How to see & photograph the Northern Lights from Maine.
Last night, we checked photographing the northern lights off of our bucket list and after posting some of the images to local groups, I received so many questions as to how to see them. Around here, the locals were sharing articles about how the Northern Lights will be visible in our area, I’ve seen these articles before – and sadly was not able to see the lights, but I was determined, after all the hospital here is called “Northern Light” so, it must be something to be seen here right? I frequent the Aurora Borealis Notifications Group on Facebook, and there I learned so much about chasing the Auroras which all came into play last night for our successful Aurora adventure. This is what we did to be able to photograph the northern lights;
This was our biggest tool when finding the northern lights, the app is great for predicting the probability of seeing the auroras anywhere in the world. The app continuously updates the following which are important to know;
– The KP index (global geomagnetic activity index that is based off of 3 hour measurements aka how strong the aurora is)
– Cloud coverage
– Map of the aurora over your location
Below are screenshots of what the app looks like (taken right now in broad daylight so these are not good stats for seeing an aurora)
Compass (or look to the stars for guidance)
Any compass will do, most cars have them built in these days, but you’ll want to know which way is north.
In the group on Facebook, I had read that you can see auroras as long as your KP is above 4 even if the app says your probability is only 1%. So since ours was pretty high last night, we decided to head out.
Location, location, location!
We drove around for awhile, when we left the house our KP was at 5 and probability was at 18% when we parked, our probability was down to 9%.
We chose a location with a wide open horizon facing north. Since we were out at night, our headlights were blocking our view of the auroras and so we had to fly blind and basically just park and wait. Once the car was off and it was pitch black, our eyes began to adjust and we were able to see the lights for ourselves.
Photographing the Aurora – Camera settings for proper exposure of the auroras
While I was setting up the tripod and DSLR, my husband took some photos of the horizon with his phone (Google Pixel 3XL) his images picked up the lights better than our eyes did, and so that is how i knew where to point my camera.
Here is one of his photos from the phone
I’m no stranger to photographing the night sky, but this was my first time documenting the auroras, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I put my camera (Canon 5D MarkIV) into bulb mode with a “30 shutter speed and adjusted my ISO accordingly, I believe I was at about 2000. Since this is a long exposure shot, I needed to use a tripod to limit any kind of camera shake that could blur the image. I used the Canon Connect app to control the shutter of the camera (because if I press the button, that would have created a shake in the camera)
Using a phone to take pictures of the auroras is also definitely possible, on the Pixel we used night mode to be able to pick up the beautiful green tones.
Things to consider;
When chasing the auroras, keep in mind that your eyes will need to adjust and you’ll need to turn off all your lights, cell phone screens or anything else that could affect your eyes adjusting to the night sky. This can take a few minutes, so just be patient.
Looking for the auroras is not like in the movies when you’re in Maine, they are not quite as vibrant when they aren’t strong – but they are there. You’ll want to look for faint clouds on the horizon with a slight tint. In our aurora, we had green and a small amount of pink, but our eyes were only able to see the green.
Most of the time, you’ll see people say that the auroras are most likely to be visible from 2AM to 4AM. I noticed on the aurora app, that the probability was going down as time went on, so our photos were taken at around 12:30AM.