Urban Northern Lights
I think I’m hooked on chasing the Northern Lights now. Getting out of the urban sprawl and bright lights of Minneapolis/St. Paul is a good idea when trying to get a good shot. On a weeknight and with work the next day you can’t always drive an hour or two though. I decided to try to get some shots from the outer ring suburbs and Stillwater which is only 20 minutes from St. Paul.
The Northern Lights in the suburbs.
Seen above is the Northern Lights just 2 miles from my house. This is in Lake Elmo which is a short 20 minutes to St. Paul. There’s quite a bit of urban sprawl in the Twin Cities and therefore a lot of light pollution. This site has a bit of a gap in the lights looking north.
Stillwater Aurora Borealis
This location was a lot more difficult. Stillwater, MN is further away from Minneapolis/St. Paul but as you can see has many lights from the city. In order to deal with the city lights and try to gather enough light to get the Northern Lights I had to employ a little on the fly thinking.
As luck would have it I placed a small black cloth in the car for cleaning my car’s nav system earlier in the day. I went and grabbed the cloth and then it was mostly trial and error. I was using 8 second exposures and I held the cloth over the bottom to cover the city lights. I would count the number of seconds and right around .5 to 1 second remaining I’d remove the cloth. There was a clear break at the horizon so this worked nicely.
You could try to bracket exposures and composite later but you might still have flaring issues and probably a loss of contrast. Check out more images in the Northern Lights gallery.