Photographing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Night 1

I arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska this late afternoon, picked up a rental SUV, and checked into the Hampton Inn, which is a fantastic (and inexpensive) little hotel. [Julian]( and Ildi had arrived at 2am this morning, and after a day's rest, they were ready to head out for our first night of looking for the aurora borealis (northern lights).

None of us have spent a lot of time in cold places, so we bundled up in a way that seemed like it would, theoretically, keep us warm in the freezing Alaskan night. After driving around for awhile, we ended up at Chatanika Peak, which is about 30 miles north of Fairbanks; it was our first night out, and we didn't want to drive too far. The sun didn't set until nearly 8pm, and by then the temperature had already dropped from 19º F to -1º F—freezing! By 10pm, it was completely dark, and the temperature had dropped further to -9º F. There was no sign of the northern lights, so Julian and I shot the sky and warm light pollution coming from Fairbanks. 30 miles away, the lights from Fairbanks still lit up a considerable portion of the sky.

The first picture in this post is the first aurora we saw. It was extremely faint, and there was a cloud obscuring most of it—we almost missed it! Strangely, there was also a green laser shining straight up into the sky, which also came out clearly in the picture. At around 11:30pm, the clouds had moved in, and we decided to call it a night. We packed up and started to head back. By then, the temperature had dropped even more, to -16º F, and Julian and Ildi were starting to really feel the cold. We have some work to do tomorrow to make sure we can make it through 6 hours of shooting in the extreme cold.

As we approached Fairbanks, we noticed a bright green stripe spanning the sky: aurora! We pulled over and took some more shots.

Northern lights over a random highway isn't so exciting, but it was still pretty cool to see. A few minutes later, it was almost too dim to see any green. Also, when we pulled into the hotel parking lot, there was another bright aurora, just sitting there in the sky. Aurora is everywhere, here! (but we couldn't shoot these effectively—clouds had moved in)

**Equipment notes:**

My 5D Mark II did very well at -16º F. I shot nearly 300 pictures in 3 hours, and the battery was still half full. By the end of the evening, the metal parts of the camera were too cold to touch without having gloves on. I packed all my freezing camera gear into a Pelican case and brought it into the warm hotel room sealed; the gear inside will warm up slowly (to avoid condensation). Per the advice of experienced cold-weather shooters, I kept batteries in my inner pockets and only put them in the camera when I was shooting.

I wore:

Head: synthetic, wind-proof beanie, parka hood Top: capilene base layer, fleece pullover, Canada Goose Expedition parka Bottom: capilene base layer, fleece pants, shell Shoes: liner, wool socks, Sorel Caribou boots Gloves: Thinsulate fingerless w/pull-over mit (these are magic)

For the most part, I was toasty warm during the 3 hours I spent outside. By the end of the evening, my toes were just starting to get cold, so I'll probably throw a couple toe warmer heat packs in there tomorrow night. Hand warmers were useless when they were in contact with the outside air, but were very effective when sealed in insulated parka pockets (and would warm my hands when I stuck them in there).