foreground elements)
Be sure and find the infinite focus sweet spot of your lens in advance of your nighttime shoot, which is ironically NOT necessarily the infinity setting on the lens. For both of my lenses, it landed in between the 3 meter and infinity settings.
I tried to light the foreground in a few shots on order to add a bit more dimension than the tree silhouettes. It’s something to think about of you have an interesting foreground. The shots with the foreground in focus are also much nicer so pay attention to this setting more than you might think you’d need to.
The timelapse video sequences were created with an Adobe Lightroom, LRTimelapse, & Adobe Premiere workflow. The LRTimelapse component was only used for the video rendering export plugin within Lightroom but the frames were not deflickered in LRTimelapse (fearing the results of the naturally changing levels of the Aurora between frames). This deflickering step may be worthwhile, I didn’t try it.
See my earlier posting from my first venture into Aurora Borealis photography for more information about accommodations in Fairbanks (a far better location for Aurora viewing than Anchorage due to both latitude and light pollution). Also, Aurora activity can be predicted about a month in advance with relative accuracy so be sure and plan your trip around that and the phase of the moon (the less moonlight, the better).
Auroral Prediction Resources:
- University of Alaska Geophysical Institute
- NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center
- Service Aurora
- For Iceland: Iceland Met Office
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