Aurora Bear
bad location
Phone f/1.8 @ 6.4mm, 1/4, ISO4000. I wished it moved close or higher above, but this night wasn’t to be. I took to using my phone, rather than camera, because I wasn’t that inspired earlier on and just wanted to see if the action cams and cell phone would capture the scene. Still, that night had very active aurora for 30 minutes, although too far away. I was too busy in conversation anyway to care. And mobile sucks for these, FYI.

I had never really seen the Aurora Borealis, aka “The Northern Lights” up close and personal, or at least not where I purposely went to go photograph them. The first time I saw it, I was doing a study of astronomy in Jasper, Canada where I was looking directly at the sun with special equipment, but at the night, I was told how to see a tiny bit of the aurora over a mountain, if I just pointed the camera north and set the camera for long exposure. After doing that for about 1 hour straight, on the side of a street that lazy people bypass the highway to use, and go speeding by at 100mph, ruining your shots. I finally got to see it and started to convert it to cool pictures because too many cars were showing up when the aurora finally showed its face. The viewing was very quick, maybe lasted 30 minutes before it completely disappeared, but I also had a lot of light pollution because I was where all the hotels were. Also, I didn’t want to be out there too long because I started seeing huge elk start to ascend on the hotel area, looking for food, and there were MANY big ones there, coming to the hotel areas. It was about 1am on that day too and freezing. I started to think, “this is not that entertaining!” Why did I stay up that long anyway? I did it because I was told by the astronomer that the aurora is something not to miss since it wasn’t even supposed to show that late in the year, and it was around the beginning of May. That was wild that I dragged the camera out, and I didn’t have a good one at the time either and set it up on my tripod and just sat there for hours, only to get maybe 3-4 “ok” photos – not a good investment of our time. Every time people would tell me about their desires to see the aurora, or their trips to see the aurora, I would always flash back to the time I went to Jasper. Normally, I wouldn’t go with my friends who asked me to go and help them photograph the aurora. I was against it and though it was a waste of time and money- more on that. NO way was I going to be sitting around waiting for hours and hours and hours, is what I thought, but then, as I started to do more solo traveling, and realizing that people just love to talk to me wherever I go, I started to go back to civilization by setting myself up to join events in many of the places I go. So, this winter, I had some friends come back with photos of the aurora in Iceland, and I wanted to go there, in particular, to go view the aurora there. They had some really good photos from all around the island, not just the aurora but waterfalls, frozen land, all kinds of cool, natural things. That got my hyped up, but when I wanted to book a trip, there was a bunch of news of volcanic eruptions in Iceland, and just this week they had MORE eruption that shot off and ruined some towns. So, I had to cancel those plans to go there, and instead, I completely forgot that you could go to the Yukon in Canada or to Alaska to see the aurora too, and I wouldn’t have to worry about any damn volcanos either. I became excited to go stand around for hours waiting for 30 minutes of green lights in the sky and started to look for flights to Alaska and make the arrangements. 🧐 After talking to one of my favorite organizers of tours, I gave them my requirements and the put me where I needed to be, so I could have the best chances of seeing the aurora.  Everything was set up and I put out the feelers to the crew to see who wanted to go see the lights in the sky. It should be no surprised that NOBODY wanted to go with me to Alaska, because Alaska isn’t as sexy as telling people that you went to Iceland. Iceland is exotic to people so that they can come back bragging and that is why I don’t know anyone who went to view the aurora in North America, they all go to Europe to partake in special fancy aurora trips. 🤣 You’re not fancy and your’e going to die under hot lava if you keep fking around out there. It’s so cheap to just go to Alaska or to the Yukon, in Canada, and do the same thing you can do in Iceland. Less people will be in your face because you’ll know how to spread out in Alaska and Canada, plus it’s too cold in these areas so you will see less volume, of people, naturally. When you do see other people in your outings, I suggest you get to know them because I had people doing all kinds of fun activities and getting them to open up out of their shells, while I used the backdrop of the aurora hunting to mellow everyone out and normalize their mentalities. Normally, that comes by way of teaching people how to capture the aurora, which under the conditions I faced, which were different form when I first encountered it, I needed to link up with some Pros myself, to get it all right without tools and in sub zero temperatures, at that! It took some prep talk to get me to even want to fool with my camera in that weather. This is why one of the photographers says that people wait to the September to start of November and then February into March to do aurora tours, because it’s less cold and there is less likely snow in many places. Basically, months when you start to lose light fast each day (fall), or just before the sun sets later in the date (spring) are the best for most viewers of the aurora. This is why I go in dead of Winter, to avoid crowds but also, the sky is so crisp and clear most days with no clouds unless it’s going to snow.

Aurora
The clouds came out of nowhere, when it was all clear that whole night when the aurora was not showing. I wasn’t going to let the clouds stop me though, hell with that, I went all the way out there at 1am! My fan in the corner is snapping pics of me.

People don’t understand that the aurora can be viewed from multiple places far enough north on the globe and you need lack of light to see them so you have to do tours when it gets dark early and STAYS DARK into morning. In Alaska, we have what we call the “Polar Night.” That means Alaska’s part of the arctic circle has areas that don’t get sun during the winter solstice in December! It’s completely dark and this is what you’re seeing as the stage set for the new True Detective on HBO, where there is no sun in any scenes, with the fake town of “Ennis” being subject to polar nights during the show. That means I should expect to see the aurora in that damn show because all the elements are right and it’s happening when the aurora is active, September to March, and that’s how the period of polar nights and we can assume the show’s scenes are all happening 10pm to 2am, aurora time! You’re going to see some portion of the aurora if you’re that far up, all over the place, with minimal effort too. The aurora is a large ring that sits above earth’s Geomagnetic North Pole, so as long as you’re under it or near it, you’re going to see it. That time in Jasper, Canada, that was spring, and I saw the aurora because that ring was large and southward that year. Let’s go through the makeup of what you’re actually seeing when you see the aurora. There is a force called the solar wind (no, not the network monitoring technology) that need to be understood, and what the actual SUN is doing when interacting with the earth. Sure, you get heat and light from the sun, but when it’s down, that doesn’t mean it’s not interacting with the earth. There are extremely hot gasses that make up the sun, and that gas is large collections of super charged electronic particles we all know as “ions.” The constant streaming of this gas/ions that flows out of the sun is what call the solar wind. Solar wind doesn’t just stay at the sun, it has an effect on earth and when it interacts with the magnetic field of the earth, the aurora is the effect that you see in the sky with the colors. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the solar winds, but some of the ions leak through, that is what you’re seeing in the aurora. If we didn’t have that magnetic field, earth would be TOAST! Those ions continue to move around the planet although blocked. When the ions get funneled into earth’s atmosphere, they’ll be in circular areas in Earth’s geomagnetic poles, which we know as the ionosphere. Earth’s atmosphere holds oxygen and nitrogen atoms floating in the air, and this is colliding in with the sun’s solar winds, and I say colliding for a specific reason, because this is what we are measuring when we’re looking for the strength of what you see from the aurora being weak or strong to view. I learned this, initially from that Jasper Planetarium mobile class that I took about astrology. You go inside of the mobile hut and it puts a 360 degree image all on the dome, which was wild because there was no 360 camera at the time. The showed the aurora in there and gave a quick lesson. If you’re ever in Jasper, make sure to take that course, trust me, it’s worth it because they teach you how to photograph the milky way and the aurora. I was hyped up to see if I had the skills to get the aurora without any help and without a full frame camera! 🤔 So, officially, the first time I saw the aurora was in Jasper, Canada (Canadian Rockies). However, it was not easily visible to the eye, and they’re they’re like just over 600 miles above the earth’s surface. To see it, I had to do a long exposure, on a tripod, with a good camera lens to be able to see the green on the aurora. The instructor who led that course I took, he told me how to dial in the settings to capture the aurora. Today, I think he and team may take people out to photograph it themselves. To see the aurora, one has to bank on those collisions of ions and elements in the atmosphere, because this gives the aurora its visible forms. That’s the easiest way I can explain this to you, hopefully that got you excited for science and those guys came with specialized equipment for star gazing. I was blown away! What’s really wild is the sun has hot and cold spurts, and the cold spots show up as “sunspots” on the sun, via solar flares. When that hot and cold changing happens on the sun, if you get a lot of sunspots, you’re likely getting crazy solar flares, and that energy will carry on solar winds, therefore the strong readings will give you strong aurora viewing will be the best when these conditions are met. So, when you have heavy sunspot activity, expect the very best aurora activity via super charged solar wind energy, which many scientists around the world track and use to give you probably to see the aurora. This week, outrageous sunspot activity is projected and will knock out communications but give you pretty colors of the aurora. Take that course, you’ll learn a LOT because that info stayed with me to this day!

Jasper Aurora: 1st Aurora I ever saw.

Aurora in Jasper
Rokinon 14mm, f/2.8 @14mm , 30″, ISO3200. I did this on an old school Sony NEX-5, almost 10 years ago in Jasper, Canada. I had an astrology class/tour earlier in that day and the trainer told me I would be able to see some of the aurora that night if I was die hard enough. He said I’d have to expose for 30 seconds or more though, after inspecting the camera. He said it would be faint otherwise, and surely enough he was right on all points! It looked like clouds and I decided to try his tricks and bam, it worked! I had an all manual Rokinon lens and the camera didn’t recognize the aperture or shutterspeed because nothing was electronic on it. APS-C sensors are small thus the 30 seconds+ to get more light in the cam. Also, those cams did not allow BULB feature natively, you had to download a program from Sony to install in the camera! 😔
Aurora failure
That night, I sat there for hours waiting until the speed demons would stop using this backroad to avoid traffic on the main highway, so I could get my shots. Public spaces near towns are the worst, don’t do it if you don’t have to! I was just happy that that astrology class hint came true! In public places, there will be nobody around 1 second, then 100 cars and distractions. It turned me of to aurora photography, I won’t lie.
nosey
This one guy thought I was doing terrorism, so he slowed down right in front of me, asked me about what I was doing despite seeing me with a a camera on a tripod aiming off into the mountains- then then floored it out of the way. I figured I’d get interesting colors from that.
Jasper Aurora
I wasn’t really sure what I was seeing when I took it but then the extra hotel and lights from the train lit up the area from afar. Not a complete fail because I got the aurora and just brought down the darkness of the foreground. Stars came out not that bad considering the tech back then. What I was seeing was the edge of the ring of the aurora.
aurora lodge
You can set up private viewing to avoid the crowds and I suggest you do this. You can meet cool people while you wait around for hours! There was a little green band you can see al little in this photo, but I was inside, warm, chilling with hot chocolate by the fire! Didn’t even feel like shooting, guns or camera, in a zone. It was a vibe- I fell asleep actually.

That to see the aurora, or to have a greater chance to see the aurora, you just need to be near that ring that the aurora form, known as the “auroral oval.” The auroral oval is 60 to 75 degrees (latitude) of the aurora and it can hover over Alaska, Iceland, north Canada, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, to name a few, which are all in the arctic circle. The arctic circle‘s latitude is at 66°30′ N currently (it moves over time so maybe different when you next check). If you want to check a locations relative location to the arctic circle, punch in the town and country here, and see how close you are to this. All of those get northern hemisphere polar nights, so the aurora is present in these places. So, one just needs to plan their trip at a time of the year where the aurora will be seen from their location, which now you can go online or get an app to help predict, but you have to know how to read the maps and apps to know if you will have a possibility to see the aurora. I saw that Fairbanks is 65 degrees northern latitude, so that’s surely where you need to be to have the best chance to see the aurora.  If the sky is not clear, you’re not likely going to see it, and you’re not going to see it while there is good day light present, because you need it to be nighttime, and preferably with clear skies. When you look at an aurora map, you’ll see the geomagnetic activity being tracked by a measure they call the “KP” and its index is between 0 and 9, and depending also on positioning north, this index will change. For example, if KP is 0-2 it means that aurora is too far north and really weak. When you cross 3, that’s when you get better probably to start seeing the aurora get interesting. You can see the aurora from places you don’t see advertised when that KP increases which is why I was seeing it in Jasper. This is because of that auroral oval, and while it way be visible somewhere over in Norway, I could see it as far down as Jasper, which is like almost 52°52′ N, and it would be in the auroral oval allowing me to also see the aurora, although not as pronounced. When I see the KP3+, that’s when I start readying the clothes and boots to throw on and stand in the cold! If you get KP8-9, that’s an incredible time to be alive, because you are going to see wild activity from the aurora, it’s really strong and you must get out there, which is predicted next 2 weeks. It’s not an exact science to see the aurora, and that bring me to the point of this piece, the whole business of selling you aurora trips and you not seeing any damn aurora! Since the sun’s going to rotate once every 27 days, this makes and carries a magnetic field we call the “Interplanetary Magnetic Field” (IMF) it forms a spiral, piercing shape we call that “Parker Spiral.”  This is how it drills down through to earth, and we can see the particles colliding as mentioned earlier to see the colors of the aurora. How much that is done, that affects the viewing and needs to be tracked, by someone, YOU preferably, or you’re going to be mad you didn’t see the aurora. I did my best and saw the aurora every night I went, just to various degrees, that’s why I’m saying the location, and the weather are highly important to consider. While Fairbanks has a city, most of the location I went to were 60-70 miles north of the city, heading up highway routes 2 or 6, but you definitely want to head towards the conservation or preserve areas if you can get, just up route 6 as far as you can stand, park on the side of the road in grass and have at it. That far out, you’ll have no light pollution, certainly not as big as the city when I did see it, so it’s not as bad as people who stay near the city of Fairbanks, expecting to see the aurora. Many of the public places listed, to see the aurora, are near the city so that people don’t have to drive far. You’ll need to go 2 hours north/northeast for best viewing. When that KP is 8 or 9, you might see that from any of those public locations, including Anchorage. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you can one day see the aurora from Anchorage, but you should try to increase the chances to see it how you want to see it, directly over your head and preferably with a cool foreground or highlighting something way in the background like mountains or some that reflects the aurora back up, like a body of water – which you won’t get if it’s in an area with -30°F weather because it’s going to be frozen solid.

Aurora Bear
Here was when nobody was around, they were freezing and tired of coming out taking pics with their cell phones. The skies finally opened up a little to show the aurora on the northwest direction. So to see it, one needs to focus to infinity, use manual focus at that, not automatic, and pick the NORTH STAR as a subject to test focus with focus peaking enabled in a color not matching sky or aurora. It came out of nowhere, I called to people, but only 1 person came out.
Aurora
it was just starting to take form her, just looked like gray clouds at this point, but it looked a different shade. I focused on them and took some shots, and realized it was the aurora, not clouds.

So when you get the bad KP readings, and depending on where in the auroral oval you are, you may not even get the best view of the aurora. When I failed to see the aurora, every night in Alaska last year, I realized the guides didn’t know wtf they were talking about. So, one guy disputed what I was saying, so I just left the warm shelter when I felt it was coming, and it was there, but really faint and BEHIND CLOUDS. A fellow traveler decided to follow me when I went out and he also saw what I saw, but photographically, it was horrible but he at least believed me. We saw that we were not even in the auroral oval and it was very weak where we where, which is why we saw what we saw. In Fairbanks, since I used photographers to get the locations, they knew the deal and helped me get in position, but to overcome what we couldn’t predict, before, the moon and the snow storms. Still, I saw the aurora, one way or another, even on those bad days! The best times to see the aurora will need a window between 10pm to 2am into the next day, so you have a 4 hour window to block off. People are not going to want to drive back at 2am in the morning to their hotel, 2 hours south back to the city of Fairbanks, and many people brought kids, who went sleep and the had to deal with them in the early morning hours. Parents aren’t up for shuffling back and forth like this. Now, imagine you don’t see an aurora after all that crap? We should study “aurora borealis rage” because I witnessed a LOT of it from fellow travelers. I had to hold my breath to stop from laughing at this lady who politely asked her husband to step outside of the shelter so that she could have a word with him, and I hear her killing him for such a boring night with no aurora and then the kids were sleeping and didn’t want to see it anyway and he wasted all of their times. Man, that really sucked, and I was laying on the couch near the door the exited, so I pretended to be asleep. He cracked the door to see if I was awake, and she kept going off on him that 2 nights in a row he did this and no lights, so to stop this nonsense aurora chasing. 🤣 The very next day, I went out ice fishing, and part of the title of that event says “…and aurora viewing” but you’re not guaranteed to see the aurora from where that was, they just added it while you’re waiting to fish, you can watch the aurora. I DID see aurora, although very brief, way way way way off in the distance, between the gaps in the cloud revealed it. There was a family staying there, in a cabin behind where I set up the timelapse on my action cam, and they were PISSED that they didn’t see the aurora and pissed that they didn’t catch fish either. They were sleeping and woke up with their clothes packed. They were screaming at the organizers, and my cameras caught them out there arguing, it was messing up my starlapse photos, but they left their stay early. We could hear someone arguing from inside the cabin where we were fishing but didn’t know what it was about because the generator was going outside, but one of the organizers confirmed they were pissed and left. They (the family) were halfway onto something, because to maximize your opportunities, you can stay in a lodge or inn that has private space that is in a great position to view the aurora. In that case, all you’d have to do is walk back to your room and sleep, not drive 2 hours! I just don’t think that location is good enough, it was too close to town and had light pollution in all angles, and on that night, it started to snow heavy, so the clouds came in thick and heavy. So, people coming back from failed Alaskan aurora viewing is big and that’s aurora rage! At the hotel, a lady came up on me and asked if I “wasted” more of my money on any aurora tours. She said it with an attitude because she didn’t see any. I asked “I take it that you didn’t see the aurora?” She made the funniest disappointed, annoyed face ever. She was trying to get bunnyhopped and was making small talk to engage me. I got out of there quick. She paid almost $200 and got nothing but frostbite and had to stay in the van of the tour! I had a guy complain 2 hours straight to me, at a bar at a restaurant I went to, about not seeing the aurora and he was complaining about overcrowded tours at every place with a good viewing. Most people complaining were pissed that they paid all that money and saw nothing and they wanted to drive 2 hours north but the lady with them didn’t want to do all of the driving and weren’t going to get on a tour either. You have to understand, if you’re coming from NY, that’s 4 hours behind your normal time you sleep, and you’re likely going to see the aurora at your normal 4am to 5am. You’re crazy sleepy at this time, you shouldn’t be driving, thus I hop on tours and sleep on the way back and forth. And I was for sure studying how to maximize when to see that aurora, like crazy! I started doing my homework after a string of bogus aurora tours that I did some years ago, after seeing no aurora back to back to back days! At the time, I was studying the applications that track the aurora and I saw that what I was reading from what I understood of the aurora tracking apps was not whatever this person was using to track the aurora when she was giving us the updates on what we were expecting to see. She drove us almost 2 hours out of anchorage, to a town called Talkeetna, and we did this to arrive at around 11pm and we were expecting to conclude at 2am. Now, technically, Talkeetna is 62°19’N, and should be able to get some of that auroral oval, but any time I checked, it would barely pass near that place, as if it were too far southwest- still better than Anchorage changes though. So, if you do a tour, make sure it goes up as far as Talkeetna, but that’s 2 hours! There is a reason they take you up that far, rather than going locally over Anchorage to view the Aurora, although many advertise it doesn’t matter where you are in Alaska, you’ll see it. When you book, ask them if they’re taking you to Talkeetna or equally far north, and if not, don’t go. A tiny cloud was not rally visible but kind of. Most touring companies will give up at 2am, so if you want to stick around longer to look for the aurora, then you can feel free to find places yourself by driving- good luck on those icy roads and limited signs. The newer touring companies, or improved old companies, have stepped up their games, so if there is low chance to see the aurora, they’ll let you cancel for full refund, or postpone to another day now. They didn’t do that before, so book a tour like this if you go to Anchorage and you should track the aurora yourself so YOU can know if it’s low percentage to see it, so you can cancel or move the appointment to another day. Just know, that kind of service means you’re paying $300, mor or less, for that tour because you’ll be driven around to multiple spots so you’ll have 4 hours to see the aurora, and 4 hours of transport back and forth from anchorage, and 2 hours chasing the aurora from multiple locations. If you see the aurora enough from one location, and you all agree, they’ll take you to change up scenery, so those are worthwhile tours but they know that aurora borealis rage and that’s why the refund option is there. If you take the Chinese-run companies, you will NOT get a refund, and THIS is where the complaints come from. When you look for tours, and you see “aurora hunting” and “photography-based” or “photograph focused,” then you should know that the tour will focus on someone trying to find a good spot to see the aurora, and they’re basing sightings on news that they get from someone that they are in communication with, apps, websites that track this, and more. Those are the photographers who do tours, and they will work hard to make sure you get some shots off, so they know spots to get to, plus can help you if you don’t know how to photograph well, or take your pictures for you with you in them, under the aurora. I used the applications and I also use Alaska’s tracking done by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), which tracks at 30 minute intervals.


These places were fails, really, because the aurora was too far away, in public places that suddenly got busy, too much light pollution, and weather turned on a dime.
Aurora Bear
The moon was a problem here because it was too pronounced, and full that night, especially since the clear skies were there and clouds were the other direction, north, where the aurora would be expected to show up. I took it to illustrate that they don’t go together! The moon illuminated the whole scene and sky was gaining cloud, it just dulls a good aurora, like you see here. Was fighting that the moon the whole night until the clouds came in and I quit for the night. Avoid the moon at all cost!

I also know the areas that one should be in to see it best now, too, which I didn’t know back then. So, when my readouts were showing that we’d be nowhere near to see the aurora in a good way, I knew I was paying too much money for BS that wouldn’t happen. THIS is the real reason that people don’t want to go to Alaska to go see the aurora, because you are likely going to end up on a tour that will result in a low probability of seeing the aurora, and if you do see it, it’s a tiny area way the hell away because it’s another 300 miles away northeast from wherever you are. People are doing aurora tours from out of Anchorage, and I’m here to tell you, don’t do this, you are wasting your money. You may get lucky, but you’re not going to get that damn lucky, you’re going to be like me on that first trip, with all indicators suggesting I would NOT see the aurora, but the local guide is telling you with full confidence that you WILL see the aurora. I realized that this lady was straight up lying when I saw the ring wasn’t even anywhere near where she planned to take us, and no amount of long exposure photography would work because it’s way way way too far away. Get familiar with forecasting!   Ever since that day, where I paid almost $200 USD for that dud of trip, I thought I’d not do that again unless I had a strong possibility of seeing it. Now, I get it, she didn’t want people to revolt half way through that 2 hour drive from Anchorage, so she had to lie, and then had to prepare the speech for when we would fail to see the aurora, but at least she drove us to multiple locations, after talking to some mysterious person on a phone who said they were seeing it. All of the companies would do this, get on a phone and get some fake person to fake-validate that they can see the aurora although you can’t and you’re not that far from them. It’s all cap! They’ll not tell you that they know they’re not going to see the aurora, they need the money, so it’s a swindle and you should know it, most times. What you’re doing, most times, is you’re paying to see the aurora but taking a chance on it if you get on a tour. This is why so many people are trying to do it themselves, but if you’re not local, you’re going to probably not really know where to go, or you’re going to possibly put yourself in danger en route to the destination. I was one of those people who went out looking to do my own aurora hunting, so I did go looking to find places, mapping out public areas, and that was a nightmare. I connected with a family and another solo traveler, and we went to a popular viewing area, where we saw NOTHING- well no, we saw something, we saw 1,000 people in 100 tour buses and rented RVs, all standing shoulder to shoulder, lights blaring all over the place from their vehicles, phones and all kinds of nonsense. We couldn’t even get a good area to be in, the parking was filled to the gills, we had to park, almost a mile down the road and walk to the location, ultimately. You know why that was not a good thing to do this thing on our own? Because we skipped 3 other places, we were told by locals to try, because all of the were filled with Chinese tour buses loaded with 50 people per bus. Go look on google and check some of these parks in the photos, you’ll see that 90% of the people picture match what I just said. The overcrowded areas create a lot of light pollution, and you can’t get a good foreground to go with the aurora, so doing aurora photos like I want, that’s going to be ruined. The people with me took were going to use my monopod to take pics and we collectively agreed to leave early, the experience was ruined by all those people being there. So, it is best to do one of the tours, unless you know the secret spots of the locals, that they’ll never tell you, for fear that those places will get overrun by the tour buses, which I heard are illegal to operate in Alaska- although this doesn’t stop them. That’s why people are pissed at aurora viewing in Alaska, you’re not going to see the aurora most ways if you don’t have extra insight. This is why you HAVE to learn to read the aurora apps and data yourself, if you plan on doing this, or you’re going to get ROBBED of money and opportunity to see the aurora. You can go the freeway to take your chances going to the different public areas, but you also have to remember that people are coming from all over the world, to Alaska, to see the aurora, so it’s packed with people everywhere in the public places. Pretty much, what everyone does, is they go from Anchorage up route 1, then go on route 3 up to Talkeetna, to the Denali viewpoint there. That’s pretty much what everyone does nowadays and they’re all there at the same time. That’s why I like when it’s the coldest possible, because people who came with their girlfriends or wives will not be out there because she won’t let them be out there, so that’s 2 bodies down! 👍🏼 I mostly saw solo travelers in the best tours I took!

Aurora Bear
Sony 14m. f/2.8 @ 14mm, 4”, ISO3200. This is the moon messing up the shot. It illuminated the sky and the snow, and flushed the clouds are also glowing with light. It was covered by clouds 2 seconds ago, and I snapped this just to show how everything is ruined as soon as it’s showed its face opposite of where it is located. Washed the whole scene! Of course, I compensated with settings to work around, but if you don’t know how to manually work the cam, good luck, the meters are all over the place and will focus on this white foreground lit by the night sky. I wanted the sky, so the ISO went high – {I dulled the white a little for presentation sake, it was too blown out.}

Earths’ atmosphere has oxygen, hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, and this affects coloring you see in the aurora. You mostly see the green aurora color, but there are read and purple streams that can show up too. Depending on where in the atmosphere the solar winds’ ions collide with oxygen, the color will change. You see the colors of a good aurora, you’ll see that in the lowest part of the atmosphere, that will be green, but the furthest away in the atmosphere (highest), that’s going to be a red color aurora, with red being rare and you can see faded looking blue/red colors of the aurora but that means that solar wind’s ions collided with nitrogen, not oxygen. If you see strong blue or purple, you’re seeing collision with hydrogen and helium, and this is what your camera will help you see, you can’t see it with your eyes. I had an Asian guy tell me that he saw the blue and purple with his own eyes, and I immediately knew he was a liar. When you look at the sky and it looks like gray gas in the sky, you should break out a camera and look, but you can’t see these fringe colors with the naked eye. The green aurora can look like this too when it’s too faint. You can’t see the milky way like you see in pictures and yet you’re using your eyes, right? Same thing here, you can’t see what’s really happening with your eyes as it related to that portion or collision with the electromagnetic spectrum. He was trying to show off to the ladies, but he was a liar, and I didn’t want to hate on dude, so I didn’t correct him while he was failing to impress them already! This is why he have the apps and the websites to track, because you can’t see it. One of the tools I used was live cameras from scientists tracking the aurora, who have a live camera facing north under that auroral oval. If it’s going to show, you’ll see it there. I’d go inside the housing of the private tours and monitoring the live cameras. When I would see the aurora on the camera, I’d go flying out the door to snap pics, then come right back in when the hype died down. I was tracking like I mentioned earlier, the web cams we had them on a big screen TV keeping track, in one of the private tours I went on. What I’d do is monitor in an app like this one, and I’m checking to see the aurora flow SOUTH, which is a marker in the apps that will be denoted with “BZ.” When the sun’s Interplanetary Magnetic Field (the other IMF), is going south against the earth’s magnetic field, which points north, and they meet, that’s the penetration that has to be tracked. Mars, by comparison, its magnetic field has been destroyed by too much solar wind overpowering it. The reason I gave you that understanding on how the ions interact with earth’s atmosphere is because the tracking of the collision, and how far into earth it has penetrated, that’s what you’ll find in the BZ counter of the apps. When you see that the BZ number is a negative number, that’s a good thing, that is the level of penetration by the ions. If the BZ is positive, you may still see the aurora, regardless, however, it is going to be faint, and you’ll need to do some camera tricks. This is the best you can do, use the cams, the word of mouth of others to inform you of sightings, and the apps to know if you’re going to see what you want to see. You cannot just go on the word of “guides” or tour directors because I found that most do not know how how to get you the aurora and surely can’t help you photograph the aurora unless you’re talking about using your cell phone to do it. If you find that you’re going to get an aurora tour and you have a photographer who is the leading that tour, you’re likely going to have someone who is well versed on how to see the aurora, where to go if your first location is not getting what you want, or if you want to get scenery with the aurora, that photographer tour leader will take you to some of their secret spots that most people don’t know about, and surely the foreign tour companies with the thousands of tourists won’t know about and won’t know how to get to. Consistently, the photographer tour directors mentioned the BZ and went through the science of it, so I knew I was in good hands when I did tours with them. That’s the first thing I would do, listen to them tell you how they hunt the aurora and time it, and if it matches with what you know, as opposed to them just making calls to someone (or pretending to), then you’re in good hands. Someone told me a story of a guy who was calling to another person but they were not in the phone app on the phone when they were supposedly talking, so they know he wasn’t really in contact with anyone. The guy walked away, spoke in another language, and then returned with good new that other people saw the aurora you did not see. 👏🏼

Aurora
Clouds were messing up the game but I didn’t stop, I needed to make sure I could quickly shoot these things. The lights started getting stronger and strong, and the light was I had to adjust focal length up and change views. I would use my stars to let me know that I was all good because there were not star tails aka comas. That’s with a 14mm full frame lens.

So, with that being said, you need to maximize the opportunities to see the aurora, and that means you must go to Fairbanks, Alaska, at the furthest south you can be in Alaska. Now, Fairbanks is in the middle of Alaska, but it’s north of Anchorage enough to be able to see the aurora consistently, or more often that you could possibly see in Anchorage. This screenshot here is most likely to be true when it’s time to view aurora in Alaska, and you can see the band of green is part of the auroral oval. I’ve seen this area be highlighted almost every time I checked when it was time to see the aurora and the maps forecast will almost always tell you that you should be in Fairbanks! That’s why in 2023-2024, Fairbanks was the destination, and I wasn’t playing with them out here. I did try to do the failed public park/lake route, to no avail, but I also had booked some tours which were specifically to be placed in areas to see the aurora from private residences or lodges where it would not be overrun with tour bus activity. That was the WORST to go to a public area and have it overrun with people and have to walk half a mile to get back to the vehicle, because the weather as you get closer to the arctic circle completely drops 30 degrees F! We were walking to the vehicle and the weather in Fairbanks was -27°F/-33°C! If you go on these aurora tours, it’s WINTER in Alaska, and the best places to see it means you’ll be in the coldest places, so you must be appropriately dressed and have good cover (e.g., lodge, vehicle) and or have hand and feet warmers ready. You can’t take that weather, standing out in the cold for HOURS waiting for the aurora, that’s silly. So, booking a tour is good today, but if you book, you still have the problem of not seeing the aurora, and if you book a tour, you’re guessing based on the data hopefully. Don’t just blindly join an aurora tour if you didn’t check the data first to get a higher probability to see it. I watched a family get extremely pissed as the clouds overtook the sky because out of nowhere, a snowstorm came in. I saw something about partial cloud cover, but the sky was clear the whole way up to one of the private areas I went to, but as the night progressed, that’s when the clouds came in and the aurora was blocked. I went to 4 different places, on 4 different nights and 3 of the places had cloud cover come in late in the night, which is when the aurora was most bright. So, I did all the research, the aurora did come, but clouds blocked it. And the 1 place where there was no cloud cover, I was too far south so the aurora was off in the distance. I could see it, but it was too far to be worth anything. That viewing was less than 30 minutes that day, and in one place, the aurora was for at least 1 hour and it took over the whole sky where we were, at times. That place was the furthest up, above the city of Fairbanks, where the aurora could be seen without light pollution from cities and towns. This was the case in 2 places, but light pollution from neighbors was an issue in 2 places. Another problem with the aurora prediction is that the moon was also out on all 4 days, one day it was FULL, the rest mostly full, and that was taking the color out of the aurora! The snow was extra white because of the moon, and you want the moon to not be so pronounced when you are viewing aurora. The clouds were popping extra white when I did see them come out, it ruined everything in most cases, but in the best place, the clouds were scattered before they took over everything and the aurora was heavy where I was at, so I could get pics between the clouds in this case.

Aurora everywhere
If you go far north enough, you can see the aurora in seemingly all angles you look, if you pick a good spot. The aurora was all over the place, all directions I looked, but the snow clouds were coming in bad. It was already snowing the town over.
Not good location
I was in this place, it wasn’t best location because it was too far south in Fairbanks, but I would have made for a good scene to get the aurora to soar over this snowy scenry. I spotted the north star, pointed the action camera (not DSLR) and set up a timelapse. 4 hours I did this but only 30 minutes of lights came, and it was WAY WAY WAY to far away to be significant, and I needed long exposure to see it. This was a dud night but it was very clear that night. If that aurora were higher than those dead trees, that would have been CRAZY! Truth be told, this was a good scenery but not far enough north so I get that aurora high over the trees.

Lastly, if you’re wanting to take pics that you can play with a little, bump up colors, try to compensate for the possible bad scenery, or to take advantage of a scenery to compliment the aurora, then you would want to take a DSL, a tripod and a good lens that will give a wide enough scenery. The majority of people who went to view the aurora, where I went to view the aurora, but also who told me they went to other locations, they were mostly just using their cell phones to take pictures. The thing is, you will want to take several photos that will be of good quality and the focus will need to be out to infinity, and these camera phones are not the great to do that, especially if you’re going to hand-hold them. I had a guy saying the was recording the aurora, but he was moving. I told him that it’s not going to do what he thought it was doing. He thought the aurora was going to wiggle like a snake while he recorded, but that’s not how it works. Over time it moves and changes, or appears to move, so when you see it in videos on youtube, and internet, that’s not VIDEO in the camera’s video option. It is a really a series of photos that were likely taken at 5 to 10 second intervals, and then the photos were put together in an image sequence to make a movie out of that. What you’re seeing is animation of photos taken when you see most videos of aurora that look like they’re moving. That said, it’s important to mount the camera where it will not move at all, thus the need to bring a tripod. I was the only person with a tripod in all of the locations I went to in the private viewings. That’s why it’s important to bring a remote for the camera as well, so I wouldn’t have to take my hands out of my pockets and of my gloves, because each night was lower than -25°F/-32°C and that HURTS when your skin is exposed. You have to be out for a while when the aurora is going strong and long, and these people were not ready for that. So, when we went to private locations, most people just went back into the housing of the location and hoped that someone would “oh” and “ah” and signal that the aurora was happening, but they mainly didn’t want to be freezing. They didn’t anticipate that it would require one to be outside that long, but some of the lodgings have viewing areas where you can stay inside and watch the aurora. Me, I put the tripods and mounts outside, then controlled them while I was inside the warm housing or the van. I came as prepared as possible, but I saw the other people with camera failing left and right. They didn’t set their settings right in their DSLRs, so they couldn’t get the lighting right, they didn’t have a lens that had an aperture that was F2.8 and bigger (e.g., F1.8). They had lenses that were mainly for travel or street photography, and not not ones that are good for landscape view or could let in a lot of light, in a short period of time. Also, your camera should be able to do high noise handling if needed, so the ISO should be able to go to 3200 and 6400 if it’s high end. You’ll play and try to get 5-10 second shots, depending on your camera setup, but you’ll see the ISO get pushed depending on your lens capabilities, and if you can’t get big like 1.4-2.8, you might not get the shots you want. Know your ISO, people! And just because it says it can go to high number, that doesn’t mean you should because the picture will be horrible and you can’t clean it up without everything being completely blurry. They also had cameras with sensors that didn’t focus well, so everything is blurry in the picture. If you’re focusing to infinity, sure, a lot in the immediate foreground will be blurry, but there are techniques to manually get your camera to put something in focus, which you should always test before popping off, and this is why you should do a tour led by a photographer. Get yourself a tiny mount for your camera if you only bring this with you instead of a big tripod, because hand holding is not recommended. Oh, and those photographers don’t wear those stupid globes with the finger tips that you can peel to reveal your real fingers, without taking off the gloves. Don’t buy or bring those to regular weather gloves, you’ll instantly regret this, as I see many photographers, not in the know, doing. Get gloves that have hand warmer pockets on them, and get a cable-release, or bluetooth, controller so you don’t have to touch the screens of the camera and knobs, you can just use the controller- just know bluetooth will eat your battery and in many batteries cannot take cold weather, so they have short life and you should bring many spares! Those APSC batteries you bought from 3rd parties on Amazon? Nah, they’re not going to work. That trip I did to Talkeetna, those batteries were DEAD by the time I got on the lake! One by one, they lasted maybe 30 minutes. You’re in total darkness when you go to places north of Anchorage, so you’ll need a headlamp, and a good tour will provide you headlamps so you can see. You’ll put the red infrared light on, of course, so you don’t add destructive light pollution and blind everyone in the region.

Aurora
Phone f/1.8 @ 6.4mm, 1/4, ISO2500. at this point, it was easy peasy, just change the orientation and start shooting. The phone is a liar, but it works. I wasn’t going to beat the moon and the clouds so had to make the most of it. Being far enough north through, at this point, this is where the aurora peaked and didn’t come any further south, so it was great to be in this area to see as much as I did that night. That’s why I say to go Fairbanks to maximize the viewing attempt.

You need as much light as possible to take these pictures as quick as you can in some cases, because you will have the stars in your photos and if you don’t take the pictures in the right amount of time, the stars will have blurring to them, or they’ll move so instead of tiny circles, they’re elongated white strips. That’s not a good photo! People were screwing up the photos they were taking and not liking them with the DSLR, so they switched to the iPhone instead. 🤦🏾 I gave a guy my tripod and shot off of my tripod-feet of my action camera that I was not using. He gave me the tripod back after 10 minutes and said he gave up. If you go all the way out there and you don’t know how to do astrophotography, you’re psychotic. You are bringing all of that gear and are not prepared to stand out in the freezing cold to take pictures, but you’re going to be lazy doing it? No way! Well, I saw it over and over.  None of those guys had lens that could produce fast shutter speeds so that the pictures weren’t too screwed. The pics were all blurry. They can’t hold the phone study for 10 seconds because the aperture was F4. You can use the lens, but you need a tripod to get the shutter speed to be open in the amount of time to get a good picture, without the camera moving. The reason they people turned to the iPhone is the aperture is bigger than the recommended aperture of F2.8, because the iPhone has an aperture of F1.8! It’s going to let a lot of light in. Action cams and Samsung are going to mostly be 2.x unless you went the higher send like the Galaxy S23 which has F1.8 in the wide angle, but not the others. Oh, that brings me to that another guy was doing, he had a telephoto lens, and was mad the he could not get a good picture with scenery and a long line of aurora. The telephoto is not the right lens for this kind of photography, it’s too narrow. So, he too had to resort to using the phone too. Why is that frowned on by me? Because you have to use your BARE FINGERS to that the photos with the phones. Those gloves that claim to work with phones are not good to stop -27F temperatures! That’s the real reason most people gave up, they had to use their phones and their hands were freezing. The phones let you cheat because they take multiple photos and stacks them, using a little AI cheat on the final image they show you. It’s trying to compensate for people who don’t know how to use their DSLR, but then you’ll never know how to do astrophotography if you use that phone. It’s lazy mode, like “P” on your DSLR. You just don’t have the flexibility in the phones though, so people were not getting the pics they want, compared to what I was showing them. That’s the last part that really means the most to people, if they didn’t get the great pictures, they thought they would get from watching all the youtube channels and social media posts. I’ll stop there because I may have talked you out of wanting to go see the aurora, or at least take pictures of them, but I’m just saying, don’t expect to go to these and take expert level aurora photos the first time you try them out, but you damn sure better be ready to take the photos of the aurora that you came half way around the world to take. It’s going to piss you off when you try to look at those tiny photos you took with your phone, on a big computer screen. I hit DELETE on all of them, and the ones I used this blog, I’ve also already deleted. The only reliable ones were on the DSLR, and they came out amazing, despite the dumb weather. I’ll try again, next year, but maybe I’ll try to do this in February where it will be less likely to snow, thus there will be less clouds. I’m a little upset that I didn’t get the perfect pics, but I have discretionary income, so I’m not too worried about how much I spent- although, if were not prepared, yeah, I’d be pissed off just like all the other people I saw this whole trip. The whole point in me going to Fairbanks, to see the aurora, was because I had bumped into too many angry travelers who were going to Anchorage, enrolling in tour events to see the aurora in Anchorage, but all came up with nothing. I have never even seen the aurora from Anchorage and I’ve going there a lot in wintertime. That’s why I was first encouraged to do a tour that went to Talkeetna, another place that tour companies claim you’ll see the aurora, but you won’t. You’’ll see adverts with the aurora in these places and those photos are over 10 years old and licensed from a professional. I had many people complain in Talkeetna too, so while it’s not an exact science to see the aurora, if you’re going to Fairbanks, and further north, you’re much more likely to see the aurora than in the south. And if you’re in Alaska in the next 2 weeks, based on the science I shared earlier, with regards so sunspot activity, you’re GUARANTEED to see crazy aurora activity because on the over hyper sunspot activity scientists have identified. This is why so many go to Chena Hot Springs as moving northeast from the city of Fairbanks gives the best chances for the strongest Auroras and location means everything. Their advert will confirm what I’ve been saying, that most won’t say, which is that location means everything and the “band” they reference on their site when they say: “It is located under the most active band of northern lights,” they are referring to what I told you earlier about, the Auroral Oval! If you’re northeast in Alaska, you’re going to have the aurora right over you. Maybe you can see the aurora from Anchorage, but would you chance it when the strength is off the chain with the high sunspot activity, but would you chance it? At least in Anchorage, you don’t need to pay anyone, you can go set up yourself in a public space, along with 1,000 others side to side and with all the light pollution- yeah, go to Fairbanks!

REMINDERS FOR AURORA PHOTOGRAPHY:

  • Fast Wide Angle lens for astrophotography – (f/1.4-2.8 aperture, preferably less than 24mm and in the teens such as 14mm). You want to shoot as quick as you can but to get it to be as pronounced as you can so it can pop. If snow is present, bring the lens hood to keep the lens clean of falling snow/liquids. You should inspect your lens for its sweet spot of sharpness (Hyperfocal distance), but if you want to play it safe, the norm is f/2.8. Use an app like PhotoPills if you have it or search on internet. You’re wasting your time if not.
  • Tripod with attachments- when done, leave the tripod with extended legs, to dry them off after used in snow Don’t scrunch it back in your bag, it will erode the metals eventually.
  • Spare batteries – tuck them in your coat’s inner pockets, to get body heat to keep them warm and don’t leave them exposed to cold so they don’t deplete quick.
  • Plastic/rubberized bag – cover your camera in this when not using outside. If going back inside, do not bring the camera into warm then back into cold. Not good! Tuck them in that back and seal so it gradually gets back to room temp. Condensation will destroy you ultimately if you don’t.
  • Headlamp – bring a cheap headlamp that does red light, but also ones that do emergency signaling too in the same unit.
  • Battery pack – If using action cams for timelapses, connect to battery pack that you tuck in a surface that isn’t directly touching snow, and let them timelapse for the duration of your stay – 5hours. Your action cams will run out of power if not. You’ll get something, if anything, maybe even star trails if you set it up right.
  • An Aurora App – you can use many apps, as long as they give quick info, you’re good to go. I use this. Use the links I put to the websites too.
  • Hand and feet warmers – disposable hand/feet warmers are amazing if you don’t have PAC designed boots/clothing. You can’t use your hands to photograph if you can’t feel them.
  • Gloves/Boots for the expected weather – if you’re in Fairbanks, you should expect -20°F / -29°C weather, so make sure you have the right gear. You can rent this gear, in Alaska, FYI. Don’t bring/buy it. Have it sent to your hotel in Fairbanks or Anchorage.
  • Positive attitude – you’ll meet strangers from around the world. Don’t be an anti-social moron, get up in these people’s faces and learn something.

As always, the finished products can be found on the main site of www.drunkphotography.com.