Electric Skies Over Jasper

aurora borealis, northern lights, aurora, Jasper, rockys, mountains, Athabasca River, night sky, Canada, Alberta, Landscape

It’s mid-afternoon as I sit at the iMac to write this. I never nap. Ever but I just had a nap this afternoon.

Yesterday, Friday, I thought might be a good night to try my hand again at photographing the milky way. The moon wouldn’t rise till it was just about daylight which meant that the night sky would be dark enough to help with capturing lots of detail with the densest part of the milky way that we see in the northern hemisphere.

The only thing keeping me from making the four hour drive to Jasper National Park would be the weather. After checking with every weather forecast website that I knew and getting advice from a real meteorologist it looked like there would be a window of cloudlessness from 8:00 pm until 7:00 am the following morning.

Rather than detail all that transpired I will cut to the chase. I woke up in the town of Jasper at 1:20 am in the back of my little Toyota and sleepily made my way to the lake that calculations had shown would position itself perfectly with the milky way. Ten minutes out of Jasper I came across a closed gate and a large portable electronic sign announcing that the road was closed. Arrrgh!!!

I quickly thought of all the possibilities to salvage some kind of milky way photo thinking about all of the various locations in the national park that I could think of. Clouds were now drifting in from the north so I made my way south, thought about it and realized that it was an all or nothing gamble, there could be clouds an hour south or there could be clear skies but no chance of getting the easterly setting milky way until I hit the icefields.

Flustered I stopped at an observation spot just off the highway to get some fresh air and think about my options. Then I noticed them. Faint waves of green crossing the horizon from east to west in the north sky. I grabbed my camera and took a few average shots, nothing great but now I had a plan.

I hopped back in the car and made my way back past the town of Jasper and see what I could in the now clouding up sky.

Long story short, an hour later I was witness to one of the most spectacular auroral displays that I have ever seen. Knowledge of the area in the daytime helped as I drove, stopped, got out at an interesting spot and repeated the process until my pictures started showing a blue sky and not a black, starry sky. Wow!

It was now after 4:00 am so I made my way toward home. The next town was twenty minutes down the road. Edmonton was three more hours so I pulled into a parking lot, hopped into my sleeping bag and slept for two hours. The sky was now completely gray and it was starting to rain.

Hop into the McDonalds grab a bite and three hours later after driving through rain and then heavy snow which started to scare me because I just changed my winter tires for summer, and I was home.

The trip wasn’t a waste of time and gas. It was anything but. This is but the first of many dozens of photos that I took that night. Like I wrote earlier it often seems that my plans don’t quite work out the way that I hope but the alternative is usually pretty good too.

Happy shooting,

a sleepy Dan.

~ by Dan Jurak on April 22, 2017.

12 Responses to “Electric Skies Over Jasper”

  1. sounds like an adventure. glad you didn’t come away empty handed.

  2. just out of curiosity, what settings did you use for this? It’s great, I love the blue in it.

  3. Hi Sheila, it was an adventure and am looking forward to more of them.

    What settings did I use? I just checked and it surprised me. It was f4 @1600 ISO and 8 seconds. If I remember I chose f4 rather than shoot wide open because I included so much foreground and wanted some extra depth of field. It was taken with a full frame camera at 16 mm which is very wide. The zoom lens is a 14-24 f2.8 lens. The aurora this night were very, very bright which is why I chose a lower ISO. Not all auroras are the same. Some are faint, others very bright. Also the moon had not yet risen above the horizon so there was only starlight and reflected aurora light on the ground. Jasper National Park is a dark sky preserve so aside from being near town or at the edge of the park near Hinton it is very, very dark with no nearby city lights brightening things up.

  4. No one ever died from lack of sleep, so I have been told. I think this photo is worth every bit of discomfort the next day.

  5. Jane, you are right. No one ever died from lack as sleep, as far as I know but I do like my sleep. 🙂

    You are right though, the whole experience was well worth getting up in the middle of the night and now that the moon is hidden and I would love to photograph the milky way what is the forecast for most of Alberta for the next few days? CLOUDY. ARRRRG

  6. And oh boy, more snow. Waiting for the real spring, although I am happy to see the birds.

  7. wow, it must have been bright! I feel like I am always having to bump up my ISO so much even with just indoor photos. I don’t have a full frame camera and I can’t slow down shutter speed too much when doing hand held shots, so that doesn’t help. Just hate all the noise, but hate the flash, too. Had a bounce flash on my old camera that worked out ok. Need to get one still for new camera.

  8. Sheila, the sky was very bright that night even without a moon above the horizon.

    You needn’t spend a fortune on a tripod. I can’t recall any landscapes that I have taken without one and that is even during daylight. Noise isn’t much of a problem especially in post processing.

    Not much money needs to be spent in order to take quality pictures. Google is your friend when it comes to reviews and advice.


  9. I know. I have a tripod. I am just a lazy photographer who likes to take landscapes while on walks with my family, and the indoor photos are snapshots that would make using a tripod difficult (birthday parties, sporting events, etc.)

  10. Reblogged this on Travel, Photograph, Experience and commented:
    Another cool image from Dan Jurak. He seems to be located in Alberta, he’s worth looking at.

  11. What an amazing night this must have been!

  12. The night was unforgettable. One of the highlights of my life to be sure.

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