If not before, latest after the solar storm on March 17, 2015, the internet has been flooded with aurora photos. The subject of aurora colors has been discussed but I think not nearly enough. That’s why I decided to write this post. Let’s start off with some photos from that solar storm. I tried to recreate a version which reflects what my eyes saw. You can click on each of them to look at them without distractions:
So, now you know 🙂 Well, does this make the experience of seeing auroras less magic? Heck, no!!
Expectations, it is all about expectations. It can make or break your first aurora experience. Whenever I’m about to go out with clients, I firmly tell them not to expect anything like seen in photos but rather pale colors in the skies – IF we see auroras dancing. Some colors are so weak that we only see them as grey without the camera. A few people had a hard time to let go of the colorful photos they have seen beforehand. As a result they have been truly disillusioned when watching auroras for a while and thinking: That’s it? Really? What a pity..
Luckily most people enjoy the experience, the movements in the sky and show all kind of reactions: standing silently, shouting, shaking their head, hugging each other, dancing, singing, crying, you name it. And none of them were thinking about the colors in the photos..
As to the question why the two are different, I wrote in my aurora guide: “There is one big difference between a camera and our eyes. If we look at the sky for five seconds, the human eye sees every moment once. We may remember them in our brain, but our eye can see only one moment a time and erases the one before. If the camera ‘looks’ for five seconds at the sky, it adds all moments together and creates one image from all those single moments. Therefore the colors are mostly stronger in the image opposed to how we see them. Trying to photograph auroras in its natural, pale colors and strength would most of the time result in a black landscape because there just isn’t enough light.”
There are many aurora chasers out there, who go out night after night – just like me – to get another glimpse at the lights. I bet most of us (if not all) enjoy the dance of the lights as such. Looking up in the sky, it is nothing short of a miracle what we see. Of course, I wanna capture ‘that’ photo, sure. And yes, I love to see the colors in the photo. But if it would be only about that, I’d definetely prefer my warm bed and good-night sleep instead of spending hours in the cold, dark night, again and again.
One thing about post-processing those digital files. I feel the need to mention that some photos are overprocessed, pushing colors over the top. In my opinion that is completely unnecessary and actually looks really ugly. The aurora itself is wonderful and what our cameras are able to show us is simply stunning, so why overkill it. I took my corona photo and pushed the colors to the extreme. Perhaps you like it but I can’t even look at it for two seconds.. 😉
In the end it’s up to everyone’s expectations, preferences, etc. Enjoy the photos and know what to expect if you plan to see auroras.
I’d be VERY curious to hear what your thoughts are on this, so feel free to comment 🙂