Heavens above

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The aurora borealis moves like a snake above the trees near Kenai several winters ago.

To observe the aurora:

Watch the northern sky, especially around midnight. Auroras often start with a faint arc-shaped glow on the northern horizon.

Get away from bright city lights.

Dress extra warm.

Bring a lawn chair if you can.

Check the Internet for aurora forecasts at /www.pfrr.alaska.edu/ ~pfrr/AURORA/INDEX.HTM or


To photograph the aurora:

Use fast film; ISO 400 or ISO 800 color negative film works great.

Mount the camera on a tripod. A firm pillow, bean bag or something similar will work in a pinch.

Use a camera that can be set manually. Turn off any auto exposure or auto focus settings. Older, mechanical cameras work best.

Trigger the camera with a cable release or the self timer to minimize camera shake.


The aurora borealis moves like a snake above the trees near Kenai several winters ago.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

If your camera uses batteries, have extras on hand as batteries lose their power as they get cold.

Use a fast normal or wide-angle lens. Set the focus ring to infinity ( ).

Set the lens opening to its widest position (a low number like f/1.4 or f/2.8)

Experiment with the shutter settings. Depending on how bright the aurora is, the kind of film you're using, and the lens you have, exposures can be anywhere from several seconds to 30 seconds.

Consider including a foreground detail in your composition.

Take about four normally lit photos at the beginning of the roll to make it easier for the lab to cut the negatives.

Tell your photo lab technician that your film includes photos of the night sky. Pictures made at night can be hard to see on negatives.

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