Minnesota photographers give insight on capturing the northern lights – InForum


Alexandria — Aurora is well known as the Northern Lights, but it is elusive in night dances. Their rarity comes from the fact that even in the darkest nights, our eyes are not always able to pick up their light.

Auroras are most often seen through the lens of a camera, due to their sly nature and lack of ability of our eyes to pick up their light.

It ’s like looking for bigfoot.

Tim Ericsson

Tim Ericsson of Alexandria captured the Northern Lights from the dock on Lake Smith and removed part of the bucket list. His shot was featured in Alexandria Echo Press as a photo of the week.

“I’ve always liked to take pictures, whether it’s landscapes, wildlife, or anything like that,” he said. “I’m happy to see something and catch it.”

His biggest challenge was to focus the lens and find the perfect setting. This gave me a deeper understanding of what it takes to capture the lens.

“It’s kind of like looking for Bigfoot to some extent. I just want to get a glimpse of something really cool,” Ericsson said.

When George Ilstrap, a Duluth photographer who graduated from Alexandria Regional High School in 2014, first saw Wright, he didn’t know what they were.

He and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota Duluth took a shot of the stars as they traveled north along the shores of Lake Superior in the fall or spring and noticed a “strange little flash of night sky.” By this time they were near the Split Rock Lighthouse and decided to pull to the parking lot for a better view.

“I remember seeing this beam right above the split rock. It wasn’t very bright, but I could see it. It was pulsing,” he said. “We sprinted out of the car for a better view.”

Ilstrup shot the aurora with a camera for the first time that night, but it wasn’t his last. A few years later, he will see a show of light that he portrayed as a rippling colored flame in the sky.

“Camera can pick up more light than we do, so your camera picks them up much brighter than what your eyes actually see,” Ilstrup said.

With the help of photographers like Ilstrup and Erickson who hunt down these mysterious lights of the night, we can get better pictures of their beauty.

Tim Ericsson took this photo of the Northern Lights illuminating Lake Smith on November 3, 2021.

Contributed photo

Ilstrup says anyone trying to capture aurora shots needs to adjust their expectations.

“The whole sky doesn’t turn into a neon green. In most cases it’s a very calm green on the horizon,” he said.

I can’t see it during the day because of the sun, so I suggest going out as soon as it gets dark.

“Many people are wondering what time to shoot. My answer is when the sun goes down. The rest is a waiting game of trial and error,” he said.

Ilstrup says he plans a night to chase the lights by checking specific data points from the Space Weather Prediction Center / US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The website shows current CME measurements (coronal mass ejections). This is a significant emission of the plasma and the associated magnetic field from the sun’s corona to the solar wind.

“Basically, solar flares away from the sun travel crazy distances to Earth,” Ilstrup said. “The goal is for CME to collide with the Earth’s atmosphere. When that happened, you could get really good aurora, but they are unpredictable. An average of 3 by the time you reach Earth. I think it will take a day, so I don’t know when it will hit. It’s a guessing game. “

There is also a KP index, which is the disturbance of the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the solar wind. According to https://auroraforecast.is, the faster the solar wind blows, the greater the eddy. Ilstrup says he likes to have a KP index above 5 when he goes out.

He also checks for cloud cover, moon phases, and more. If there are too many clouds, the lights will not be visible. When the moon is full, their brilliance drowns out the aurora.

“And you don’t have to be far north to see them. You can even see them from the Alexandria region if you have a show of strong light,” said Ilstrap, escaping the light pollution of the town. I added that it would be useful.
“We recommend at least 5-10 miles from the town.”


Aurora captured by George Ilstrap

Contributed photo

Ilstrup shoots with a Sony A7R4 equipped with a Sony 16mm-35mm F4, Sony 24mm-70mm F2.8, or 12mm F2.8 lens. Ericsson shoots with a Nikon 5100 and a Tamron 18mm-70mm lens.

Ilstrup suggests not buying the most expensive cameras and lenses for those who are just starting out with photography. Buy something you can afford and practice, practice and practice like any other skill. Make good use of your camera and update it as needed, he said.

“Find a camera that suits you or that you can afford. And don’t compare yourself to others. This can easily be done using social media in today’s world. You’ll get really bad soon. It’s just a matter of everyone going out and doing it and connecting with people. “

Tim Ericsson

Tim Ericsson

Ilstrup has listed some important elements for shooting the aurora.

Shutter speed — The speed at which the camera shutter closes. A faster shutter speed will result in shorter exposure (the amount of light the camera captures), and a slower shutter speed will result in longer exposure for the photographer.

According to Ilstrup, the trick is to get the perfect exposure time (usually about 1-2 seconds) to capture the movement of the light. Finding a sweet spot with a shutter speed will make the image of the light clearer. Otherwise, the photo will look like a “blob” of color.

“The longer the shutter speed, the more the lights are constantly moving and blurring with them,” Ilstrup said. “Usually we try to keep it within 5 seconds, but there is a lot of trial and error.”

Aperture — The opening of the lens through which light passes and enters the camera. If you think of the aperture as the pupil of the camera’s eye, you can reduce or increase the size of the aperture to increase or decrease the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor.

Ilstrup recommends keeping the camera aperture as wide as possible. Ideally, use a lens with an F-stop of 2.8 or less.

“The smaller the number, the better the picture. The smaller the aperture, the more light the camera can capture,” he said.

The aurora is a light that our eyes cannot always pick up, so the wide aperture allows your camera to see what our eyes cannot see.

ISO — Sensitivity to camera light. It brightens and darkens the photo, which is useful for capturing images in dark environments. The lower the ISO value, the lower the sensitivity to light, and the higher the ISO, the higher the sensitivity.

“It depends on the camera,” Ilstrup said. “My camera works pretty well in the dark. I can set the ISO up to 10,000 and don’t worry about being too noisy.”

He proposes to raise the ISO in the range of 3,200 to 10,000, depending on the capabilities of the camera.

Ilstrup says that one of the most difficult parts of capturing a light is to properly focus the camera. He suggests going out shortly before dark and focusing on where the background light is visible. The tree limit line is a good example. To stay in focus, use a tripod and set a shutter timer to reduce tremors when shooting by hand with longer exposure shots.

“And it needs to be manual focus,” Ilstrup added. “Some people put tape on the camera lens, so some people know exactly where the correct focus is.”


Aurora dances on a lake in northern Minnesota and is captured by George Ilstrap.

Contributed photo

Ericsson enjoys the challenge of playing with camera technology and being able to capture something unique.

“It’s fun to be able to take good pictures,” Ericsson said. “My dad took a lot of pictures, and he loved it. I’m sure many of it came from seeing him and the fun he got from the pictures.”

Ilstrup first started his photography career when he was in his second year at UMD. After years of snowboarding his knees, he needed a new hobby to break the ACL and stay busy until healed.

“My friend Ian Delonie taught me how to use the camera. He and I started hiking and messing around with our friend’s crew and slowly and slowly.” Getting up early for a sunrise photo was a much more productive use of my time. It was an addiction, but it was also a good positive hobby. Better than drinking and going to a house party. . “

Landscape photography has become Ilstrup’s passion, with companions crazy about photography, cameras used for skating and snowboarding videos, and a love of the outdoors.

Today, Ilstrup has more than 39,000 followers on Instagram and has a website to order calendars and photo prints. It is featured in articles in multiple publications and in catalogs of landscape and nature shots around the world.

His work features shots of the swells of the waves of Lake Superior — captured underwater with the help of a wetsuit and waterproof housing kit for his camera. He also has autumn leaves in northwestern Minnesota, hidden waterfalls along the North Shore, vibrant sunrises, twisted tornadoes and lightning strikes, greenwood roaring wildfires, and European landscapes of his time abroad. And, of course, I captured an image of the aurora.

George Ilstrap

George Ilstrap

Contributed photo

“I really enjoy everything about the outdoors,” said Ilstrup, who grew up in a decent-sized real estate outside Hoffman where he and his family did a lot of outdoor activities. “It’s fun to go out. There are so many. Even if it means going out to the same place five times in a row at sunrise, I enjoy the challenge of going out and trying to get the perfect shot. increase.”


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