Chasing northern lights is a fun and exciting hobby that I have become passionate about in the last few years. When I first moved to the Keweenaw, I met night sky photographer Jeremy Rowe who has been taking aurora photos for over a decade on the Keweenaw Peninsula. His images were both stunning and intriguing to me, seeing his images made me want to learn how to capture the beauty of this celestial phenomenon.
Over the last few years I have been honing my night sky photography skills. I have read plenty of online articles about the subject, taken multiple workshops with Nate Bett at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge (his next Stargazing: Northern Lights Photography Workshop is on March 19, 2023), and even attended the Aurora Summit last fall to learn more about using a tracker and space weather. My “chasing northern lights skills set” is slowly expanding – lets just say I might check the Aurora Forecast app daily. However, my main tool has become checking the Michigan Aurora Chasers Facebook Group. When the group administrator, Melissa F. Kaelin, posted a G3 Storm warning for Sunday, February 26, my heart began to beat fast.
Throughout the afternoon I watched the aurora global map on the Aurora Forecast app. I could see the aurora map showing strong activity above Northern Europe and watched its progression as it moved around the globe towards North America!
I checked the Michigan Aurora Chasers group and saw this post, my mouth began to water like Pavlov’s Dog.
At 9:30 pm I headed to the Lodge to see if the activity was strong enough to be seen above the ridge of Brockway Mountain. I parked the car and headed to one of the stargazing viewing areas by hole 1 of the golf course. To my delight I could see the Auroras above the cabins and the ridge, and I quickly began taking photos!!!
After taking a few test images I was excited to see the northern lights on the back of my Canon 5D Mark IV. I took multiple compositions and grabbed my phone to check the Michigan Aurora Chasers group again. I could see images pouring in across the state! Experts in the group were excited with the space data that was being reported.
I knew I had a chance for an image that I have been thinking about for the last couple years – a photo of the northern lights above the Lodge. I moved locations and set my camera up on the East Steps of the main Lodge building and snapped an image. I waited for the image to appear on the back of the camera. YES!
The image looked in focus and I could see the lights above the Lodge. This was the shot I had pre visualized and it had finally come into fruition. I knew I had to make a color adjustment in Photoshop to the external lights of the Lodge itself, but I captured the Raw data in the camera and looked forward to seeing it on the computer later that night. I used the natural light setting for the sky and adjusted the color temperature of the building. I did not increase the saturation of the colors at all, the long exposure of the shooting process richly captured the vivid colors of the northern lights above the Lodge.
I checked the app again and the earth diagram was exploding with color. I ran to my car and headed to another spot I have been wanting to capture.
I arrived at the parking lot and quickly made my way to the Lake Superior Shoreline. The lights colorfully danced above the lake as I watched in awe. I set up the camera and took some of the best northern lights photos I have ever shot!
The night was cold (single digit temps) and I was getting tired after working all day then shooting half the night. I packed up my gear and headed home to Lac la Belle completely stimulated and exhausted at the same time. The next day I watched hundreds of magnificent images pour in from across the state. OAC Team member Amy O pointed out that we all shared a collective experience that enriched our lives. I dug inward and realized that people from across the globe witnessed this celestial event, and for one night this group of individuals put aside our differences and shared in the beauty that our universe creates.
If chasing northern lights is something you are interested in learning more about please join Melissa F. Kaelin [ her book ] and others presenters at the 2023 Upper Peninsula Dark Sky Festival in April during the International Dark Sky Week at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.
Chris Guibert: I have a strong passion for all things outdoors and have worked as a tour guide and professional photographer for the last twenty five years. As the Lead of Outdoor Activities at the Mountain Lodge I want make sure you and your family have a great experience while staying and playing. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the trails, regional activities and local secrets.