When something extraordinary is happening in the natural world close to my home in Bend, Oregon, I make it my duty to attempt to capture the scene and give it the love and attention I feel it deserves.  It is not every day that the Aurora Borealis (a.k.a Northern Lights) make an appearance this far south.  Yet, even the slightest chance of being able to see this remarkable event in my home state had me chomping at the bit.  

I knew I needed a north-facing vantage point, and wanted to include one of the Cascade Mountains in the foreground.  Mountains are my favorite subject to include in astrophotographs because regardless of the low light, their form and scale alone can be effective compositional elements.  Due to smoke in Central Oregon, I knew I needed to head to the northern part of the state for my best chance at seeing the aurora.  

I had not been to Trillium Lake since before I moved to Oregon, but knew it had a grand view of Mount Hood to the north.  I arrived at the lake early enough in the evening to see the sunset, cook my favorite ramen for dinner, and plan my shot for the evening.  What I had completely forgotten was just how busy this lake gets in the summertime.  It is far from a kept secret, with photographers lining the southern shores for sunset, families getting pictures taken, and people just generally buzzing about, enjoying the view.  

Ascend

Trillium Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

Shortly after sunset, most of the photographers packed up and left, either unaware of the aurora on the forecast, or unwilling to stay up late to witness the potential of magic.  I found a quiet spot along the eastern shore of the lake where I was able to frame my camera right where I expected the aurora to be once it got dark.

After several hours of waiting, I was losing confidence whether this aurora event would grace the 45th parallel.  My aurora forecast apps were indicating a 0% chance of the aurora appearing where I was.  Out of incredulity, I took a test shot to see if there perhaps actually was an aurora, just too faint to see with the naked eye.  That first test shot revealed a green hue on the horizon line, and I knew the show was just beginning.

At its brightest point, the aurora became a very faint magenta glow to the naked eye.  However, the sensitivity of my camera's sensor paired with a long exposure revealed a brilliant display of color surrounding Mount Hood. 

In order to capture both the scale of the mountain and the expanse of the aurora, I used a panoramic technique with a 50mm lens to capture this photograph.  Each of the 5 photographs is vertically oriented, so when stitched together they form a single horizontal photograph of incredible resolution.  Instead of cropping a single wide angle image to my liking, I knew this panoramic technique would yield a much higher quality image file, and thus a higher quality print. 

Finally, around 2am, the show began to subside.  Exhausted, yet completely riveted, I drove the two hours home, eager to view the images larger on my computer the next morning.  When processing the images, I decided that the bright lights coming from Timberline Lodge at mid-mountain were far too distracting from the spectacle of the natural light show.  This led to my decision to Photoshop the man-made lights out of the image, something I usually try to avoid doing at all costs to preserve the integrity of the photo.  I also usually avoid including any man-made subjects in my photos in the first place, so I was already breaking a lot of my own principles.  In this instance, I simply felt that the occasion was too unique and the lights from the lodge were too unavoidable to approach processing the image in any other way.


This image was captured with a Nikon Z7 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens and Feisol CT-3441T Tripod.  Capture settings were 10-second shutter speed, f/1.8, ISO 3200 for all five images.

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