Things never turn out the way I expect…

aurora borealis, northern lights, panorama, Alberta, spring, Dan Jurak, night sky, long exposure,

I’ve been watching the weather forecast closely for the last week and a half hoping to get a clear night sky. Unfortunately central Alberta is having an unusually wet spring which has brought with it many cloudy days and nights. Rain and snow have been the order of the day. On Easter weekend I must have shovelled our driveway three times. We had about 15 cm of wet and heavy snow fall.

Where I live the centre of the milky way doesn’t become visible until around 2:00 a.m. and wouldn’t you know it the moon is rising around that time which washes out all but the brightest of stars so no milky way photos.

The sun has been active though with a few very good coronal mass ejections which usually make for great northern lights but with the cloudy skies…

Last night we had the prediction of a rare clear sky and a forecast of good auroral activity. As the sun set and the sky started to darken I kept an eye on the western horizon. Damn. Clouds. I hoped that they would dissipate by the time it got dark and it would be happy shooting.

Living this far north and during the spring the length of days increases rapidly and the amount of night time darkness decreases. By 10:10 p.m. I was already out of town and driving north away from the bright city lights. To the west the sky still remained bright. It only gets brighter as we approach summer solstice.

Twenty minutes later the sky was completely dark except for… the clouds overhead that were reflecting the lights of the surrounding small towns. Arrrgh.

Should I turn around or keep driving? I decided what the heck, keep going and I did but the skies never really cleared.

Another twenty minutes found me on a very quiet and dark country road. I decided to get out here and have a look at the sky. All around me was the sound of waterfowl making noises in the nearby meltwater. Coyotes yapped and howled in the distance and farm dogs barked to announce their presence.

Looking up I saw… clouds and a faint band of green behind the clouds. It didn’t look good.

I packed up and started driving east in the hope that I would get a break in the sky just enough to grab a picture and head home. A few kilometres down the road I noticed melt water reflecting the night sky. Behind it were a clump of spruce trees. Maybe?

I got out of the Rav, grabbed my gear and made my way down the ditch and plopped my tripod close to the fence that bordered the pond. A single photo wouldn’t do justice to the scene the way I visualized it so I decided to do a panorama. Six vertical images taken on a 14 mm lens did the the trick.

I grabbed my gear, threw it in the Rav and drove some more and found myself kind of lost at 12:30 a.m. I knew roughly where I was but when it is dark, familiar buildings and landmarks don’t look so familiar.

Where I exited the muddy gravel roads onto the highway surprised me. LOL Boy had I gotten turned around.

By 1:20 a.m. I was home. Changed into my pjs and hopped into bed, my wife sleeping and our 95 pound dog hogging my side of the bed. Grrrr. Reluctantly he got up from his warm spot on the duvet and plopped himself down at the foot of the bed. In a few minutes the day was over and I was sound asleep.

Happy shooting,


~ by Dan Jurak on April 20, 2017.

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