Light Chaser Stories: Scene 1

Thanks for supporting the Kickstarter campaign for Light Chaser. Here’s a story that sets the context for the exhibit.

As a light chaser, it helps to plan ahead, as light is an elusive and ever-changing creature. I had been waiting for some months to go out on the weekend of a new moon to create a star trail photo at Kinstone, a favorite hangout of mine in Wisconsin. Each time a weekend would fall near a new moon, my efforts were thwarted by cloudy skies, it seemed. Finally, a clear weekend was forecast so I made the drive from Rochester to Fountain City well after sundown to start my quest.

A star trail photo requires taking a series of sky images over a span of time and “stacking” them, so to speak, into a composite image. Part of the trick is getting the exposure right for each image. That was my first task that night when I arrived at Kinstone. I set up my tripod, composed my shot, and started fooling around with exposure settings, using around ten-second exposure times. To my frustration, my test shots always seemed to be marred by some annoying light blurs. My camera shot was aimed toward the northwest, roughly in the direction of the town of Winona. I thought I was picking up light pollution from there. Yet, no obvious light pollution was evident just by looking with the unaided eye. Was my camera sensor so sensitive that it was picking up city lights that my eye couldn’t see?

I tried a few more, but the blur wouldn’t go away. It was obliterating the light of the stars I was trying to capture for my star trail. Did I just lose another night’s effort?

I looked at the images once again on the camera viewfinder, and it finally dawned on me what was going on. The light blur had a tell-tale greenish tone, which I had seen before in the works of other photographers who shoot night sky pictures. This wasn’t light pollution from Winona at all… I was seeing the Northern Lights!

Now I was suddenly on a different quest, because the Northern Lights are not frequently seen this far south, and when they do appear, the don’t last long. So I snapped as many images as I could before they disappeared, which they did after less than 30 minutes. Among my best images was this one, with some of the stones of Kinstone silhoutted:

kinstone northern lights
Kinstone Northern Lights

Once the aurora dissipated, I went back to my original lightchasing quest, to gather images for my star trail photo. The result of that is shown below:

kinstone startrail
Kinstone Startrail

And so it goes. When you chase light, you have to be prepared to be either frustrated or exhilarated by the experience.

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