28 Mar Aurora Australis
Any keen aurora chaser will tell you… you need to watch the data, the cloud cover forecast, the moon phase and do your location scouting before it’s dark. By getting the planning and preparation right the execution becomes a lot easier. For Aurora chasers In Tasmania, keep an eye on the Kaus index, not the Kp index (the “donut” is a good indicator too) and keep a close eye on the Bz (direction of the earth’s magnetic field). Essentially, if the Bz is negative, you can see the aurora, if positive, time to focus on your milky way shots. The Bz is unpredictable and can change quickly so there’s no real way of knowing if the earth’s magnetic field will cooperate or not. If all the other data is great (including cloud free forecast – Windy is usually pretty accurate a few hours out) then it’s worth heading out to try your luck. Be kind to our nocturnal wildlife and drive slowly and carefully.
The right gear
Gear-wise, it’s best to have a high end digital camera with excellent high ISO performance (I shoot with the Nikon d850), a fast wide-angle lens (my ‘go-to’ lens is the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8) and a stable tripod and flexible ball head (I use my trusty robust 14 year old carbon fibre Gitzo tripod and ball head). Typically settings are around f2.8, 15s, ISO 3200 (for a relatively weak aurora with minimal moon light and minimal light pollution). If the aurora is low on the horizon and is not filling much of the frame then use a longer lens to better fill the frame with those gorgeous colours but be aware many longer lenses are slower and at a longer focal length and slower shutter speed you’ll get unsightly star trails (not the cool variety). Also, keep in mind the composition is important, just filling the frame with colour is not going to satisfy you after your first hunt or two.
Keen to learn?
If you’re interested in capturing the aurora, milky way or nighttime landscapes, I offer one on one tuition sessions to work at your speed via live Zoom chats. Tips on gear, preparation, planning and execution. Number one tip, do your scouting before dark, monitor the cloud cover and solar and other conditions. You’ll save yourself time and money staying at home when conditions are far from optimal.
Here are a few images from my most recent chase in the Hartz Mountain National Park. All of these images are single frames (i.e. no focus or exposure stacking- hence the stars are not pin sharp as I focused on the foreground at f2.8). If you are looking to capture clean crisp images from foreground to infinity then I highly recommend focus and exposure stacking to create an image that is crisp and expertly exposed. I highly recommend checking out the work of my good friend Paul Zizka who is an absolute master at creating other-worldly nighttime images.
Happy hunting and don’t forget to be mindful of other photographers out there at popular spots. Keep the lights off as much as possible (it will help your eyes adjust too). Safety is paramount. Be extra careful at night to take care fo yourself and your gear. At the absolute minimum, make sure you know if you have phone reception where you are going (if not bring other comms), pack warm clothes and tell someone where you are going. Be Prepared!