Into the (Canadian) Wild: Watching Northern Lights with PiLens

A photo by PiLens

A photo by PiLens

We thought we should maybe start off this post with a little advance warning. So here it comes: Caution, the following photos might cause extreme wanderlust (to go to Canada). We are already infected. In our latest edition of our monthly feature “Photographers talk about their photos”, our photographer Stephan Pietzko aka PiLens takes us to the Canadian Northwest to see beautiful landscapes, mountains, lakes, snow and even northern lights. Oh Canada, you beauty…

It was love at first sight when I, as a 19 year old who grew up in Düsseldorf, visited Lapland for the first time. Mysterious taiga and subarctic tundra, untouched wilderness, wild rivers, clear lakes, rugged mountains, bright midsummer nights with buzzing mosquitos, strong winters with crystal clear coldness, terrific landscapes and indescribable light – all that is the North (and so much more!). You either hate it or you love it, but you just can’t be indifferent.

It was meant to be a lifelong affair. At first, I did more trips, more often to Lapland in summer or fall. Then 2 very adventurous winters in a real trapper’s hut in the Canadian woods followed, very isolated and very romantic with the woman who is now my wife. And finally my emigration to my new adopted homeland at Lake Laberge in the Yukon Territory of Canada’s Northwest.

A photo by PiLens / Photocase.de

A photo by PiLens

Aurora borealis, for me, is the icon and allegory of this hard to grasp but my life dominating fascination, which the boreal wilderness has never lost for me. As a natural scientist I know that northern lights are caused by electrically charged particles of the solar wind. They are captured by the magnetic field of the earth and deviated towards the poles where they can reach the atmosphere of the earth. What happens then is similar to the physical process in an electrical fluorescent lamp. So, in a way northern lights are an illuminated advert of the sun. However, what cannot be explained by science is the mystery of the emotional echo that auroras trigger in me. Not surprising, the North inspired me to become a photographer.

In terms of pure photographic technique, northern lights are not a big challenge: a good DSLR camera, like my Canon 5D MkII, that still produces an acceptable noise level at ISO 800 or 1600 and exposure times of up to 30 seconds, a fast wide-angle lens (f=2.8 or better), a stable tripod and a cable release is everything you need. The real challenge is to focus in almost total darkness, where no autofocus works, the nightly cold, which afflicts battery and fingers, foggy glasses, iced up lenses and and and… When finally the camera is set up the dance of the aurora is often already over. And be careful when returning inside to the warm stove. The photo gear has to be sealed air tight when warming up again, otherwise inevitable condensation destroys the sensitive electronics.

Here are a few impressions of Lake Laberge with and without aurora by season:

In Spring:

A photo by PiLens

A photo by PiLens

In summer:

A photo by PiLens / Photocase.com

A photo by PiLens

A photo by PiLens / Photocase.com

A photo by PiLens

A photo by Foto von PiLens / Photocase.com

A photo by PiLens

In fall:

A photo by PiLens / Photocase.com

A photo by PiLens

In winter:

A photo by PiLens / Photocase.com

A photo by PiLens

A photo by PiLens / Photocase.com

A photo by PiLens

Thanks, Stephan! This way to his user profile. For more photos, check out his lightboxes Northern LightsEveryday life in the Yukon territory, Canada. and Ice & Snow. For even more photos, check out Stephan’s website imagoborealis.com right on!

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