The stars are aligning for a potentially great northern lights show in the skies above Calgary Wednesday night.
The aurora forecast from the University of Alaska is predicting activity of 4-to-5 out of 9 on the KP index, with anything 5 or above being considered a geomagnetic storm.
The predicted activity, coupled with a forecast of clear skies for Alberta and an early sunset means the odds of seeing the lights tonight are in your favour.
While seeing the northern lights should be on every Canadian’s bucket list, you’re going to want some photos of that potentially once-in-a-lifetime event.
We spoke with two seasoned photographers about their tips for capturing a solid shot of the aurora.
Get outta town
Postmedia photographer Mike Drew said getting away from light pollution will make all the difference.
“The best direction to go is northeast of the city, because there’s less light pollution out that way,” he said. “So out towards Beiseker or Irricana.”
Freelance photographer Christy Turner agreed with Drew, but noted it’s not impossible to see them from within the city.
“It definitely is possible, but you want to go somewhere where there’s little light pollution,” she said.
“Even Nose Hill is a great spot because you can definitely see it from Nose Hill.”
Turner said those in the deep south of the city could just drive 10 minutes west or east (preferably east) outside the city limits to find some darker skies.
Be sure to look to the north and northeast to see the lights if they’re out.
Use a DSLR
Drew said the really new cell phones might get you an image of the lights, but really you’ll want a DSLR camera.
“If (the northern lights are) quite bright, the new iPhone 11 or the newest Google pixel phone, they should both give you something at least, but it won’t be as good as a DSLR,” he said.
Long exposure is key
The trick with the aurora is to let as much light as possible hit the camera sensor. Turner said for those familiar with manual setting on a DSLR, they need to use their lowest f-stop, start at an ISO of 1600, and have an exposure time of 12 seconds.
Drew said 15 seconds is not too long an exposure time. He also recommends a wide-angle lens, if you have one.
Both photographers agree that a tripod is a must, and a remote trigger is great to have if you want crisp photos. Turner suggested an easy workaround for those who don’t have a trigger.
“You can just put it on the self-timer for three seconds, and that way there’s no motion on the photo.”
Add a subject
Drew said getting shots of the sky is easy enough, but a true artist will want to add something to the foreground to make their photos really pop.
“Something like a barn, or something without a big yard light in it, so that when you have the picture you know where you are,” he said.
If you spot the lights while driving, it could be tempting to just pull over and get out your camera, but Drew cautions against that.
“You have to be in a place that’s really safe to park. Try to get off to side roads – the roads less traveled.”
Turner said dressing for the weather is also an important part of safety. She recommends bringing hand warmers and blankets just in case you end up stuck and waiting for someone to come pick you up.
Ask for help
If it’s photos you’re after, Turner said you’re not alone in Alberta.
“My top tip would be to join Alberta Aurora Chasers on Facebook because there’s over 24,000 members spread across Alberta,” she said. “If there’s anything happening, they always start a thread and reports will come in from all over the province.”
If you capture a great aurora photo tonight, we’d love to see them. Send submissions to email@example.com we’ll create a gallery.