Night of the Great Aurora


Great Aurora of May 27, 2017 – Wide-Angle v5

No one predicted this spectacle. But on May 27 the last-minute warnings went out to look for a fabulous show as night fell.

And what a show it was! As darkness fell the sky was lit with green curtains. After midnight the curtains converged at the zenith for that most spectacular of sky sights, a coronal burst.

Aurora over the Rothney Observatory

As the night began I was at the Rothney Observatory helping out with the public stargazing night.

ISS and Aurora - Rising out of the West

We saw the Space Station rise out of the west over the Rockies and pass through the Northern Lights.

ISS and Aurora - In the East over Rothney Observatory

It then headed off east, appearing here as the streak amid the Lights and light pollution of Calgary.

To continue to shoot the display I, too, decided to head east, to home. I should have gone west, to the mountains.

I drove through rain to get home, and missed the peak of the display, judging by images from others in the Rockies, and those to the north.

ISS Through the Aurora (May 27, 2017)

But as I got home clouds began to clear enough for a glimpse of the Space Station, on its next pass, flying overhead, again through the aurora. I wonder what the astronauts might have been seeing looking down.

Great Aurora of May 27, 2017 – Wide-Angle v3

From home, I caught another bright sub-storm outburst to the north, as the curtains suddenly exploded in brightness and rapid motion, with characteristic pink fringes at the bottoms, from nitrogen molecules.

What impressed me about this display was the smell! Yes, you see auroras and some claim to hear them. But this display is one I’ll remember for the springtime scent of lilacs in the night air as the Lights danced. 

The Great Aurora of May 27 from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

Here is a short music video of several time-lapse sequences I shot, of the sub-storm then post-storm subsidence into the patchy flaming and flickering effect that we often see at the end of a great display. And this was certainly one of them.

We southerners were treated to the class of display you usually have to travel north the Arctic and auroral oval to see.

— Alan, May 31, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

Moonlight on the Prairie


The rising almost-Full Moon, a “Blue Moon” of July 30, 2015, rising behind a rustic old farmhouse near Bow Island, Alberta. The Moon sits in the pibk Belt of Venus with the blue shadow of the Earth below. This is a single frame from a 600-frame time-lapse sequence, taken with the Canon 6D and 16-35mm lens.

I present a short time-lapse vignette of scenes shot under moonlight on the Alberta prairie.

The movie linked below features sequences shot July 29 and 30, 2015 on beautifully clear moonlit nights at locations south of Bow Island, Alberta, on the wide open prairie. The three-minute video features two photogenic pioneer sites.

Circumpolar star trails over the historic but sadly neglected St. Anthony’s Church between Bow Island and Etzikom, Alberta. The Big Dipper is at left, Polaris at top. The Roman Catholic church was built in 1911 by English, Russian German immigrants. It served a dwindling congregation until 1991 when it closed. At that time workers found a time capsule from 1915 with names of the priest and parisioners of the day. In summer of 2014 the Church suffered its latest indignity when the iron cross on its steeple tower was stolen. It was there when I stopped at this Church on a site scouting trip in May 2014. I planned to return on a moonlit night and did on July 29, 2015. A nearby house had been torn down and the cross was now gone.  This is a stack of 300 6-second exposures with the Canon 6D at ISO 1600 and 16-35mm lens at f/2.8. Bright light from a 13-day Moon lights the scene, making for very short exposures. The ground comes from one exposure to keep shadows sharp. The final stars also come from another single exppsure taken two minutes after the last trail image. I used the Advanced Stacker Actions to stack the trails.

The church is the now derelict St. Anthony’s Church, a former Roman Catholic church built in 1911 by English and Russian-German immigrants. It served a dwindling congregation until as late as 1991 when it closed. At that time workers found a time capsule from 1915 with names of the priest and parisioners of the day.

The wood church seems to have been largely neglected since.

In the summer of 2014 the Church suffered its latest indignity when the iron cross on its steeple tower was stolen. I also shot in the pioneer cemetery of the Church.

Circumpolar star trails circling above an old rustic and abandoned house near Bow Island, Alberta, with illumination from the nearly Full Moon. Cassiopeia is near centre. Polaris is at top left.  This is a stack of 140 frames from a time-lapse sequence with additional frames added for the first and last stars, and the ground coming from a mean combine stack of 8 frames to reduce noise. Each frame is 10 seconds at f/4 with the 16-35mm lens and ISO 1600 with the Canon 6D. Stacked with Advanced Stacker Actions, using the Ultrastreaks effect, from within Photoshop.

The other site is a nearby farmhouse with photogenic textures and accompanied by rustic out buildings that are barely managing to stand.

Illumination was from a waxing gibbous Moon, just 1 to 2 days before the infamous “Blue Moon” of July 31. Its bright light turned the sky blue, and lit the landscape with the same quality as sunlight, because it is sunlight!


Enlarge the video to full screen for the full HD version.

For the technically inclined:

I shot the scenes with three cameras – a Canon 60Da, Canon 6D, and Nikon D750.

The Nikon, with a 24mm lens, was on the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly and Stage R panning unit, while the 60Da, with a 14mm lens, was on the compact Radian panning unit. The third camera, the 6D, with a 16-35mm lens, was on a fixed tripod for the star trail sequences and stills.

The music is by Adi Goldstein (AGSoundtrax.com), whose music I often use in my sequences. It just seems to work so well, and is wonderfully melodic and powerful. Thank you, Adi!

To process the several thousand frames that went into the final movie, I used Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw, supplemented by the latest Version 4.2 of LRTimelapse (lrtimelapse.com). Its new “Visual Deflicker” workflow does a beautiful job smoothing out frame-to-frame flickering in sequences shot in twilight under darkening lighting conditions. Thank you Gunther!

For the star trail sequences and the still images above I used the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com. Unlike most other stacking programs, the Stacker Actions work from within Adobe Bridge and Photoshop directly, using the processed Raw images, with no need to create intermediate sets of JPGs. Thank you Steven!

— Alan, August 3, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

The Great Solstice Aurora: THE MOVIE!



On June 22 I shot the great all-sky aurora with three cameras all shooting time-lapse frames. Here’s the result!

The rapidly moving and astonishing patterns of the aurora are ideal for time-lapse photography. Except for a total eclipse of the Sun, nothing else in the sky changes with such dramatic and jaw-dropping intensity.

For the June 22 outbreak of Northern Lights across the sky, I shot some 2,200 frames, and assembled them into the time-lapse compilation here.

One sequence records the entire sky and the complete development of the display, from when it first appeared in twilight about 11:15 p.m., to when it faded into a diffuse glow across the sky by 1:15 a.m. I shot that sequence with an 8mm fish-eye lens, to capture a scene suitable for projection in a digital planetarium theatre.

I shot the other sequences with 15mm and 24mm lenses. All total, the 3-minute movie comes from about 50 gigabytes of images.

Still images from this night, and from the time-lapse sequences, are in my previous blog post.

I hope you enjoy the video. Do enlarge it to full screen 1080p HD.

– Alan, June 24, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Great Solstice Aurora of 2015


The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

Aurora watchers were on alert! Look up after sunset on June 22 and the sky should be alive with dancing lights.

And the predictions were right.

I headed out to a nearby lake in preparation for seeing and shooting the show. And as soon as the sky got dark enough the Lights were there, despite the bright solstice twilight.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 960-frame time-lapse, taken with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and with the Canon 60Da, looking north to the perpetual twilight of solstice. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

The display reached up to the zenith, as seen in my fish-eye images, like the one below. I shot with three cameras, all shooting time-lapses, with the fish-eye camera recording the scene suitable for projection in a digital planetarium.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display peaked in a substorm with rays converging at the zenith in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

However, it was apparent we here in western Canada were seeing the end of the display that had been going on for hours during an intense geomagnetic storm. The aurora was most intense early in the evening, with a minor outburst about 11:30 to 11:45 pm MDT.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 960-frame time-lapse, taken with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and with the Canon 60Da, looking north to the perpetual twilight of solstice. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

The aurora then subsided in structure and turned into a more chaotic pulsating display, typical of the end of a sub-storm.

A sky-covering display of Northern Lights, here in the western sky over a distant thunderstorm on the Alberta prairies. I shot this June 22, 2015 on a night with a grand display over most of the sky, with the sky bright with solstice twilight. The site was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake in southern Alberta. This is one frame from a 350-frame time-lapse, taken with the Nikon D750 and 24mm lens,

However, an attraction of this display was its juxtaposition over another storm, an earthly one, flashing lightning to the northwest of me.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display brightened again in the middle of the night at about 1 am, with rays converging at the zenith in the perpetual twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

By 1 a.m. MDT the display, while still widespread over a large area of the northern sky, had turned into a diffuse glow.

But 60 gigabytes of images later, I headed home. The time-lapse compilation will come later!

– Alan, June 23, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Night of the Space Station


A pass of the International Space Station in the bright moonlight, on the evening of May 31, 2015, with the gibbous Moon to the south at centre. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the first pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 11:06 pm MDT this evening. Numerous other fainter satellite trails are also visible. This is a composite stack of 95 exposures, each 2 seconds at f/2.8 with the 14mm lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away.  I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

The Space Station is now continuously lit by sunlight, allowing me to capture dusk-to-dawn passages of the ISS.

On the night of May 31/June 1 I was able to shoot four passages of the International Space Station on successive orbits, at 90-minute intervals, from dusk to dawn.

The first passage, at 11:06 p.m., was low across the south. It’s the image at top.

An overhead pass of the International Space Station in a bright moonlit sky on the night of May 31/ June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon in to the south, below. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the second pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 12:44 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 91 exposures, each 4 seconds at f/3.5 with the 8mm fish-eye lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away. The stars are trailing around Polaris at top. An aircraft supplies the other dashed trail across the top and intersecting with the ISS trail. I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

Then at 12:45 a.m. the Space Station came over again, now directly overhead. It’s the image above. The Moon is the bright glow at bottom.

An overhead pass of the International Space Station in a bright moonlit sky on the night of May 31/ June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon in the southwest, below. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the third pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 2:21 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 66 exposures, each 4 seconds at f/3.5 with the 8mm fish-eye lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away. The stars are trailing around Polaris at top. Unfortunately, I missed catching the start of this pass. I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

One orbit later, at 2:21 a.m., the Station came over in another overhead pass in the bright moonlight.

A pass of the International Space Station in the brightening twilight of dawn, on the morning of June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon setting to the southwest at right. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (southeast) over several minutes. This was the last pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 3:55 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 144 exposures, each 2 seconds at f/2.8 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away.  I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

The final passage of the night came at 3:55 a.m. as the sky was brightening with dawn twilight and the Moon was setting. This was another passage across the south, and made for the most photogenic pass of the night.

Here’s an edited movie of the four passes, with a little music just for fun.

Seeing the Space Station on not one but two, three, or even four orbits in one night is possible at my latitude of 50 degrees north around summer solstice because the Station is now continuously lit by sunlight — the Sun never sets from the altitude of the ISS.

When the ISS should be entering night, sunlight streaming over the north pole still lights the Station at its altitude of 400 km.

To shoot the time-lapse clips and stills I used 8mm and 15mm fish-eye lenses, and a 14mm ultra-wide lens.

The bright moonlight made it possible to use short 2- to 4-second exposures, allowing me to record enough frames at each passage to make the little movies of the ISS flying across the sky. Keep in mind, to the eye, the ISS looks like a bright star. Some image processing trickery adds the tapering trails.

I used the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com to create the trail effects, and to stack the time-lapse frames into single composite still images. The gaps in the trails are from the one second interval between frames.

– Alan, June 2, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Red Aurora of May 10


A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015, in a stack of 80 frames taken over 45 minutes. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. The 80 exposures were stacked and blended with Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com using the Long Trails effect. Each exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D. An individual exposure adds the more point-like stars at the start of the tapered star trails, and add the blue from the last twilight glow still illuminating the sky at the start of the sequence.

A strange red arc of aurora moved slowly across the sky on May 10.

All indicators looked favourable early in the evening on May 10 for a good auroral display later that night, and sure enough we got one. But it was an unusual display.

From my site in southern Alberta, the northern sky did have a diffuse glow of “normal” green aurora that never did take much form or structure.

But overhead the aurora took the form of an arc across the sky, starting as an isolated ray in the southeast initially, then reaching up to arch across the sky with what looked to the eye like a colourless band.

But the camera showed it as a red arc, with just a fringe of green curtains appearing for a few minutes.

Be sure to click HD and enlarge the video to fill your screen.

The time-lapse movie shows the sequence, over about 90 minutes, with 170 frames playing back at 12 frames per second. You can see the red arc develop, then become more narrow, then exhibit a few green curtains. Then it fades away.

Large-scale pulses also brighten the whole sky momentarily.

A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. It is part of a 170-frame time-lapse sequence. Exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D.

The other images are individual frames taken during the evening, showing snapshots of the red arc development, as it became more narrow in structure and gained green curtain-like fringes.

Presumably the red structure was very high in the atmosphere while the green curtains attached to it that did appear hung down from the high-altitude red arc.

A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. It is part of a 170-frame time-lapse sequence. Exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D.

I shot all images with an 8mm fish-eye lens to capture most of the sky. The camera is looking north toward Polaris, with the Big Dipper almost directly overhead near the centre of the frames.

The main image at top is a star-trail stack of 80 frames showing the sky’s circumpolar motion around Polaris and the aurora blurred and blended over 45 minutes of motion. I stacked the frames with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com

– Alan, May 11, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Green Waves of Northern Lights


Ultrawide Aurora #4 - Feb 21, 2015

Last night the sky exploded with waves of green and pink as the Northern Lights danced in the bitter cold.

With blizzard conditions forecast for the next two days, last night might have been our last for viewing the aurora from Churchill. But if so, we ended on a high note.

Ultrawide Aurora #1 - Feb 21, 2015

The aurora appeared on schedule again at about 9 to 9:30 p.m., following my evening lecture, as it has done every clear night for the last couple of weeks. It began as a sweeping arc to the north, as above, then moved south to encompass the entire sky.

Ultrawide Aurora #5 - Feb 21, 2015

About 11 p.m. the sky burst open with waves of green arcs, but with generous tints of red and magenta that the camera picks up easily. To the eye, the reds are barely visible unless the aurora gets very bright.

Shooting the Northern Lights (Feb 21, 2015)

Despite the bitterly cold temperatures of -34° C with a -50° wind chill, everyone in the tour group braved the night to take in the sight. And many managed to work their cameras and tripods, no small feat under such conditions, to get great shots.

The groups this week and last saw aurora every clear night, with clear nights on at least 3 out of the 5 nights of each course. Not a bad take, fulfilling everyone’s “bucket list” dream of standing under the aurora borealis.

– Alan, February 22, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Colourful Curtains of the Northern Lights


All-Sky Aurora #1 (Feb 17, 2015)

The Northern Lights have performed beautifully the last few nights, presenting curtains of light dancing across the sky.

Two nights ago in Churchill, Manitoba we were treated to a “storm level” show of aurora, with the Lights all across the sky in green curtains waving and curling before our eyes.

The curtains tower several hundred kilometres up into the atmosphere, from the lower edge at about 80 km up (still high above the stratosphere) to the curtain tops at about 400 km altitude at the edge of space.

The camera picks up the colours far better than the eye can, recording not only the predominant green hues but also shades of pink, magenta and red.

All-Sky Aurora #5 (Feb 17, 2015)

The magentas and reds come from the sections of the curtains at the highest altitudes, from the top of the auroral curtains. Here, where the atmosphere is a near vacuum, sparse oxygen atoms can glow with a red emission line.

However, there must be a blue component as well, leading to the magenta or pink tones, as in my photos here. Nitrogen can glow in blues and purples and might be contributing to the colours.

The top two photos are from Tuesday night, Feb 17, when storm levels of 5 were in effect worldwide.

All-Sky Auroral Curtains #2 (Feb 18, 2015)

Lower down, at about 100 km altitude, the air is denser and oxygen glows with a brighter green hue, which the eye can detect more easily.

The photo above from last night, with an activity level of just 2, also shows most of the sky covered with a faint emission, with a patchy appearance, with dark “holes” also moving and flowing in the time-lapse movies I shot.

Closer to the horizon, and far to the north, the aurora brightens into the more characteristic green snaking curtains.

Red Auroral Curtains

This image from three nights ago shows an usually coloured aurora at the start of the night, glowing mostly a deeper red and orange.

The green was still off in the distance far to the east. It arrived a few minutes later as green curtains swept in over us.

But the initial red was from low-energy electrons lighting up just high-altitude oxygen. Only when the higher energy particles arrived did the sky light up green.

All-Sky Aurora #7 (Feb 17, 2015)

I shot all these images with an 8mm fish-eye lens as frames in time-lapse sequences intended for use projected in digital planetarium domes, where the 360° “all-sky” scene would be recreated on the dome as it was in real life.

If you are with a planetarium, contact me if you’d like to get aurora clips.

Our second group of aurora tourists has arrived today at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and the weather is warming to a high of -20° C. Balmy!

We’re hoping for more fine displays, though the space weather forecast calls for a quiet magnetic field in the next few days.

– Alan, February 19, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Waves of Northern Lights in Time-Lapse


Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Fisheye #3)

Watch waves of aurora wash over the sky rising out of the west to swirl overhead.

This was the spectacle we saw Friday night at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, as the northern lights filled our sky. I set up my camera on the east side of the main building, out of the bitterly cold west wind. The fish-eye lens is aimed west but its view takes in most of the sky.

The bright object at lower left is the Moon.

The still image above is a frame from the 349-frame time-lapse movie below.

Each frame is a 7-second exposure at f/3.5 and ISO 1250. The interval is 1 second.

The movie covers about 45 minutes of time, compressed into 30 seconds. It shows the aurora peaking in intensity, then fading out behind the ever-present thin cloud drifting through all night.

What amazes me are the waves and loops of auroral curtains that come at us from the west (bottom behind the building) then swirl around the zenith overhead. They move off to the east and north at the top of the frame.

Even watching this in real-time the scene was astonishing. The curtains rippled so quickly, forming and reforming over the sky, you didn’t know where to look. As the image above shows, people just stood amazed.

— Alan, February 9, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

P.S.: You can view a better-grade version of the movie at my Flickr site.

Aurora Shining Through the Clouds


Churchill Aurora Feb 2-3, 2014

Tonight the aurora shone so brightly for a time it was visible through the cloud.

Here at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre we’ve been battling clouds all week. But on several nights the clouds have cleared for 30 minutes or more, enough to give us glimpses of the aurora and stars. Tonight, February 2/3, the clouds never did clear away enough for a great view. This was as good as it got, with the Northern Lights shining through haze and cloud but nevertheless filling the sky.

Remarkably, this was on a night when the usual indicators of auroral activity were registering all quiet. This shows the benefit of traveling north to stand right under the auroral oval, the zone of maximum activity. In this case I’m at 58° North, in Churchill, Manitoba. Even on a quiet night the Churchill sky can be filled with curtains of dancing colours.

– Alan, February 3, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Flying Through a Moonlit Winter Night


ISS Pass with Astronaut Chris Hadfield (Feb 15, 2013)

Tonight the Space Station flew out of the west and overhead as it faded into the shadow of the Earth.

Because tonight the ISS was coming up high into the north, almost directly overhead, I used a fish-eye lens to shoot the entire sky, and took three exposures, each 90 seconds with the camera tracking the stars.

The bright Moon is at right, but despite its light the Milky Way still shows up. The Space Station faded into sunset just as it crossed the Milky Way.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is on board, about to take command at the next crew change. He’s been tweeting lots of comments and photos from space. Check him out at @Cmdr_Hadfield.

– Alan, February 15, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Horizon to Horizon Milky Way


The view doesn’t get any wider than this. This fish-eye image takes in the entire night sky and summer Milky Way.

I shot this last weekend at the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party in Cypress Hills. Red lights of observers streak along the horizon around the perimeter of the circular image. At centre is the zenith, the point in the sky straight overhead.

The sky was very dark, but the sky close to the horizon is tinted with the faint glows of aurora and airglow.

The Milky Way is the main feature of the summer sky, here stretching from Sagittarius in the south at bottom to Perseus at top in the north. Wide shots like this really put the giant lanes of dust into proper context; you can see their full structure and faint tendrils extending well off the Milky Way band.

For these fish-eye shots (suitable for projection in a planetarium) I used a Sigma 8mm fish-eye lens and a full-frame Canon 5D MkII camera. This is a stack of five 5-minute exposures, all tracked. The landscape is from just one of the images, to minimize blurring of the ground.

— Alan, August 23, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Calgary Lights Up


I’m getting the hang of shooting demanding day-to-night time-lapse movies!

For this clip I shot over 2.5 hours, using a fish-eye lens, to create a sequence suitable for projection in a digital planetarium dome.

But the trick with these day-to-night sequences is getting a smooth transition in exposures, which can range over 12 to 16 f-stops, from short snapshot exposures with the lens stopped all the way down at the start before sunset, to long 8-second exposures with the lens wide open at night, plus the camera’s ISO speed increasing from a slow ISO 100 to a faster ISO 400 or more at select points through the sequence as well.

The secret to doing this is a control box called the Little Bramper, an intervalometer that fires the shutter automatically at set intervals but also gradually ramps the exposure time a tad longer with each successive exposure. This was my third time out with the Bramper, and I more or less got it right this time!

While the Bramper does a great job running the camera, it still takes a lot of manual oversight to control its ramping rate so the exposures don’t get too long and overexpose the scene, or fail to get long enough to track the darkening sky.

At several points in the sequence it is also necessary to quickly (in one exposure cycle) half the exposure time, while at the same time opening up the lens a stop, or doubling the ISO, so that the ever-lengthening exposure doesn’t get too long and collide with the interval between exposures. In this case, shots were taken about 12 seconds apart, so the maximum exposure for each frame couldn’t be much more than 8 to 10 seconds.

The end result of the work is a time-lapse movie that shows the setting Sun, then the lights of Calgary coming on as the sky darkens. Clouds lit by the yellow glow of streetlights move in, then blow away again to reveal a few stars in the urban sky.

— Alan, October 16, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer

Space Station Over the Rockies


This was the view Friday night, August 19, 2011, as the International Space Station flew over Banff, Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.

I took this shot (actually this is a composite of three successive exposures) from the viewpoint on Mt. Norquay overlooking the Banff townsite and the Trans-Canada Highway interchange, unfortunately all too well lit. This might well be a case study in light pollution as well.

But the lights in the valley don’t diminish the Milky Way above, and the sky-wide streak created by the passage from west to east of the Space Station. What looks like a brilliant star to the eye turns into a streak here due to the three 45-second time exposures I used to capture this scene. The lens is the 8mm fish-eye, and these frames are from a 400-frame time-lapse movie for the planetarium dome.

— Alan, August 20, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset in the City — This is Only a Test!


This is one for the time-lapse geeks!

One of the trickiest subjects for a time-lapse sequence is a smooth and seamless day-to-night transition. Exposure times vary from fractions of a second before sunset to several seconds at night fall.

How to do it? Manually shifting exposures is too much work and prone to error. Putting the camera on Automatic can work but inevitably results in an effect known in the time-lapse world as “flickering.” The camera’s automatically-judged exposures aren’t consistent from frame to frame so the final movie shows minor bright/dark flickering, making it look jerky.

For this test sequence of sunset over the Calgary skyline, I tried a new toy for the first time, as a solution.

The device is called the Little Bramper (for Bulb Ramping). It is a custom-made intervalometer that fires the camera shutter every few seconds (at whatever interval you desire). Nothing new there. But what’s unique is that it can be set to slowly increment the exposure time by as little as 1/1000th of a second from frame to frame, gradually increasing the exposure (“ramping” it) to accommodate the darkening scene. The result is a smooth transition from day to night with no flickering.

This was my first use of the Bramper and it wasn’t without its glitches. The shortest exposure the Bramper can provide (it always controls the camera thru its Bulb setting) is about 1/10th of a second (I had no idea camera shutters can fire as quickly as that even on Bulb).

But at the beginning of a sequence like this, with a bright sky, achieving that exposure (still quite long) means using a small f-stop, a slow ISO speed, or a neutral density filter, or all of the above. But as the sky darkens and exposures lengthen, exposures would become too long to fit within the desired interval between frames (typically no more than 5 to 10 seconds for a smooth sequence). So, to shorten the exposures you then have to open up the lens, switch to a faster ISO, or remove the ND filter, while also commanding the Bramper to quickly reduce its exposure time, all in one exposure cycle (i.e. 5 to 10 seconds) so as not to lose or ruin frames. Takes some coordination and practice (hit the Bramper’s button, adjust the camera, all within 5 seconds), and I didn’t get it right the first couple of times.

But overall, for a first test, the sequence turned out very well. The $80 Little Bramper does the job, though it does take careful monitoring through the sequence, not just to perform the exposure swaps, but to also watch that the ramping rate (adjustable on the fly) matches what the scene is doing and you aren’t under- or over-exposing. It’ll take a little more practice, but the results certainly are worth it.

It’s another neat tool in the time-lapse arsenal.

— Alan, August 10, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer

Milky Way in the Mountains


It’s rare to get such a clear night in the mountains but I used the opportunity last Thursday night to shoot the Milky Way in a twilight scene in Banff National Park.

I took this a little later on the same night as the previous blog’s image of the setting Moon. The location is the Vermilion Lakes, a familiar scenic spot for classic views of Banff and Mount Rundle reflected in the water, at far left. It is one of the few places in the mountains where you can look south over a low mountain skyline (to see the southern Milky Way) and over still water (to get reflections).

For this shot I used a fish-eye lens to record most of the sky and the summer Milky Way arching over the water. The sky was dark enough to show the Milky Way but still had a lingering blue tint from the last glow of deep twilight. The yellow glow at left to the east is from the urban lights of Banff.

The still image is one frame of 220 shot over 4 hours for a time-lapse video, for projection in a full-dome video-equipped planetarium. Just so happens we’re building one in Calgary to open in early 2012.

— Alan, August 9, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Auroral All-Sky Dance


Here is nearly two hours of auroral dancing compressed into 25 seconds.

This was the “all-sky” aurora of August 5/6, 2011, widely seen over North America but perhaps (from early reports) best from the western half, especially Canada, favoured for Northern Lights due to our latitude.

I shot this with the 8mm fish-eye lens and the Canon 5D MkII. The movie consists of 255 frames, each 24 to 30 seconds in exposure duration, taken one second apart. ISO speed was 1600 and aperture f/3.5. The playback frame rate is 10 fps.

This display was quite chaotic, without the graceful rippling curtains present in many displays, but rather huge patches of sky turning off and on. This is typical of an aurora in the declining part of the storm — it had already been raging for several hours by the time it got dark here in Alberta.

Nor was the display very bright, so the longer exposures needed to record it well further blur any fine motion. Nevertheless, you get a good idea of the intense activity this aurora displayed. The magnetosphere was jumping last night!

— Alan, August 6, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer

The Milky Way from Chile


This was the Milky Way as it appeared toward the end of a long night of non-stop shooting from Chile. The centre of the Galaxy lies directly overhead and the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon. This is one of the sky’s greatest sights, and this is an ideal time of year to see it. But only if you are in the magic latitude zone of 20° to 30° south.

In this shot, another skyglow stretches up from the eastern horizon at left – that’s the Zodiacal Light, so obvious from this latitude. It’s sunlight reflected off comet dust in the inner solar system, and heralds the coming dawn twilight.

My tracking platform – the device that allows a camera to follow the sky for a time exposure – is at lower right, with a second camera taking telephoto lens shots of star clusters in the Milky Way.

I took this shot with the Sigma 8mm fish-eye lens and the Canon 5D MkII camera that was on a fixed tripod – it was not tracking the sky. But the 45-second exposure at ISO 3200 was enough to bring out the Milky Way in all its glory. This frame is one of 660 or so that make up (or will once I assemble it) a time-lapse movie of the Milky Way turning about the pole and rising through the night. The fish-eye format makes it suitable for projection in a planetarium dome.

– Alan, May 2, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer