Northern Lights on Film - advice, please?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by paul hart, Sep 5, 2009.

  1. My wife and I are taking a trip to the Arctic Circle soon, hoping (but not presuming) to see the Northern Lights. I'm taking my Mamiya 7ii + 80 + 65, and possibly the 150. I plan to use Velvia 100 and Provia 400X. And a tripod.
    Any advice on capturing the Lights with this kit would be welcome: exposure times, aperture, film, etc. We may never see them, but if we do, I'd like to record it as well as I can.
    Many thanks.
  2. Suspect your lens and film combo will be too slow to capture much fine detail - more of a glow if you give it long enough.
    Some useful times are posted here :
    It's also a solar minimum so the odds are further stacked against you
  3. Donald got there ahead of me re. the solar cycle minimum. The graph above is a count of sunspots, which are a proxy for solar magnetic activity in general. To see prominent aurorae on Earth, there must be solar magnetic "storms", in particular a "coronal mass ejection" - basically a burp of solar plasma shot in our direction. That ain't happening in 2009.
    I have had some success photographing an auroral display on Fuji Provia 400F (precursor to 400X), with a fast wideangle lens (45mm f2.8 on M645) and fast fisheye lens (30mm f3.5 Kiev on Arax 60 MLU), and exposures bracketed around 30 seconds. The important things here are the film speed when reciprocity failure is taken into account - Provia 400 is actually faster than ISO 800 colour negative film in these circumstances; and lens speed - the f3.5 fisheye is as sensitive as the f2.8 rectilinear wideangle because it has no vignetting falloff.
    With your Mamiya 7 kit, you run into the one big limitation of that system - slow lenses. Auroral displays cover large angular swathes of the sky so wide-angles are best. The 65mm f4 will be the best of the bunch, as it's the joint fastest and moderately wide-angle.
  4. Donald & Ray: thank you for your advice, which is helpful. I was aware of the sunspot cycle and our position on it, so I'm not holding my breath. I may stick my dSLR with a fast lens in the bag just in case!
  5. Hi Paul, I must say that I agree with the guys here, but don't give up hope. I live in Reykjavik, and despite being at the solar minimum, we have had a few very nice auroral displays in the last year. I own a Mamiya 7II and have used it for aurora work, but I also use a Nikon D3 and think it works much better for aurora photography. With the D3, I usually use ISO 800-1600 with exposures around f/2.8-f/4 for 8-30 seconds. Much longer than 30 seconds and you lose most sense of motion -- you just get a large glow. If you are going to shoot with film, I would say use the Mamiya with Provia 400X@800 at f/4, bracket with exposures from 8 to 30 seconds. Lucky that the Mamiya lenses are superb wide open!
    Anyway, here is a Mamiya aurora shot from 2 years ago:
    And these from March '09 and Dec '08, taken with the D3:
    Shot with an H2 and either 35mm or 50-110mm lens using Fuji Provia 400 in October 2007.
    Frost can form on the camera and lens within 10 - 20 minutes depending on conditions.
    Experiment with exposure ranging from 30 seconds to 4 minutes.
    Bring warm clothing and good luck!
    Kind regards,
    Derek Jecxz
  7. Derek, that's lovely. But it would benefit from a higher resolution upload, or at least fewer jpeg artefacts.
    Judging the field of view by the constellations, you used a 35mm focal length.
    (Who needs EXIF, when you know the sky well?!)
    Here's one of my own. Aurorae are rare in Ireland, because despite our high latitude, we are far from the geomagnetic pole in Canada. This was a once-in-a-decade display on a night in autumn 2003 with bands of hazy cloud; Mamiya 645 1000s + 45mm f2.8 [old type 45mm] + Kodak E200, about 30 seconds. The green Oxygen and red Nitrogen emission were so strong that they just blended into yellow.
  8. salat has been shooting auroras in interior alaska for years and gets fine results... seems like he had a lot of malfunction and battery drain in 40 below zero to contend with. i think he exits the warm car and sets up in a hurry.
  9. And what good would a battery do in this type of photography?
    So it's a good hint: get a camera that doesn't depend on batteries.
  10. Or, one that has an AC power option, if you have AC mains available. Or an external battery pack option.

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