Category Archives: Night Photography

The Magic of the Northern Lights

 

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Capturing the aurora… the illusive, search for lights in the night sky.

Most frequently seen above the magnetic poles of the Earth, these circles of high-density auroras lie between the latitudes of 60° and 70° north and south, more or less in line with the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The auroral activity increases when high solar activity, such as sunspots, disturbs Earth’s magnetosphere.

Solar activity is created by complex magnetic fields on the sun’s surface, which ejects billions of tons of plasma (coronal mass ejections (CME)) at extraordinarily high speeds, sending fast-flowing “gusts” of charged particles out from the sun.

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NASA 4.2Mclass

The light of auroras is emitted when charged particles in the solar wind excite the electrons of atmospheric atoms through collisions. As the electrons return to their original energy levels, these atoms, primarily oxygen and nitrogen, emit photos of visible light of distinct wavelengths to create the colors of the auroral display. The wavelength of the light depends upon the electronic structure of the atoms or molecules themselves, and on the energy of the charged particle colliding with the atom or molecule.

Solar wind is a stream of plasma, charged particles created by collisions of atoms in the intense heat of the sun’s atmosphere, or corona. These charged particles, mostly protons and electrons, have their own magnetic field. They reach Earth at speeds of 350 to 400 km per second. The Earth’s magnetosphere forms an obstacle to the solar wind, which deflects them and ultimately channels them toward the North and South poles.

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NASA

The electrons of the atmospheric atoms collide with the particles of the solar wind to become excited. As the electrons return to their original energy levels, these atoms emit visible light of distinct wavelengths, to create the colors of the display that can be seen. The specific atmospheric gas and its electrical state, and the energy of the particle that hits the atmospheric gas determine the colors. The atmosphere consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen, which emit the characteristic colors of their respective line spectra. Atomic oxygen is responsible for the two main colors of green and red. Nitrogen causes blue and deep red hues. Additionally, altitude can effect the color of the auroras. The strong green light originates at altitudes of 120-180 km. Red occurs at even higher altitudes, while blue and violate occur mostly below 120 km. When solar activity is extremely high, reds can be found at lower altitudes of 90-100 km. Although rare, entirely red auroras can sometimes be seen at low latitudes, often appearing to be fire on the horizon.

 

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Although solar winds occur regularly, the intensity of the activity is not constant, but follows an eleven-year cycle of activity.

The movement of the aurora is created when the magnetic field lines are broken and reformed, called magnetic reconnection. The Earth’s magnetic field lines capture and store energy, and magnetic reconnection occurs when these stressed lines suddenly snap back to new shapes, like stretched elastic bands. In doing so, they fling charged particles back towards the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

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Auroras, although present throughout the year depending on solar activity, can only be seen in the night sky near the North and South poles during the relative winter months. In the northern sky the lights are called the Aurora Borealis, where as in the southern sky, they are known as Aurora Australis.

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NASA

Capturing auroral images is challenging, as travel to remote locations is generally required. Because the aurora is a winter phenomenon, being prepared for frigged conditions is necessary. This effects both you, the photographer, but also your gear. Camera gear is generally not happy in extreme cold conditions; batteries die faster and the mechanisms seize up. When you go into a warming shed or facility to warm up, the gear will steam, but because it is so cold, the steam will turn to frost instantly. It can take hours for the gear to reach the ambient temperature of the room and be usable again. This could be the difference between capturing the aurora and missing it entirely. For yourself, being prepared to stand in the extreme cold also poses some challenges because it requires multiple layers of heavy clothing, thick gloves, balaclavas, hats, and scarves. Simply moving can be difficult. Exposing your fingers to change camera settings or to manipulate your metal camera body or tripod can be painful, sending burning cold through your finger tips.

Even with these challenges, there is nothing like experiencing this wonder. Sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate the moment… of course while your camera is working!

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No Words and Not Enough Cameras!

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Just returned from a successful Alaska Aurora Adventure workshop. It is almost impossible to describe this type of trip… epic, amazing, relaxing and exhausting at the same time… these terms only touch on it. However, there are those moments that make you realize that life is simply good and every day above ground is a gift. This trip was one of those moments.

When the sky came to life, the only thought I had was “no words and not enough cameras”. With two cameras running, set on interval, I still could not capture the activity in the night sky.

We are running another workshop in Alaska next March, for more information and to register, click here. In addition to aurora photography, the tour features attending the official start of the Iditarod, the Reindeer race, and more! Register before May 31, 2016 and receive a 15% discount! Register between June 1 and November 30, 2016 and receive a 10% discount!

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West Virginia in the Fall

We are so fortunate to live so close to such amazing beauty as West Virginia. Wild and Wonderful is there slogan and it is spot on!

Every year, Road Runner has been leading fall tours in this area and this fall will be no exception. Each season provides new wonders, so don’t miss this opportunity to get out and enjoy the changing seasons!

For more information and to register, click here.

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The Road Not Taken

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. ~ Robert Frost

 

And I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference… This one line sums up how I have always looked at life. Explore where others may not have wandered. When I set out to travel, I don’t think to myself… where does everyone else go or how does everyone else do it. Instead I try to forge my own path and head in a direction that might not seem as likely.

This doesn’t mean I don’t travel to well-known destinations, because I do. But it does mean that I try to see that destination differently. Maybe I stay in a small pensione or albergo and not the well-worn hotel chain. Maybe I eat where I see locals and not the restaurant recommended by the concierge. It also doesn’t mean I travel alone. In fact, I rarely travel alone. I prefer traveling with friends, creating shared memories and experiences. Simply, I like to go to places and then experience aspects of that place that are not as well-worn by others.

This past weekend, two friends and myself headed off in search of something to photograph. We could have stayed local, gone to DC or Arlington or…. But instead we headed west. We had a general idea of where we would end up, but we took a circuitous route through the countryside of West Virginia. The rule in our car… just say stop and the driver needs to do his or her best to accommodate. This is likely to include driving until it is safe to turn around and heading back to the location. Also, we never question the stop request. Just because we may not have seen what the requestor sees does not mean the requestor did not see it. However, if you say, “that is cool” or “wow what great light” or similar, the car keeps moving. You must say stop.

Here are a few “Stop” images from that trip. Random lonely barns, abandoned cars, bored bovine… scenes of life in the country. As much as I love the big cities with their monuments to progress, I have often taken the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference.

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Asylum

This past weekend, RRPT led 3 tours photography tours at Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA). The first tour was a night tour, where the focus was on light painting. The images featured here are from that particular event. We also led two day-light tours, morning and late afternoon. TALA is an amazing place. When you enter, you are transported to the past. The owners are working hard to keep the facility alive and open to the public with photography tours, historical tours, ghost tours, and more. To learn more about TALA, click here.

We are hoping to schedule another night photography session later this year. For more information, join our mailing list by signing up (see the side bar) or by following us on Facebook.

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Star Trails and More – Meetup

Star trails and more… RRPT is holding a Meetup at Spruce Knob Lake! June 12 – 14

It is a camping adventure. For more information, click here.

Last year the weather did not cooperate for star trails, but it did deliver some amazing skies and there are lots of other opportunities to shoot!

Images by Geff Bourke.

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Moonrise Over DC

In a very perfect photographer’s world, the photographer would be the only one to capture an image, to witness a scene, or experience a setting, thereby allowing that photographer to share that one of a kind shot… well, we all know that as photographers we live in a far from perfect photographer’s world! Even if in the moment we stand alone, we tend to trend the same hallowed ground as our friends and compadres. Therefore, to truly “own” an image, especially of iconic places, we have to try to find a way to “see” it differently.

Last year, I had the privilege of shooting the moonrise over Washington, DC with many close friends and at least a hundred acquaintances ;-)… We all saw the same stunning, crystal clear, huge orange moonrise over some of the most iconic monuments in the country, if not in the world. Within hours, many people had posted their images and at first I felt there was no need to add mine to the bunch… but I had finally gotten to see this seldom scene alignment of moon and man, and I wanted to work on my images and share them… so I spent some quiet time contemplating… how I can do this differently… then it dawned on me… the color of the moon it what took my breath away… so that would be my focus. The resulting images can be seen below.

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It took me time to “see” these images in this way, but I like the result and I appreciated the challenge. Even though I fantasize about the perfect photographer’s world, I will always choose to go out shooting with friends, as the companionship, encouragement, and down right ribbing is a gift; and the challenge of creating images that are competitive with their talent and art keeps me trying!

To see the rest of the set from the moonrise, please via my Flickr set by clicking here.

This opportunity is presenting itself on March 5, 2015. The full moon will rise over the monuments at 6:18pm. The alignment shown here is from the Netherlands Carillon in Rosslyn, VA. RRPT will be holding a Meetup at this location that evening. Click here to learn more about this and other Meetups we have schedule. 

 

Working a Subject

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I have heard a lot online recently about revisiting old locations. It’s great advice and something I encourage everyone to follow.

The shot above is of the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, VA, located just south of the Pentagon. So what could possibly change by revisiting a subject multiple times? Your perspective for starters. I know when I revisit a location I typically see things differently than before. Sure I see some of the same things I have seen before as well, but the clouds and the light could possibly be different. Especially if you go during different times of the day or different times of the year.

Small differences can sometimes make meaningful differences in how you see or interpret a subject. It’s ok to go with preconceived notions of what you want to shoot but don’t let yourself be limited by such thinking. Just be open to what is in front of you and don’t forget to look behind you either.

Of course this is an HDR image.  Photomatix is my favorite tool for creating HDR images.  It is available as a free download and is fully functional for 30 days.  If you decide to purchase use the discount code “RRPT” for a 15% discount.

After Dark

As photographers, we are always chasing the light; looking for that perfect sunrise or sunset with just the right amount of cloud cover to provide the quintessential filtered light. But sometimes it is the light you have access to after the sunlight has fully disappeared that provides the most intrigue.

The images below were captured in Iceland last weekend well after sunset, between 2 and 5 hours actually. All of the images, sans one (the bluest icebergs had a few pops with a very small flashlight) were captured with strictly ambient light (moonlight) or in the case of the sea stacks, ambient city light (from Vik).

Working with ambient light is both challenging and inspiring. It takes patience, lots of it, as it can take multiple attempts to get the image correctly framed and in focus. But the results can be amazing when it works out, providing a whole new way to look at the world.

Next time you have the chance to explore in the wee hours, challenge yourself to see what you can find after dark.

If you are interested in exploring Iceland (day and night) with RRPT, we are heading back Sept 5 – 13, 2015. For more information, click here.

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