Faint polar lights

I wake up at 1:50 and stood up to drink a little bit and directly continue sleeping, but I made a mistake. I looked out of the window! Quite clear and colourful polar lights glowed on the northern sky.

Aurora photographers question number one: Shall I go out? Or continue sleeping?

Guess which ten minutes were the best of all? Right, those ten minutes in the beginning, where I put on winter clothes for a cold October night, got camera bag, flashlight and tripod, spend valuable minutes with scraping the ice from my windscreen and drove to the nearby beach. At the tiny beach of Storgrundet, same place where I took pictures of the first sea ice last morning I sat more than an hour on the frozen sand and looked at the faint and pale polar lights, that increased for some hopeful seconds just to fade again.

Aurora photographers question number two: Shall I go in again? Or continue waiting?

What did I do, while waiting for the polar light to become stronger? I took photos. It’s always a small challenge with night shots, but I think it’s fun, even if I’m tired and both motifs and results are mediocre. When it comes to polar light I normally try to catch as much scenery as possible by using a wide angle lens. This time I used a telephoto lens to go more into details. A new trick I learned tonight when polar lights where pail and formless.

I got frost (- 7°C), ice and Northern Lights. Now I’m looking forward to the first snow. It could come on Sunday or be long in coming. Stay tuned for the first photos of snowy landscapes.

Just testing the new Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D

Yesterday my new Nikon lens arrived: A Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D, which I got secondhand on Tradera (the Swedish Ebay) for less than 200 Euros. So I was out yesterday evening and today morning to make some more or less silly test shots. Today I had a workshop in Malå, which is 126 km in the inland. We arrived half an hour too early and drove onto the Tjamstanberget, where we had a view over Malå and the hilly landscape behind. “Click”, another test shot.

Tonight I left the house to make photos of the starry night, but it was a bit hazy and making pictures didn’t work well. So I made a photo of the copper smelter Boliden Rönnskär instead, which shows quite big but nice stars on the lighting. I’m quite happy with the new lens.

Then I headed back to the car looking at that stronge cloud, which was quite greenish … And if clouds get greenish you either smoked the mushrooms instead of photoing them or it’s no clouds but Northern Lights. And thus it was! I just managed to make some shots of the pilot boat with the aurora above before it got weaker again and faded to some kind of greenish glow, hardly visible. Not the best photo, but I like the motive.

Now I’m hoping for many starry nights and polar light, I need more practise.

Day and night boat

Today we had the first day with 24 hours frost and a maximum temperature of -2.8 °C. When I was out this morning both the sea and most parts of the lake Snesviken where free of ice. When I was out tonight, temperature dropped to – 9 °C, big parts of both sea and lake where covered with ice, the sea with very soft ice, the lake with a surprisingly thick layer where you could even stand on – at least near the shore and if you where really careful.

The first image got blurred because I pressed I stood on the thin ice, as well as the tripod, and pressed it down some centimetres with my weight. Then I continued to make photos of the same motif as in the morning: A frozen boat. I prefer the night shot with the full moon illuminating boat and ice, even if I dislike the blurred stars.

The night showed both an almost full moon and polar light, quite weak again. I made two shots neither focussing on moon light or polar light, but showing them anyway. The pictures are more experiments than good shots. But showing those is part of the blog, too.

Northern lights and truthfulness

What a nice surprise: After 10 days of dull, cloudy and overcast weather sky cleared up this afternoon. You don’t have to go outside, just have a look at the thermometer: A temperature drop almost guarantees a cloudless sky. But you have to go outside if you want to check for the faint Northern Lights. And this evening I was lucky: a large pale bow of  the aurora borealis was visible in the sky.

Some minutes later I stood beside the small haven tjuvkistan and made the first photo. Click: 15,0 sec at f/2.5, ISO 800 35mm.

Whoa! The whole sky is green, it’s like diving into Fluorescein! Just too much green color! A great deal too much!

I made another photo, knowing beforehand it wouldn’t work. Click: 1,0 sec at ƒ/2.8, ISO 400 35mm, which means only 2.7 % of the light compared to the first photo.

Yes … um … interesting … . Is it art or may I trash it? Too dark! A great deal too dark! This image is just a dumb proof to the platitude I already knew: Cameras need enough light to make good pictures, even a Nikon D800.

Let’s take the 1st photo: I’ll show it again. And again – and again! I cropped it to the same 5:3-format, but processed it in three different kinds.

Version 1: The kitsch-version: I kept the extreme colours and increased contrast, especially in the center. Bang – that’s the photos you show on Facebook!

Version 2: The almost-real-version: I tried to adjust the photo to my memories of the real moment, which means for example that I reduces exposure more than 3 stops and removed saturation of the polar lights by 50%. Well, that’s the photos you won’t show anybody. They are more realistic but a bit prosaic.

Version 3: The in-between-version: I tried to find a version between kitsch and almost real. I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad compromise between the other versions.

What do you think? Which photo do you prefer? I’m looking forward to your comments.

Longest night in Skelleftehamn

After the shortest day followed the longest night this winter, because this night is the winter solstice. And when I went out an hour ago a long band of faint polar lights covered parts of the starry sky. -12 °C, snow under my boots and polar light – that’s my first real Swedish winter night this season.

But while I was out and made some photos I could see a wall of clouds nearing from the East.

I hope they’ll bring snow.

The first polar light

If you like your beauty sleep and travel way up north, do not look out of the window too late! I did it and lost 50 minutes sleep standing outside and another 30 minutes writing this blog article.

And that’s why I stood outside: A really bright, moving and colourful polar light covered half of the sky.

It’s still out there but I’m tired and I have plans for tomorrow. Hopefully it’s not the last one on my journey.

 

Over the storm-beaten Norwegian fjell

Day 16 – about storms, waiting long, a dead battery and Northern Lights

Today I left Tromsø and tried to reach Abisko. But I couldn’t say if I should reach it today since two parts of the mountain road were still closed.

The first part was extremely windy and I could feel the squalls shaking the car. Again the question – was it smart to drive a car in this weather? But soon when I came to Fagernes and started crossing the mountains – the fjell – it got much better. Then I arrived in Bjerkvik where one road goes to the Vesterålen and the other to Narvik and Sweden. Just after I left Bjerkvik, after a tiny bend the storm stroke again. I left the road to Narvik and turned left following the E10 to Sweden. The car climbed the steep passage up and than I saw a queue of cars. Stop.

I switched the car off (Bad idea, Olaf!) and waited. What’s happening? Are we waiting for a convoy? Is the road still closed? I waited. After half an hour it got cold in the car – outside it was stormy and -9 °C – and I turned the car key to start the car again. No reaction beside of half a second light on the dashboard and some disturbing noises. I tried again, and again. The car was dead! “Sh**!” was my thought.

I asked the car driver behind me. No, he doesn’t know anything about cars. The next one. Yes, I should check the contacts of the battery first. That’s what I did but they looked ok. While considering what to do next, the guy came to look as well. He checked the battery contacts once more and came to the same conclusion. Just seconds later a big red car approached from the back, stopped some centimetres beside of mine, a guy jumped out, two jumper cables in his hand, fixed them to the batteries of our cars, asked me to start and my Saab started like a charm! I just could say “tusen takk” – Thousand thanks and back in the queue vanished the red car. This guy is my hero today! I was both grateful and very relieved.

Now I focussed on not stalling the engine under any circumstances. As all other cars I continued waiting. After about two hours of waiting some really official looking cars came from the back and minutes later a guy picked all the “normal” cars to follow. We had to wait another fifteen minutes (“do not stall the engine!”) and then we could follow a snowplough.

Even now where the road was open and ploughed it was an adventure. You could see snowdrifts everywhere and the strong wind still blew loads of snow through the air. Sometimes you could hardly see the hazard lights of the car in front of you. Some new snowdrifts started to cover the road again. It took time until we crossed the Bjørnfjell – the Bear Mountains and came to the Norwegian border where another long car queue waited on the other side for their turn.

Now I was in Sweden and the other road segment was already ploughed and open so that we quite easily could continue driving, still minding the snowdrifts and the stormy wind. Finally I arrived in Abisko where I am in the same room like two weeks ago –it  seems like ages ago.

It really feels like home being in Sweden again – the Swedish language, the Swedish mobile internet without expensive data roaming and – last not least – the Swedish prices! After a short rest a went to a restaurant and ate and drank for 85 SEK, less than the half of what it would cost in Norway.

After that I took a photo tour. The sky had cleared up and a long band of Northern Light covered the sky over Abisko.

Translations:

EnglishGerman
squallSturmböe
dashboardArmaturenbrett
jumper cableStarthilfekabel
stall the engineden Motor abwürgen
ploughedgepflügt, freigeräumt
snowdriptSchneewehe
hazard lightsWarnblinker

Kirkenes: A night in the snow hotel

This is perhaps the most special place of the whole Nordkalotten 2015 journey to write my blog: On the bed in the room of the snow hotel. Behind me a warm sleeping bag, beside me a snow relief of husky dogs running.

But its a perfect match to my afternoon, where my friend had a half day of and I got a wonderful private dog sledding tour. Parts of the trail where prepared perfectly, because they were part of the Finnmarksløpet – a 1000 km dog race from Alta to Kirkenes and back again that happens right now. First I sat and enjoyed gliding through the landscape effortlessly, but on the flat sea ice of the Langfjorden I could stand on the sledges blades and steer the dogs by myself – a really easy terrain for beginners like me – and I have to admit that this is much more fun than just sitting.

A great two hour tour, thank you, C.! The only disadvantage as a photographer, most of the time you see bums and tails, but if you ignore this, it’s great fun!

Later on we got a three course dinner which was very good. To be honest, that was almost the main reason, why I booked the snow hotel night. I’ve slept in igloos before, but of course not in such a huge one with a three course dinner before.

This night is a good end of my journey. Tomorrow I’ll head home. I’m stuffed with sensations and impressions and I’m longing home. But before I went into my room, I even got some polar light again after a quite long time of abstinence.

Now I have to close, the laptop runs out of battery and I start getting cold.

Good night!

 

High+++

… that was the short term Aurora Forecast of Alaska before the server broke down. I never saw such a high level in a forecast before.

Even an hour after sundown the Northern Lights were visible on the blue sky. After a rehearsal with the chamber choir I drove to Harrbäckssand, a small beach near Ursviken. The whole sky was covered with the Aurora, as I never saw it before at home. Unfortunately it was not too bright and faded down while I tried to make some photos.

Therefore just two photos for now:

 (But the aurora continued the whole night …)

The best open air cinema ever

That was my place – “high in the bleachers” this night. After taking some photos I unrolled my camping mat and sleeping bag on the  boat bridge and laid down to sleep. I didn’t got much of it with the ice cracking under the boat bridge and the fascinating aurora illuminating the whole sky.

Half past three the aurora was still very active, but I decided that it would be nice to continue sleeping in a real bed, where I can twist and turn around.

I never saw the Northern Lights in so many variations in a single night. Sometimes there were some small, but very bright Northern Lights in several directions. It looked like a photo exhibition. Sometimes huge green and violet garlands and vortexes covered the sky. Sometimes the whole sky was filled with faint Northern Lights flickering and whizzing around as I never watched it before. Most time lapse videos are lame in comparison. And when I woke up round half past three a bright crystal star of Northern Light gleamed right above me in the zenith sending its beams over the whole sky. Just amazing!

These photos are really nothing compared to reality.

Yesterday I had a longing to the Arctic. I yearned for being on Greenland, Svalbard or somewhere in Nunavut. Tonight I was comforted a bit – it’s fantastic to be able to see them just round the corner of my home.

A great night but now I had to catch some sleep, I’m working tomorrow.

Perfect laziness

About some winter remnants: A patch of snow, ground frost and most of all: Northern Lights. But spring is near.

Sometimes I wake up in the deep of the night. Sometimes I look through the window. Sometimes there’s polar light. For example one hour ago at 2:30. The Northern Lights have been around the whole evening but they were so faint, that there were hardly visible. Now they where much clearer and intensity was increasing.

I wanted to take pictures, but I was lazy. Should I really dress, get my camera equipment and take the car to a nice place? No, I was too lazy! I just put on my down overall over the pyjamas, went into the neoprene boots that I use for paddling, took tripod and camera and went out.

I was lucky, the aurora was a nice one tonight and high up in the sky. It’s these moments, where I’m still filled with joy, that I may live here, even if I’ve been living in Skellefteå and Skelleftehamn for almost five years now.

You see, that there is still snow in my front yard. My back yard is even still covered with a layer of 20 cm of hard-packed snow. Standing outside on the snow in a warm overall and looking at the polar light felt almost a bit like winter. The temperature however was hardly below zero and the expedition down overall was much too warm, of course. In the northeast you could see the sky already getting light a bit, even if it was no more than 3 o’clock. Sunrise will already be at 5:15, a sign that spring is near.

An overnight stay on the island Gåsören

Saturday

The advantage of short kayak trips with overnight stay: you can start quite late. It was 7 p.m. when I started pulling my loaded kayak from home to shore. A quarter later I sat in the kayak and started paddling. It’s only four, five kilometres to the island Gåsören that shone in the warm light of the evening sun.

The first thing to do: Put up the tent before sundown. The second thing to do: Taking a picture of the lighthouse before sundown. The stomach reminded me of thing number three: Preparing food and eating. Todays dinner: Graved salmon on fire roasted bread à la plein air.

I was quite curious if I would catch the first polar light. The short term forecast of Soft Serve News wasn’t too bad. But even if the sun already went down round 9 o’clock – two and a half hours earlier than eight weeks ago – I still had to wait for the sky getting darker. After a while however I could see the first faint greenish garlands. My first Northern Lights of the season 2015/16! Great!

But then I saw something in the sky that I thought was much more fascinating: Right above the red coloured northern sky I could see a layer of lucent clouds. They looked really strange because there weren’t red or purple – they were pale white! I never saw something like that before. They looked extremely far away, almost extraterrestrial. I wondered if this perhaps could be noctilucent clouds – clouds that are found in extremely high altitudes of round about 80 kilometres. I stayed awake for a long time, I just couldn’t tear my eyes away from this wonderful phenomenon. Two pictures of the clouds:

Of course I checked my hypothesis directly, when I went home. Yes – I guessed right. My first noctilucent clouds ever. I was really lucky and I’m happy that I could see them just from my tent.

But let’s leave the Mesosphere and go back to earth again. If you tent on the island Gåsören, you can see other lights, too. Lights of civilisation: The peninsula Rönnskär is quite nearby. On Rönnskär there is Boliden Rönnskär, one of the most efficient copper smelters. You think industry is unsightly and ugly? Well, not Rönnskär by night in my opinion:

Sunday

I woke up in broad daylight although it was only half past five. I took one halfhearted picture out of my tent and then I started reading.

I started the book “Norwegen der Länge nach” written by Simon Michalowicz that was published just some weeks ago. Simon hiked from the Southern tip of Norway to the North Cape – round about 3000 kilometres.

I read in the tent – I read sitting in front of the island’s sauna — I read sitting or lying on a floating boat bridge, only interrupted by a short bath in the Baltic Sea. I followed Simon’s tour and just couldn’t stop reading. It was noon when I finally finished the book. If can warmly recommend it to all German readers that love Scandinavia or are interested in hiking. There’s a website as well: www.simonpatur.de.

I wasn’t alone on the island. Some people hired the old lotshus – the pilot’s house for an overnight stay. The first motor boats came in for a day visit. And both summer cottages – there’re only two on Gåsören – were used, too. From T. who owns one of the cottages I learned that it was international lighthouse day today. So before I packed all my stuff together and paddled home I went up the two stairs in the old lighthouse and made a last photo.

I was home again half past two. Many experiences and a good book in less than twenty hours – that’s a fine weekend.

Translation:

EnglishGermanSwedish
Noctilucent cloudsLeuchtende NachtwolkenNattlysande moln

Aurora – just for the records …

When I really put on some clothes in the middle of the night, grab the camera bag and tripod and take the car to drive to the beach or a small boat harbour, than it’s a proof for that the aurora was beautiful. At least in the moment, where I started to put on my clothes. However when I’ve reached the destination, the aurora quite often already has decreased to some shapeless something that is not at all attractive on photos.

And so it was today. Anyway the strongest Northern Lights I’ve seen so far this season, which just has begun. And the forecast for the next days looks quite good …

Scandinavian luxury – I

What is Scandinavian luxury?

When you drive home from a good rehearsal with the chamber choir and see a faint polar light through the front side window of your car.

When you arrive home and ignore the aurora, because you saw it already at least five times since August.

When you, just before going to bed, open the door and look outside.

When you sit on the wooden panel just in front of your front door and look at the intensifying Northern Lights, already wearing your pyjamas.

And make some photos – just half a meter from your front door. They won’t be the best, but you don’t care.

When you just slip into your boots and take another shot from the garden.

When you can experience this without being in a holiday – like it happened to me one and a half hours ago: That’s Scandinavian luxury!

Late October sunrise

Even after switching to standard time you don’t have to stand up extremely early to catch the sunrise over the Baltic Sea. Sunrise today was 7:06 and since I already was awake I took the car to the shore. Sky was clear and illuminated in warm orange colours while the open sea was of a deep blue. A nice contrast and since there ware hardly any clouds the photo has some kind of an abstract look. When the sun came – click – I made this photo:

After two warmer weeks it was chilly this morning with temperatures round -5 °C. Of course the sea is still open, but the water puddles on the waterfront were covered with ice.

Did I say “of course sea is still open”? Well, not everywhere! After making the photos above I drove to the little beach Storgrundet where I saw the first thin layer of ice lying on the cold sea water. (The photo itself is far apart from being good – I’ll try to make better ones tomorrow morning if it’s as cold as today.)

 

Strange skies

Three days ago Aurora Alerts by Soft Serve News showed a forecast for very strong polar lights, first for last night, than for tonight.

That’s why I took camera and tripod with me when I drove to the rehearsal with the Chamber Choir. When we had finished and I left the building it was cloudy – as expected – but you could see the green light of a quite strong aurora shining through the spots were clouds were less dense.

I hoped for the sky to clear up and drove to Långhällan – a favourite place at the seaside. Unfortunately however the sky hardly cleared up and finally the clouds became even denser. Suddenly I could spot a bright red light at the horizon. Is it a strong spotlight of a ship? But why is it so red? It took a minute until I realised that it’s really the moon rising above the horizon. I cannot remember seeing the moon in such an extreme red colour – even redder than at the total lunar eclipse five weeks ago.

The next photo is a bit special. It is much more edited than I use to edit photos to show the colder green colours of the Northern lights behind the clouds and the warm, now bright orange colour of the moon. I lit the foreground with a flashlight to make it visible. Not very easy to light it evenly without overexposing it. Even here I had to edit some spots that were too bright or too dark.

There may be less clouds at 4 or 5 o’clock. Ant perhaps still polar lights. But I guess I’ll be sound asleep … .

Another aurora

I cannot remember a year with so much Northern Lights as this year. Since August I saw them at least 20 times, if not even more often. Today the forecast was quite good and when I saw the first pale aurora at 22:30 I drove to the beach. The Northern Lights covered half the sky but were quite weak. But after a while they became stronger.

For a short time they were very strong, but I was too slow with the camera. I didn’t catch the two bright shooting stars neither, but if was beautiful to see them. As beautiful as the aurora weakening again but then flickering very fast over half of the sky – like dancing a secret dance too swift to follow. Unphotographable – you have to come, be lucky and have a look by yourself.

Click the image for a better quality – the computer-calculated preview is quite bad.

Another polar light

Just three-quarters of an hour ago on the near lake Snesviken.

Some notes: -12 °C outside of the house, probably colder on the lake. The jacket was not too warm. First time this winter, that I made some steps onto the ice of the lake. I just dared because of the many other footprints and the knowledge, that water is less than a meter deep at this place.

A short trip to Arvidsjaur – Starter

On the day after Christmas Annika and I thought about making a short trip to the “inland” where weather is colder and snow depth is bigger. What about Arvidsjaur for example where I’ve been six weeks before. It’s only two hours away. We looked for a room to stay overnight but we weren’t lucky in finding a room that was (a) affordable, (b) nice and (c) free.

Therefore I asked on Facebook if someone would have a tip or even better a stuga – a cottage. Ten minutes later Pär, a friend in Skellefteå, answered and offered us his private stuga for as long as we want to stay. What a great offer!

The next day we packed the car with warm cloths, food, snow shoes, camera equipment, bed clothes and a lot of water (which the stuga lacks) and drove to Arvidsjaur. Round 9:30 we arrived and were glad that neighbours already started the main heating, since it was -12 °C outside. After unpacking the car and switching on the others electric radiators we made a short trip by foot. Days are still short – 3 hours, 12 minutes this day – and as short was our trip. Mostly we walked in the shadow of the pine trees, first on the small road, than on a snowmobile track, but sometimes the low sun shimmered through a gap in the trees.

When we stood at the lake we could see Arvidsjaurs local tree-covered mountain with some ski slopes cut into the wood. Left of it was another mountain, that was completely treeless and snow covered. It looked quite high. How far it might be? Round the corner or many miles away? We planned to check this the next day.

Evening was calm – inside as outside. Stars twinkled above the frozen and snow covered lake right behind the house. The next photo is taken from the terrace. The photo reveals to types of light that were invisible in real life: The pink gleam of Arvidsjaur and a the greenish glow of a very faint polar light.