What a night !
Mike Grandmaison, September 11, 2011 at 11:08 AM

What a night  it was! It started off very slowly but it sure picked up steam as the evening wore on. Joe Kerr, owner of the new Pixels 2.1 Gallery in Winnipeg, joined me and we drove up to Matlock, on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg. A couple of days ago, we had received an email notice from indicating that northern lights could be possible in the next couple of days. We hoped perhaps to frame the auroras with one of the iconic piers of the area.


When northern lights are announced, often the eruption occurs during the day. When they do persist into the night, clouds often seem to roll in just when I'm ready to start photographing them. Arriving an hour before sunrise, we made various compositions of the pier bathed in evening light. After the sun dipped below the horizon, I concentrated on the blue/pink hues of the sky characteristic at this time of day. A full moon had also begun to rise in the east. Stephanie, a recent Tech Voc College graduate under Ron Gilfillan, was strolling the beach with her mom and introduced herself. She eventually returned with her camera gear and, during the evening, she received a few photo tips about photographing northern lights  from both Joe and I !


As the sky became darker, we began to see a faint glimpse of greenish colored northern lights. After making a long exposure with my digital camera, I confirmed that northern lights were indeed present. Long exposures of 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes were required to capture enough color and and expose the image sufficiently to reduce the problem of image noise. A steady tripod, a cable release and the 'mirror lock up' function on my camera enabled me to capture sharp images at these long exposures. The ISO setting (sensitivity of the sensor) was set between 200 and 800, depending on the intensity of the display. The lens aperture was usually kept wide open but sometime closed a stop or two to allow for more depth of field when positioned closer to the pier.


The northern lights remained at low levels until around 11 PM or so after which we were treated with a spectacular display of auroras. It was a 'light show' that I hadn't seen in a few years. We scurried along the beach trying to get as many different compositions as possible, being acutely aware that they may only last seconds or possibly minutes. The adrenaline kept us going for sometime untill the show finally subsided. Shortly after midnight, they returned and we scurried about some more. The full moon, although bright in the southern sky, was simply not an issue. The experience was a magical one to say the least. Tired, we packed up around 2 AM and drove back to Winnipeg.


The auroras tend to peak at 10 year intervals. In the last half year or so, they have become more and more common. I have since been out about a half dozen times now but, during this last outing, I witnessed my finest display since 2004.