Lee Sacrey Photography – Lee's Chatter

Mainly Photography but a little of everything at times

Aurora Photography, what I do.

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Before I get into this weeks article, I will remind everyone that it is Valentines Day and we should take some time to wish the ones we love a Happy Valentines Day. What better way to do it then with flowers and because I can’t send flowers to everyone, I thought I could at least post some here. Here are two pictures I processed this morning. Happy Valentines Day everyone.

Both of these were taken inside the garden at the Calgary Z00 in 2009.


Aurora Photography, what I do.

To start this weeks post I should first make it clear that I have had a lot of help with my night photography. I have been out with Dave Brosha and Karl Johnston who both live here in the NWT. Both are fantastic photographers and do a great deal of Northern Lights (Aurora) photography. I believe you can check you their work at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

A few weeks back I did a piece on post-production and it seemed to be well received. Although most comments were made to me in person so, there is not a lot of that feedback for you to see here. This week I am going to talk about what I do to get the shot and not what I do after it is taken.

First I get my cameras and gear ready. I tripod mount both cameras before I even leave the house. I mount the lenses I want to use in advance (the one I like most to my a700 and my second choice to my a100). I even turn them both on and adjust the settings I know I am going to use. What are those you ask? Well, for 95% of everything I photograph I use aperture priority mode or the A on the camera dial (Av on Canon Cameras) and then I let the camera do everything else but, for night photography I use manual mode or the M on the dial. I set my aperture to the smallest number (to allow the greatest amount of light in) . I set the shutter speed to bulb (which allows me to control how long the shutter stays open) and I set the ISO to a low number (to cut the amount of noise in the photo). Other people may choose to use a shorter shutter speed and bump up the ISO setting but, for me I like the low noise and can live with the difference in time.

This was taken with my a700 and my 11 – 18 mm lens. The focal length is 11 mm (16.5 mm on full frame), f4.5 with a shutter speed of 33 seconds. ISO was set at 200.

The one thing you will need to know is where your lens is the sharpest around its infinity setting. You need to know this before you go out. Why? Because it is dark and trying to find the right setting in the dark can be a problem (and bring a flashlight, for two reasons. The first you will at some point move the focus on your lens and will need to see it to correct it. The second is you can use it for light painting but, that could be a whole other discussion). If you are wondering why you don’t just use auto focus, well that is because your camera my have trouble focusing in the dark.

Now, you should turn off any image stabilization your camera or lens may have. Those features create some movement while working and being tripod mounted should solve the shake issues. The other thing that I do is turn off my cameras noise reduction. Remember I am using a low ISO so noise shouldn’t be a problem. This will also allow you to see your pictures quicker as your camera will not take as long to process them.

This picture is taken with my back to the Northern Lights. The lights from the city may it look as if there was still some setting sun light shining through and I liked how it looked. I had to try to capture it. The fact that I also captured Orion was just dumb luck but, maybe I shouldn’t tell you that. f4.5, ISO 200, shutter speed 38 seconds all @ 11 mm.

So you got your camera mounted, you are in manual mode and you’re using manual focus. You got all your camera settings adjusted to exactly where you want them. Your anti-shake is turned off. You are pointed skyward ready to go. Now you reach over and press the shutter release button and let it go. You have just take a picture of just blackness. What you need is a remote shutter release, either wired or wireless. I use wireless for my a700 and a wired remote for my a100. You use these to avoid contact with the camera. Remember the anti-shake is off so you avoid camera movement at all cost. Get your remote and try again. Try it at different shutter speeds until you get the result you like.

This is a house on the Ingraham Trail just outside Yellowknife. It sits near the Yellowknife River and almost every time I go to capture the Northern Lights I pass it. Last night I thought it would be cool to try to get it with the Northern Lights above it. f4.5, ISO 200, 11 mm, shutter speed is 39 seconds.

So, that is the basic approach I take for my Northern Lights shots. There are different things you can try but, I wanted to give you the quick and easy things I do. The best thing to do is to go out and try. Also, if someone in your area is doing a workshop on night photography, take it. Reading is great but, the hands on experience is by far a better way of learning and having someone with you will also helps. So, if you are in or near Yellowknife and want to give this stuff a try then send me an e-mail. I will go with you and maybe we can get Dave or Karl to join us. The more the merrier. Thanks for stopping by and until next week, Happy Shooting.

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Written by leesacrey

February 14, 2010 at 7:27 PM

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