Photos in the Arctic night

Photos in the Arctic night

During my recent trip out to Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, I only had two nights actually out in the field.  This placed considerable limits on my photo plans, because it often requires several nights to actually capture what I wanted to: star trails, aurora, general night sky, lighted tents, etc.  Add that the moon was half full complicated the star trails and aurora photo plans, especially when combined with the fact that we are currently in a down-cycle of the solar activity that creates vivid aurora displays.

For my goal of capturing star trails, I used my Hassleblad 503CX, loaded with Fuji Velvia 220 film.  (I have yet to process the film, but when I do, I will post the image here.)  So, for the first night, I took three hours for the star trails photo, then captured some images of the tent and faint aurora display with my Nikon D300.  The next night, with the assistance of my camping companions, Zak Richter and Seth McMillan, I caputured some shots of the tent, some with headlamps illuminating the interior and another set with Christmas lights adorning the tent. 

To power the Christmas lights, I had taken a Powerbase battery along with an AC inverter.  However, even keeping the battery in the tent was not enough to keep it warm.  After stoking up the fire and keeping the battery really close to the heat, I was able to warm up the battery, but only enough to provide intermittent power.  The lights would only light briefly when plugged in.  So, I had Zak plug and unplug the lights repeatedly over the 30 second exposure in order to display the lights for the photo.  For the headlanp shots, I had both Zak and Seth move the lights around so as to disperse the illuminating glow, rather than produce a spotlight effect on the side of the tent.

One of the joys of photographing the night sky in the Arctic is the simple clarity of the sky and the abundance of stars it allows me to see.  There are simply hardly any places left in the United States where you can photograph the night sky free of light pollution.  Even when I was down in Badlands National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park last year, nighttime photography was affected by the nearby towns of Rapid City and Boulder, respectively. 

What I really would have liked to capture is a time lapse of the night sky, which would have been especially successful given the half full moon.  But, I obviously need to work out some power issues under the extreme cold for any future attempts.  I am thinking that perhaps Winter 2012 will be a good time to return, as the aurora should be kicking back up rather nicely by then.  And rather than two nights, perhaps two weeks would be a good amount of time.  Then I could photograph under the bright full moon as well as the darkness of a new moon.  That’s the problem with photographing in Gates of the Arctic … there are always more things that I want to capture on a future trip.

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