Tag 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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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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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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The Palouse – 2015

Road Runner Photography Tours is pleased to announce its 2015 Palouse, Washington Photo Tour, from May 31 to June 4, 2015!

With years of experience in the region, Don and I have mapped over 1800 miles in the beautiful location. This tour will have a maximum of 8 participants, so spaces will fill up quickly. We keep our tours small, so that each participant can receive the attention they need to capture beautiful images and so the group can stay flexible when responding to changing weather and lighting conditions.

If you are looking for an early summer photo adventure through the heartland of America, this tour is for you!

For more information and to register for this tour, click here. Early bird special ends November 16, 2014 at midnight.

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Composite Images

The Palouse is so diverse when it comes to imagery. With this composite image I tried to capture some of this diversity.

The base image is a wall on an old building. The wear and tear of time, weather, and neglect are clearly visible; creating a great tactile feeling. The window is actually a boarded which creates a perfect canvas for another image. The inset image was taken around midnight, using the glow of the moon to light up the rolling hills of grain in the landscape. I wanted the effect to be as if the scene was painted on the boards on the window; essentially bring The Palouse together into one image.

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Philadelphia – A Weekend in Review

This past weekend, RRPT lead a couple of Meetups in the Philadelphia area. Together these Meetups amounted to a weekend-long tour of Philadelphia!

On Saturday, RRPT held its 3-hour Pre-public Hour Meetup of Eastern State Penitentiary. For anyone who has ever visited ESP, you know that getting shots of the cell block corridors is nearly impossible during the regular business hours. For that reason, RRPT scheduled our Meetup before the facility opened to the public. This allowed our participants the opportunity to explore the prison and its cells, unrushed to let the creative juices flow. Also, during this time, ESP was able to offer us access to areas that are generally closed off to the public. Here are a couple of images from our morning adventure. We are looking to schedule another opportunity like this one in the future. Join our Meetup to learn more.

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From ESP, our group traveled to the renowned Graffiti Underground to explore some of Philadelphia’s free-formed wall art. The Graffiti Underground is getting more difficult to access as time goes on. We were very fortunately to have a few hours to ourselves, with no hassle from security guards. Another group of photographers visiting earlier in the afternoon were not so lucky.

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After the Graffiti Underground, a few of us decided on an impromptu scouting trip to try for some Philadelphia skyline shots.

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After a much needed night’s sleep, RRPT held its Historic Lansdowne Theater Meetup. The Lansdowne Theater is one of the last of the great theaters from the 1920s remaining largely unchanged in the Philadelphia area. As soon as you walk into this place, you are transported in time.

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We would like to thank everyone who participated in these adventures! We had a great time and are looking forward to our next events.

For more information on RRPT’s Meetups, click here. For information on our Photo Tours, click here.

 

 

Let’s Think Spring

We are steadily marching towards springtime! It is almost hard to believe that January is over.

RRPT is gearing up for its Springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains Photo Tour.

This tour has something for everyone! From wildflowers to wild animals; macro to landscape; night photography to rushing rivers. Don’t miss this great opportunity to explore one of the Nation’s most beautiful National Parks!

Only a couple of spots left!

To learn more about and register for this trip, click here.

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Carrie Furnace Meetup

This past weekend, RRPT held a Meetup at Carrie Furnace… its not the first Meetup to ever be held in this amazing location, but it is the first to have night access. The surreal landscape of this place gave our great group of photographers some amazing opportunities (both day and night)… here are a couple of images from the evening’s adventures in light. The Carrie Furnace is one of the locations being preserved by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. For more information on their mission, click here.

_DSC3088-Edit _DSC3106-EditThanks to Jeff Johnson for spinning the wool and braving the flames.

RRPT is in the process of scheduling another afternoon and evening Meetup. We are looking at May 2014. For more information, join our Meetup group… click here.