The North comes South

Sometimes things just happen right.

We were on the west coast of Vancouver Island in a town called Tofino for a weekend with friends.
Tofino is renowned for a couple of things; it’s beauty, the weather and it’s waves. Surfers flock there year round, people roll in during summer to enjoy the beaches and explore the untouched coast and then come Fall/Autumn, visitors come in to Storm watch right through winter.  The local community is strong and tight night with the businesses all working together.  People come to be surprised by mother nature.

We had a late dinner, a couple of glasses of wine and a couple of growlers from the Tofino Brewing Company before heading to the deck to star gaze. Turning my view Northward I noticed a glow, questioned myself I hurried inside to grab the tripod and camera.  Having photographed the Northern Lights in Inuvik a couple of years back, I knew this might only last a couple of minutes so had to move quickly- we ended up getting about a 25 minute show.

This is the first image that came out of the camera at about 10:45pm.  The sky was still pretty light and there was a little wash from the moon.
After capturing this photograph I knew we weren’t going to be in for a really active show, so I didn’t have to worry too much about using shortish shutter speeds to capture dancing lights.

Tofino - Aurora Borealis
Pentax 645z : DFA 645 55mm f/2.8 :  Shot at / 1600ISO : f/4.0 : 30 seconds

Sunset had only been an hour ago (8:40pm ish) – I needed to let the sky get a little darker.

I decided to switch out lenses while I waited – I put on the 150mm f/2.8 and closed in on the below composition.
Putting the longer lens on allowed me to focus in on a tight composition that was inherently darker so I could expose more and therefor let the Northern Lights do their thing.

Aurora Borealis
Pentax 645z : FA 645 150mm f/2.8 IF:  Shot at / 3200ISO : f/4.0 : 30 seconds

Things were starting to sing now and I reached for my favourite Pentax lens (I have used this alot on my Canon set up for years) – the FA 645 35mm f/3.5 AL IF.

I had a couple of things in my mind:  The hills to the east had a lovely sweeping movement to them and this was in juxtaposition to the straight lines of the clouds developing to the North, and there was just enough light to provide a hint of texture below the dark hills.  Cropping down from the cameras native 4:3 ratio to a panoramic one: probably 2:1 or 10:4 would balance this all out nicely.


Tofino - Aurora Borealis
Pentax 645z : FA 645 35mm f/3.5 AL IF :  Shot at / 3200ISO : f/4.0 : 30 seconds

Tofino confirmed itself to me (again) as a wonderful place to visit, and that it never ceases to surprise.


Technically, there’s a number of things you need to do to capture the northern lights, or photograph stars.

Some basic pointers for photographing stars or the Northern Lights for those that haven’t before

  • A sturdy and stable tripod is an absolutely necessity as your exposures are definitely going to be longer than a second.
  • Use a cable release or if you don’t have one, use a self timer on the camera.
  • If your camera allows the use of mirror lock up use this (this means the mirror lifts before a delay to the shutter opening reducing the risk of other vibrations) .
  • Use a lens that is ‘fast’ and shoot it close to wide open, so you can let as much light in in the shortest period of time.
    This is even more imperative when photographing really active Aurora Borealis as it they can move very quickly.

If you have any questions about these shots, please send me an email through the contact page