I’ve been really lucky—or maybe really well prepared. I’ve photographed things that people only dream of seeing. I’ve shot rare cloud formations, the Northern Lights, and sub-auroral arcs called STEVE. Elephants and pangolin in the wilds of South Africa (thank you Jenny), grizzly and black bears in the Rocky Mountains (thank you Sonny), and a tornado in Alberta I was so close to that the shot didn’t require the full length of my zoom lens. But one of my favorite things to shoot is atmospheric optics and light. I’ve got Les Cowley to thank for that!
The light pillars in the photograph above have been on my bucket list for ages. Conditions have to come together exactly right before they’ll appear, and their appearance can be fleeting. You need finger-numbing, battery-draining temperatures, plate crystals in the atmosphere, and light pollution—that bane of a night photographer’s existence. Light pollution disrupts the natural patterns of wildlife and in the U.S. and Europe, 99% of people can’t experience a true dark sky. But when the lights combine with ice crystals floating gently in the sky, I can’t resist trying to capture them. There’s a season for sighting these pillars and where I live, we’re at the very end of it.
On this night, at 2:30 in the morning, I pulled on my husband’s very warm down-filled jacket and stumbled outside with my senior dog who’d woken me up for a potty break. Shooting upwards into the sky around me were the pillars I’d resigned myself to never seeing. They don’t shoot directly up from the light sources. The delicate crystal plates drift down and reflect the light back toward the viewer from a more midway point.
We were in the car in about five minutes and off on another optic adventure. One I won’t soon forget. The frozen fingers were worth it, and I was so happy to share the magical night with my husband.
Note: A shout out to Deborah Byrd of https://earthsky.org/ too for publishing so many of my images. It’s always an honor. And if you’d like to learn more about optics, visit Les Cowley’s incredible site https://atoptics.co.uk/