Thursday, October 7, 2010

Just Laugh Out Loud

Last week, while up teaching my annual Fall Equinox Photography Workshop out of the famed NORTH HOUSE FOLK SCHOOL in Grand Marais, Minnesota something unexpectedly happened that caught me totally by surprise.

I learned how to create artificial geomagnetic storms! My goodness, could this be a new form of global travel opportunities and fill buckets of money?

Of course not. But, it was sure a hoot discovering how it happened.

It all started when we doing light-painting up on nearby Maple Hill. At the top of the hill is a small wooden church and more importantly, no lights anywhere close by. We need the blackness of night to selectively shine our flashlights and spotlights where we choose to "paint" with light the areas we want to show up. Long exposures are necessary so we can also include the stars in the photograph. It was working quite well and everyone was creating wonderful images.

After we completed our tasks of night shooting and learning to paint with light, it was time to call it an evening. Or was it?

I offered the idea of driving a little further down the Gunflint Trail to the Elbow Lake road where within 15 minutes we could shoot more stars over a calm lake. The idea of capturing reflections of the Big Dipper on the lake surface, since it was so calm, was appealing. Three hardy folks, Steve, Gredo and Carly took me up on the proposition.

We drove down the dirt road to the lake, headlights illuminating a dark narrow road, and after several twists and rises, the lake broke into view. The high beams shined over the dark water. And, at the same time we all commented, "Oooooh, look at the fog on the lake!"

The headlights illuminated a wispy, three foot thick blanket of fog steaming over the lake. Evening temps were cooler than normal, and a frost was imminent. We entertained the fog might thicken as temps dropped. We grabbed our tripods and cameras, lined the shoreline, attached the cable releases and begin opening shutters for 30-second exposures. We shoot 30 seconds because its the amount of time needed to expose stars. Any more time and the stars start streaking. Thirty seconds at 3200 ISO/ASA also allows the Milky Way to come alive. The reflections were nice, even through the fog. It was fun to be out.

With head lamps and flashlights cutting through the night, the fog illuminated like shining a pen light through campfire smoke. Wonderful beams of light danced around the foggy lake. We were way too excited about this fog coming to life. I grabbed my spotlight and during the next series of exposures, held the spotlight next to water level to lite up the fog. The results were awesome! We shot more and more, changing the direction of the light, coloring the light, hitting only portions of the lake, the distant shore, the dock, ect. We milked it as best we could.

Just about the time the chilly air was starting to bite and we calmed down a bit, the last set of exposures I pointed the spotlight up into the sky over my camera to see if it might show up. OMG! There it was. Beams of light were exposed in the misty air creating near aurora like images.

We all laughed out loud! How cool was this?

So, our science experiment begins. The chill was broken with excitement. We did several more exposures shining the bright beam towards the heavens, Each time a new and magical light painting appeared on our L.E.D. screens. Holy smokes, we were creating artificial aurora borealis. This night, the northern lights belonged to us.

It didn't take long for the discovery to turn to reality. We can't use these images. They are not real and we would never pass them off as real. But, for those 15-20 minutes, seeing what light can do was magical. It sets in motion a whole new way of seeing. Its one more item in our visual tool bag to utilize when the right time comes along. A new light discovery for sure.

So, we concluded our evening with some fine wolf howling over the stillness and listened to ten echo's bounce through the darkness. I wondered if the Space Station caught our light show? If they did, I'm sure they laughed out loud too.


  1. WONDERFUL!!!! Wish I could have been there...

  2. What a great way to experiment. The skies in the pictures are beautiful. Living in town does not give us the opportunity for such pictures. I am a bit jealous.

  3. These are fantastic and I wish I was part of that excitement. It always amazes me what the lens can capture. Thanks for sharing them Lane :)