The Milky Way, the Aurora Borealis and two bootfuls of ice water
I love to learn. At the age of 62 I find myself wanting to know more rather than be content with the little that I do know.
It was in 1992 or 1993 that I was introduced to Photoshop. It was version 2.5 I think. That would make it 23 or 24 years that I have been using the photo editing program both at work daily and at home. Instead of knowing everything there is to know about the program I might know 10 or 20 percent of what it does.
So last week when I stumbled upon a program for the Mac that combined star photography images with lots of noise, aligned them and then reduced the noise (with the image shot at extremely high ISO for eg. 12,400) it piqued my curiosity.
After having watched a few tutorial videos I ordered a digital copy online and anxiously waited for clear evening skies so that I might photograph the milky way.
Friday February 17 looked to be one such evening. The astrophotography forecast has predicted clear skies all day and well into the evening before cloudy skies were expected to arrive. With no moon until after midnight it looked like a perfect evening.
I recharged all my camera batteries, packed my camera bag with the few lenses that I wanted to photograph the milky way with, filled a thermos with hot coffee and made my way in a north westerly direction from Edmonton.
By the time I arrived, 7:30ish the skies were completely black with no hint of light in the western horizon from the days sunset. With no moon it was even darker than normal. But…
Spaceweather.com had forecast the possibility of a good aurora borealis display. Usually we see them start around 10:00 p.m. or so. So when I took the first of my eight exposures that would later be stacked to combine into one image what did I see? A greenish glow. Not from city lights. I was pointed in the wrong direction for that. It was the faint glow of the northern lights arching from the northwestern to the northeastern horizon.
So much for that experiment I thought to myself. But, I continued a few more exposures of the milky way ever aware of the brightening green glow to the north.
I had been experimenting with panoramas for the past few months and instead of concentrating on my experiment and reason for getting out that evening I instead started photographing panoramas of the northern lights.
These were a very unusual for me kind of auroral display. Instead of waves of swirling light overhead the display instead was a constant glowing arch to the north across the horizon. You photograph what nature gives you so that is what I did for the next couple of hours.
I had just done another panorama and was in the car thinking of heading back home when the cell phone rang. I pulled over and on the other end was my wife wondering how long I would be. I thought that I was finished for the night so I told her that I would probably be a half an hour away.
On my way back to the highway I noticed a reflection to my right just across the ditch and in the dormant farm field. Immediately I got the idea of getting to the other side of the ice/water and try for an aurora photo with a reflecting glow in the foreground from the ice/water.
I pulled over, grabbed my gear and gingerly made my way across the ditch and to the far side of the icey water. After a few minutes, thinking that I had all that I would get from that location I picked up the camera and tripod and headed back directly to the vehicle. MISTAKE!
Not realizing that the snow in the ditch that I was stepping into was on top of at least a foot of water I plunged into the water and in the process losing my balance. Trying to protect the camera and tripod with one hand the other came down on the gravel road while my other foot went knee deep into the ice cold water filled ditch.
Two freezing bootfuls of icey water and soaking pants. Brrrrrr. That was it. I was done for the evening. I put the gear in the back of the Rav, poured another cup of hot coffee from the Thermos and made my way home as my feet gradually warmed the ice water in the boots.
Ah, how I love photography.