I present a 10-minute music video of the aurora that features HD video footage shot in real-time, to record a display of Northern Lights … as it actually appeared.
There are no time-lapse sequences, nor are any scenes sped up to a faster playback speed.
I shot the video scenes at very high ISO speeds, so the images are certainly noisy. However, they show the motion, brightness, and colours of aurora as they appeared to the eye.
This was a particularly bright and active display seen just after midnight on the night of February 12, 2016 from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre just outside Churchill, Manitoba on the shores of a very frozen Hudson Bay. Churchill is at a latitude of 58 degrees north, and lies under the usual location of the auroral oval, providing spectacular displays of Northern Lights when locations to the south are seeing nothing. Indeed, this display barely registered on the auroral activity indicators this night.
Scenes have been edited for length, and I did not use all the scenes I shot in the final edit. So the scenes you see in the 10-minute video actually took place over about 20 minutes. But each scene is real-time. They show the incredibly rapid motion and fine structure in the auroral curtains, detail blurred in long multi-second exposures.
I used a Nikon D750 camera at ISO speeds from 12,800 to 51,200. While it is certainly very capable of shooting low-light video, the D750 is not optimized for it. A Sony a7s, with its larger pixels and lower noise, would have been a better camera. Next time!
The lens, however, was key. I used the new Sigma 20mm Art lens which, at f/1.4, is the fastest lens in its focal length class. And optical quality, even wide open, is superb.
The temperature was about -30 degrees C, with a windchill factor of about -45 C. It was cold! But no one in the aurora tour group of 22 people I was instructing was complaining. Everyone was outside, bundled up, and enjoying the show.
It was what they had traveled north to see, to fulfill a life-long desire to stand under the Northern Lights. Everyone could well and truly check seeing the aurora off their personal bucket lists this night.
For more information about aurora and other northern eco-tourism tours offered by the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, see churchillscience.ca