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Photographing the Northern Lights

I’ve always been fascinated by the Northern Lights. I always thought I’d have to go to Alaska or somewhere else really far north to be able to see them! Last fall, I heard that a really strong solar storm was expected to make a good showing in the Seattle area! So, my husband, some friends and I all hopped in the car with our cameras and tripods, expecting to make a good night of it. Unfortunately, the storm fizzled and while we saw some beautiful starry skies, no Aurora Borealis made a showing. Boo.

Ever since that disappointment, my friend Melissa and I have been determined to see these beautiful lights and photograph them! After missing a few other opportunities, due to weather or not hearing about the storms early enough, we finally got lucky. On St Patrick’s Day, I got a Facebook notification from Melissa. “Lexxxxxxiiiiiiieeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tonight’s supposed to be a good night!”

The cloudy skies in Seattle were not making our opportunity look good, but nevertheless, I started charging my camera batteries and gathering my gear. By 10pm, we decided that it sounded like it wasn’t too cloudy in Anacortes, so we decided to give it a go. Another friend, Janeen, rode up to Anacortes with me, and we met Melissa at Washington Park. It was dark, not a lot of city lights, only a few clouds in the sky, and lots and lots of stars. Ideal for Aurora sightings. Now, all we needed was for the storm to get stronger!

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis in Anacortes, WA | Alexis Merritt Photography

As both Melissa and Janeen needed to be up early for work and Mom duty, we made a pact that we’d start heading home around 1am if nothing appeared. 1am came, and no Northern Lights were visible. We decided to give it just 10 more minutes, since chatter online said something should be happening soon. Still not seeing anything in the sky, I took a look at the back of my camera.

“Is that a little bit of green in that corner???”Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis in Anacortes, WA | Alexis Merritt Photography

And then the green kept coming. And boy, was it spectacularly beautiful. God really knows how to put on a show!!!

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis in Anacortes, WA | Alexis Merritt Photography

After a few minutes of watching the back of our cameras and comparing to the sky, we were able to see where the Aurora was with our own eyes. We could see the spikes of light shooting upwards and knew when to press our shutters to capture those moments. Aaaaaaahhhhh, so amazing!!!

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis in Anacortes, WA | Alexis Merritt PhotographyNorthern Lights - Aurora Borealis in Anacortes, WA | Alexis Merritt Photography

As we approached 2am, the storm began to die down. So we grabbed a few last images and headed home. A long drive for Janeen and I, back to Seattle, but boy were we jazzed!

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis in Anacortes, WA | Alexis Merritt PhotographyNorthern Lights - Aurora Borealis in Anacortes, WA | Alexis Merritt Photography

This was truly an unforgettable experience. And I will definitely be keeping an ear out for future opportunities to capture this incredible phenomenon!!

You can see Melissa’s version of the night over on her blog.

Camera settings: Nikon D700 | 14-24 lens | ISO 800 | f/2.8 | 10 seconds (last two images 13 seconds)

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