A sure-fire guide to shoot­ing so­lar flares | Lar­ryn Rae

New Zealand D-Photo - - CONTENTS -

With sev­eral road trips around the south, and 1000s of kilo­me­tres trav­elled, Kiwi as­tropho­tog­ra­pher Lar­ryn Rae is ar­guably New Zealand’s most driven and ded­i­cated aurora chaser. Ven­tur­ing out to our dark­est and most re­mote skies, he gives us a be­gin­ner’s guide to cap­tur­ing the aurora aus­tralis in all of its ce­les­tial splen­dour

Cap­tur­ing the aurora aus­tralis is both one of the most ex­cit­ing and one of the most elu­sive, dif­fi­cult, and frus­trat­ing of all the land­scape­based pho­tog­ra­phy sub­jects there are. But there’s noth­ing I’ve found to date, in all of my pho­tog­ra­phy ad­ven­tures, that gives you the rush and ex­cite­ment you get from wit­ness­ing and cap­tur­ing one of na­ture’s most bril­liant spec­ta­cles. What makes it so spe­cial and sat­is­fy­ing is that you have so many ex­ter­nal fac­tors that are be­yond your con­trol. Those with a view to cap­tur­ing an aurora must have all the right con­di­tions line up to even have a chance of suc­cess, and, as we all know, be­cause of our rich, di­verse cli­mate, the weather in New Zealand is both re­li­able and to­tally un­pre­dictable! It re­quires be­ing in the right lo­ca­tion with the right equip­ment. With a typ­i­cal land­scape scene, you have time to see the colours and shapes form­ing in front of you, so have time to play with set­tings and ad­just ac­cord­ingly. But, in the case of an aurora, you are of­ten in pitch-black con­di­tions; it is of­ten sud­den, with­out warn­ing, and usu­ally doesn’t last long. My en­deav­ours to cap­ture the aurora have seen me take sev­eral trips down to the South Is­land over the last year. These trips typ­i­cally started out through re­ceiv­ing ad­vanced warn­ings through some web­sites I fol­low and some apps I use. Space Weather Live is an ex­cel­lent and highly ac­cu­rate re­source and can pre­dict with great ac­cu­racy when and where so­lar ac­tiv­ity will oc­cur. Apps like Aurora and Aurora Alert give me an idea of the strength, time, and the type of ac­tiv­ity that is com­ing. Once I’ve re­ceived no­ti­fi­ca­tion of the like­li­hood of an aurora, I usu­ally use Met Ser­vice and a Norwegian weather site called ‘yr.no’, as well as the usual TV chan­nels, to check where the clear skies will be. With usu­ally only two to three days’ ad­vance no­tice, you have to move fast! So, in a sense, while I am un­for­tu­nate to be based in Auck­land, a long way from where au­ro­ras are typ­i­cally vis­i­ble, I am for­tu­nate to work free­lance and can usu­ally travel at a mo­ment’s no­tice to wher­ever the aurora aus­tralis will be seen best.

PREPA­RA­TION Web­sites and apps will only take you so far — you will still have to travel to an ideal view­ing po­si­tion. I usu­ally try to find a lo­ca­tion away from towns and cities and away from any light pol­lu­tion. When pos­si­ble, get­ting set up dur­ing the day is a great

idea and gives me time to find my com­po­si­tion and de­cide what fore­ground el­e­ments I want in my frame. Be­cause I usu­ally pre­fer to shoot in a time-lapse form, I am al­ways look­ing to en­hance my time­lapse through find­ing some­thing in­ter­est­ing to frame an aurora against. I have found wa­ter to be an ex­cel­lent el­e­ment, as it of­ten re­flects what­ever the sky is do­ing and thus dou­bles the in­ter­est value of my images. What­ever lo­ca­tion and fore­ground you choose, in New Zealand, it needs to be fac­ing south, where the aurora ac­tiv­ity will be cen­tred. As the poles are the mag­netic hubs of our planet, this is where the ac­tiv­ity will al­ways be at its strong­est, and the closer you are to them the bet­ter. I usu­ally carry two cam­eras with me on ev­ery ad­ven­ture, so that I can cover as many an­gles as pos­si­ble. I nor­mally have one run­ning as a time-lapse, and the other I use for dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tions. In the case of a rare aurora, I will try to get a third cam­era to max­i­mize the op­por­tu­nity as much as pos­si­ble. Most im­por­tant, pack and pre­pare your kit for a long night ahead. Es­pe­cially, make sure you have fully charged spare bat­ter­ies and ex­tra mem­ory cards. You are of­ten led to re­mote lo­ca­tions and for­get­ting these is a to­tal buzz kill! Even with ad­vanced aurora-pre­dict­ing tech­nol­ogy, an aurora is still so very un­pre­dictable — you could be wait­ing un­til the wee small hours of the morn­ing to see any­thing! My last mis­sion, for ex­am­ple, had me pull three all-nighters be­fore I saw a sin­gle thing — and, even then, on the last night, the aurora didn’t ar­rive un­til one in the morn­ing and lasted un­til just be­fore dawn. Warm cloth­ing and plenty of snacks also never go amiss.

LAR­RYN’S NIGHT-SHOOT­ING SET UP 1. Scout lo­ca­tion to find fore­ground el­e­ments. 2. Set up tripods and mount cam­eras se­curely, with

fully charged bat­ter­ies and for­mat­ted cards. 3. Set fo­cus to in­fin­ity by us­ing live view on the bright­est star at night time, or at the fur­thest ob­ject you can see dur­ing the day. 4. Tape-off fo­cus ring (you don’t want any­thing to shift dur­ing the night … and you just don’t have time in the heat of the mo­ment!). 5. Com­pose the im­age. 6. Take test shots to find an ideal ex­po­sure. 7. Set cam­eras off time-laps­ing and wait for Mother

Na­ture to do her thing!

CANON EOS 6D, CANON EF 16–35MM F/2.8L II USM LENS, 16MM, 13S, F/3.5, ISO 640

CANON EOS 5D MARK III, CANON EF 16–35MM F/2.8L II USM LENS, 16MM, 30S, F/3.2, ISO 12,800

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