A crazy story - As many people know, the news was predicting a good Northern Lights show for a lot of Michigan on Saturday evening, including the Ludington Area. Saturday afternoon during the Michigan State vs. Michigan game, my app, Aurora Pro, alerted me that the current KP was a 7. Of course, because it was mid-day and sunny, you couldn’t see the Northern Lights overhead. I have seen the Northern Lights in Ludington at least twenty times, but only twice with a KP of 7 or higher. Both of those shows were out of this world and the lights were super visible to the human eye. So after a fun family gathering at my dad and stepmom’s for pizza Saturday night, I eagerly headed to the Ludington State Park to try and photograph the Northern Lights. I put on all my warmest heavy weather gear and got into position 30 yards south of the Beach House and stood right on the Lake Michigan shoreline. I knew I couldn’t see the Northern Lights with my eyes, but thought maybe my camera would pick them up. I made my first exposure at 8:26pm. That exposure was 70 seconds long. The camera picked up no Northern Lights. I was bummed, but I shot a few more images just to be sure. Still no luck. It was a beautiful, cold, clear night and the stars and Milky Way looked beautiful. I decided to move my camera on the tripod and aim straight West and almost straight up above my head to capture a long exposure of the Milky Way. I had my camera on manual metering like always. I adjusted my shutter speed to the Bulb setting. I had my aperture at F8 and my ISO at 800. I had my camera set to mirror lockup. That way, once I pushed the trigger on my cable release and locked it in, my camera would “shoot” a picture as long as the trigger was locked. After a few minutes of standing next to my camera as it was exposing, I decided to lay down on the shoreline and use my camera bag as a pillow to watch for shooting stars as my camera continued to expose the night sky. In true Brad fashion, I quickly fell asleep. I slept for an hour and ten minutes or so and woke up a bit dazed and confused. That seems to happen a lot since having Covid a few weeks ago. I slowly came to my feet and reached over and grabbed my cable release and unlocked the trigger and ended my exposure. That exposure was 4,415 seconds. The image that appeared on the back of the camera was mostly white, but I could see that it had picked up some star trails. We always shoot in camera raw. My dad, Rachel, and I all shoot with Nikon D850 camera bodies. I usually shoot the Northern Lights with my Nikkor 14-24mm lens at 14mm and that was the lens I had used Saturday night. The way D-SLR cameras work is when you shoot in camera raw, the camera body has it’s own processor inside of it (which is kind of its own version of Photoshop). The camera processes that raw image and spits out a pretty horrible looking jpeg on the back of the LCD screen. Those bad looking jpegs on the LCD screen always look washed out, anemic, with very little color, and “foggy”. We have learned to not base much in terms of quality off our LCD screens in the last 17 years of shooting digitally. I was not expecting much from my photo shoot Saturday night as I walked back to my truck. It was a nice night on the beach and it was a good nap. Fast forward to Monday afternoon. I finally downloaded my images yesterday at our gallery in downtown Ludington. I have attached a screen capture of the original raw file how it looked on the back of my camera and how it looked on my computer screen yesterday. You can see it looks white and washed out. Then I opened that raw file and made our standard moves to that image. You can see that screen capture as well. Again, these are our basic moves. The only three minor changes to this file versus our standard camera raw presets is I moved the clarity from 30 to 99. I moved the texture to 17 to help with the noise. I moved the blacks from -70 to -100. I moved the shadows from +70 to +100. These are standard moves for our Northern Light images. To my total shock, with those standard moves, the image showed an immense amount of red, orange, and yellow. The other cool thing I didn’t expect was that the stars seem to be moving in two different circles. I have never seen that before in one of our long exposure night sky images. Usually, the stars are all moving around the North Star. The other thing Rachel spotted instantly while looking at my computer screen with me was the giant red heart in the upper right portion of the photo. I am not a scientist or a Northern Lights expert, but I am pretty sure that my 73 and a half minute exposure did indeed pick up the Northern Lights.

Aurora Heart

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