Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget me not of angels.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
On each anniversary of September 11th I am instantly transported back to that surreal moment, watching a television display footage of the attack on the world trade center. I can remember each moment as if it were in slow motion…trying at the same time to comprehend what I was seeing. It is one of those events that never seems to lose its rawness and I feel compelled to mark its passage each year with a moment of silence.
At the time I was a member of a search and rescue team and as I watched it unfold my pager began to go off and I knew that some members of the team would be going into that massive ‘rubble pile’ in search of anyone still surviving. I knew it would not be me as I worked a bloodhound that was trained to follow only the scent of a victim that I provided to her. The dogs going in would be trained to alert on any human scent.
It was difficult to be on the sidelines waiting for any word of a positive find and at the same time being concerned for the safety and well-being of other team members and their canine partners. This many years later I still find it a challenge to articulate what happened on the days following this terror attack on American soil.
My heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones on 9-11 as well as to the first responders, handlers, and canines that later succumbed due to illnesses caused by their selfless call to duty in a toxic environment.
So I take a moment each September 11 to remember and on this morning felt some measure of solace as dawn approached on the west coast and the aurora borealis danced across the sky.
And then there were the stars…the forget me not of angels.
Did I ever chuckle when I came across this quote. Busted! Read on to see what a secretive lot we photographers can be!
This is my longest blog post to date BUT if you have ever been disappointed by NOT seeing the northern lights when others have raved about or captured fabulous images of them AND you live below 50 degrees latitude…read on!
If you can tolerate the ground-work laying information in the next couple of paragraphs without your eyes rolling back in your head I will then get to why you may have seen the aurora borealis and not even known it!
Trending this past week were photos of the aurora borealis dancing in the night skies over North America and other parts of the world as well. There are people FAR more adept at explaining what these light displays are but basically it begins with a CME or coronal mass ejection. This is a cloud of gas ejected from the surface of the Sun. When these winds of charged particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field it excites those atoms causing them to light up.
For viewing purposes the important thing to know is the global geomagnetic storm index or KP number and it ranges from 0-9, with 9 being the highest. Using this number enables you to see if there is a possibility of seeing the aurora in your location. Spaceweatherlive.com is a wealth of information on this number and how to find your value.
Back to the photos…
This week I saw some very beautiful images of the northern lights shot during the early hours of June 23, 2015. The KP index was predicted to be between 7 and 8 and for my viewing purposes in Northern Idaho, I need between a 5 and 6 to give me a good chance of seeing lights. The evening did not disappoint and along with the greens I captured with my Nikon some lovely spiking pinks dance across the night sky along the edge of my pasture. I am fortunate to live in a place with dark skies and little light pollution which greatly improves the chance of seeing these.
You might have noticed that I did not say that along with the greens I saw some lovely spiking pinks.
What my eyes saw when I walked outside was this..
but I knew that what I was seeing was the northern lights because of a chance discovery that I blogged about in March here.
I suppose it is the job of the artist to create mystery but I have read too many comments from people bitterly disappointed after getting up to witness this altogether infrequent sight at my latitude to NOT provide an explanation and hope to those who have seeing this on their bucket list.
I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, latitude 53 degrees, and recall seeing the aurora borealis in all of its colorful glory. After many years away in more southerly climes we moved north once again to Idaho, latitude 48 degrees.
I was puzzled and disappointed that while others were out in my same area capturing beautiful northern lights shots…I never once saw them but I was looking for color. After my March discovery thorough research into this showed me that the human eye uses rods and cones. In the retina cones perceive color, work in bright light, and are used in the day. Rods perceive light and shadow and are used at night. Camera sensors in the DSLR’s do not have these limitations so they capture the full range of color and light.
The simple explanation is as you go below 50 degrees latitude, the northern lights are weaker and will to most people be viewed more as shifting patterns of light in the white to gray range and NOT the colors that the DSLR is capable of capturing. I would expect that eyes differ so possibly and depending on KP strength some people might still see some color. Travelling further north will diminish the differences between what your eyes see and what the camera captures.
The next time the KP index is high head out away from the city lights and enjoy searching the night sky and if you see dancing patterns and sheets of light you will have watched the aurora borealis!
An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
I have had several conversations lately that made me think about learning in general. I am a hands on kind of girl. When learning something new I will dissect it into manageable pieces, spend hours researching it, but then I have to get out and put it into practice. I rarely want to be shown, but would rather have the joy of discovering it first hand.
Others might prefer to be handed the formula which they can then duplicate without the risk of failure. It has been my experience though that one of the most important parts of the learning process is that time when you go out and work towards getting the results that you’re looking for. You aren’t sure what is possible and perhaps more importantly, what is not, so you experiment. It is my belief that I have learned far more from my failures than from those times when everything went perfectly.
Take last night for example…
I have been immersing myself in night photography as it opens up a whole new range of subject matter and uses my camera in a completely different way. It’s also a quiet, peaceful time without a lot of interruptions. Being as it was new moon time, hence darker skies, I planned a couple of seriously exciting milky way shots. I crept out of the house at 2:30 AM in pursuit of my images only to discover that I had grievously underestimated the amount of light pollution at my chosen sites. Strike one…
Being wide awake I changed plans and headed back home where I knew the skies would be inky black and star filled. I began a series of long exposures programmed with the aid of my intervalometer. I got over half of the shots completed and here comes a jet, high in the night sky, flashing lights through the entire scene. Strike two…
Giving myself a quick pep talk about how much I had learned for future shoots I turned around and was struck by an odd arching cloud like vision just above the trees. Can’t be a cloud I thought, I can still see the stars in it. I cancelled out the rest of my star trail shots, turned my tripod around, flipped the Nikon to the settings that I had pre programmed for the milky way, and shot. Can’t say I have ever been more surprised by what appeared on the LCD screen; not a cloud but the aurora borealis. Apparently our eyes cannot always see the colors in the northern lights especially when the auroras are close to the horizon but our cameras can!