Northern Lights: Our Stunning Nightlife

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If you want to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, you don’t have to travel to Alaska or Finland. You’ll find front row seats for watching this spectacular phenomenon right here. So what creates this sky show? The graceful, shimmering swirls of greens, purples, oranges and reds occur when sun particles, riding on a solar wind, collide with Earth’s atmosphere. It’s not an every-night event, so here’s how to plan your visit for the best chance to see them.

Northern Lights Tips

  • Best viewing months: In the U.P. you are more likely to see the Northern Lights between August and April, with the peak months being October, November and April. Choose a clear, crisp, cold night without the threat of lake effect snow.
  • Best viewing spots: The farther north you go, the more likely you’ll see them. So head to Lake Superior, away from town lights, where its southern shore offers an unobstructed view of the horizon to the north. In Michigan, the Northern Lights are rarely directly overhead (although it’s awesome when they are) so you need to be able to see down near the horizon. Some of our favorite spots are near Brimley, Whitefish Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Au Train, Marquette, Big Bay, Skanee, Eagle River and Copper Harbor.
  • Best photos: You’ll want to use a camera with a manual mode function so you can adjust the ISO, exposure time and aperture settings. Set ISO between 1600-3200 with exposure lengths between 15 and 30 seconds. Pack a wide angle lens and set the aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6. Bringing a sturdy, yet lightweight tripod is a must as well as two to three fully charged batteries. Focus your lens to its infinity symbol (∞) and make slight adjustments to get a sharp focus. Using an intervalometer is also a wonderful tool for taking the best Northern Lights shots.
  • Best forecast sites: www.geo.mtu.edu/weather/aurora
    www.aurora-service.org
    www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast
    www.weather.gov/fsd/aurora

Hope we can share our incredible nightlife with you soon!

Notes:
You do not necessarily need a full-frame just a camera with manual controls. I usually shoot between ISO 1600-3200 with long exposures with lengths between 15 to 30 seconds.  Wide Angle lenses with aperture set somewhere between  f/2.8 and f/5.6. Tripods is a must . . . focus sounds correct.  Using an intervalometer is wonderful for these types of shots.  Extra Batteries are always great. 

For best viewing spots you might add in that location with a relatively open view of the horizon.  Most of the time in MI the Northern lights are not directly overhead (it is awesome when they are) so you need to be able to see north as clearly as possibly . . . this is why Lake Superior from MI is such a great place to shoot. 

This is my favorite forecast site: http://www.aurora-service.org/