Guest post: The hunt for Aurora Borealis

This aurora time lapse movie and VR experience guest post is by Göran Strand (Web | Facebook | Twitter):

My name is Göran Strand and I work as a photographer in Östersund, Sweden. My main area of photography is astrophotography and landscape photography. I've been hunting auroras for several years and on March 17 I had one of the greatest aurora experiences ever.

That night I actually went out to take photos of the lovely comet PanStarrs with my small refractor telescope and my Nikon D800E camera. Here you can see a shoot of the location from that night, out on the ice on Sweden 5th largest lake Storsjön. In the foreground you can see my gear for doing astrophotography, a Celestron CGEM mount with a small William Optics Megrez 72 telescope mounted on top:

The hunt for Aurora Borealis
Just after finishing setting up my mount and telescope I looked up I saw a wonderful aurora corona. If you haven't seen a aurora corona before it is best described as if you we're standing under a shower. They come down from the sky right at you and it's one of the most fantastic views you can see. I ran to my camera bag and picked up my Nikon D3s and mounted my Sigma 8mm/f3.5 circular fish eye lens on the body. Grabbed my tripod and attached my camera and took this picture. It's a 6 second exposure at f/4.0 and ISO 1600. Since I pointed my camera straight up, the image shows the entire sky.

The hunt for Aurora Borealis 2
After a few minutes the aurora settle a bit and I realized that this wasn't the night to shoot the comet. I packed my mount and telescope and rigged my Nikon D3s and Sigma 8mm lens to do a full sky time lapse of what would be one of the greatest auroras I ever seen. I set the camera to take 4 second exposures every 6th second and let it run for a little more than 4 hours giving me a total of 2,461 shots for a total of 30Gb data.

Here's a shot I took with my Nikon D800E camera and my Nikon 14-24/f2,8 lens showing me standing under some strong aurora. To the left of me you can see my Nikon D3s pointed straight up running the time lapse.

The hunt for Aurora Borealis 3
When I came home I started to editing the images for a time lapse video. As I begun editing the movie I realized that I've done some solar photography through my solar telescope a few days earlier. I used that imagery to show from what sunspot the aurora originated and to give the viewers a perspective on how big the Sun is compared to Earth. Here's the shot of the Sun that I took on March 14.

The hunt for Aurora Borealis 4
Here you can see the final movie that was published a few days later:

During the next two weeks I received lots of emails and requests about my movie, and one mail in particular gave me an idea. It was one of the biggest planetariums in the world that wanted to purchase the movie to be able to show it in their dome. That night when I went to sleep I thought a lot about how great it would be to visualize this in a way that it felt like you were there on March 17. The very next day I did some search on the Internet and found an solution that allowed me to project my time lapse movie in an artificial world. The software I found was Krpano from Krpano GmbH. After several days of image processing and website programming, my Aurora Virtual Reality Experience was ready:

A few days after publishing this new experience, I got an email from David Wyand, Head of Torque 3D Development at GarageGame. The we're adding Oculus Rift support to their open source game engine, and he wanted to use my footage to make a demo for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. A couple of weeks later they were finished and here you can see the result.

I've never gotten the chance to see my aurora with through Oculus Rift, but I would sure like to. If you're a owner of Oculus Rift, please let me know how it looks and feels 🙂

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here. Göran's photos can be purchased here.

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  • Global

    Very cool.

  • Maji

    A very cool set of images. I am glad that your creativity got rewarded. I hope you more success in the future.

  • gorji

    Incredible photography. Congratulations. Can you explain how you took a picture of the sun please?

    • Bill Ferris

      Yes, a wonderful time lapse sequence. It must have been one of those nights when, even with all the available astronomical equipment, the best view was simply leaning back and drinking in a naked eye view of the sky.

      The photograph of the Sun was taken through a telescope fitted with a hydrogen-alpha (H-alpha) filter. The filter blocks all light emitted by the Sun except for that emitted by ionized hydrogen. It darkens the Sun enough to make it safe to visually observe while allowing light at a specific wavelength to pass; light that reveals activity such as sunspots, flares and prominences.

      Of course, the equipment is just the beginning of the answer. The real artistry lies in the photographer’s technique, both in using the equipment and processing the raw image(s) to create the beautiful images Goran presents, above. Hopefully, he’ll have an opportunity to speak a bit about that aspect of his imaging.

      • gorji

        Thank you Bill. I appreciate it very much.

  • 103David

    This is really serious photography. Amazing and stunning work…not to mention my appreciation for enduring what we in warmer climes (but with treasured Swedish heritage) refer to as “Bite-Ass Cold.”
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Nice pictures!

    wow! Aurora Borealis happening atop a fully lit urban town!

    One can enjoy from living room, without brrrring outside…

  • Kynikos

    So very beautiful. Thank you for sharing your work–it’s top-class.

  • Banan Tarr

    This is beautiful… but just some constructive criticism if I may: it’s moving too fast. You lose a lot of the beauty in the motion of the auroral “curtains” when the time lapse is this fast. Also, the 8mm circle may get it all in but (just from my personal POV) as a result the audience may not be able to relate to what they are actually watching. Good stuff either way! I was out there that night as well and came home with some great images.

  • Bayou Bill

    Thanks for this very spiritual “experience”. Makes this “earthling” feel like a truly humble particle in our great mystical universe.

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