On May 10-11, 2024, a spectacular Aurora Borealis display occurred due to the first G5 geomagnetic storm since 2003. This rare event pushed the aurora south, with sightings reported as far as California, Florida, and Mexico. I eagerly tracked forecasts and drove from Regina to capture the event, despite potential cloud cover. The night was filled with stunning auroral displays, a rare red aurora visible to the naked eye, and even a bright meteor, making it an unforgettable photography experience I hope to share with you.

First, what exactly is the Aurora Borealis? The aurora, commonly known as the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in the northern hemisphere and the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) in the southern hemisphere, is a natural light display predominantly seen in high-latitude regions around the Arctic and Antarctic. This phenomenon occurs when charged particles from the sun, carried by the solar wind, interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.
When these charged particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, such as oxygen and nitrogen, they excite the gas molecules, causing them to emit light. The specific colours of the aurora—typically greens, pinks, reds, purples, and blues—depend on the type of gas and the altitude of the collisions. Green is the most common colour produced by oxygen molecules about 60 miles above the Earth. Red auroras are less common and occur at higher altitudes in Earth’s atmosphere. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red auroras.
If you’re interested in learning how to photograph the Aurora Borealis, I wrote an ultimate guide to Night Photography that you can find by clicking the button below. The only aurora-specific recommendation I would make on top of that basic information is that your shutter speed should generally match how bright the aurora is. If it’s fast-moving and bright, speeding up your shutter speed from say 15 seconds to closer to 5 seconds would be appropriate. If it’s on the horizon and fairly dim, keep your shutter speed a little longer to maximize the amount of light hitting your sensor.
A photograph of the Aurora Borealis corona. Shaped like a bird


The Aurora Borealis display on May 10-11, 2024 was remarkable. It was the first G5 geomagnetic storm since October 2003, and the second strongest in recorded history, behind only 1960. NASA first detected the beginnings of a solar storm on May 7, when two solar flares were observed. A stunning seven went off in the following four days, all aiming coronal mass ejections—clouds of charged particles—in the direction of Earth. They travelled at different speeds and arrived simultaneously. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections are relatively frequent, but to have such a culmination of events impact Earth’s atmosphere is extremely rare. G5 conditions push the aurora oval southwards towards latitudes nearer to the equator. During this display, Aurora Borealis sightings reports came from California, Florida, and as far south as Mexico.

Anticipation for this event had been building for several days, and I had been religiously monitoring forecasts, trying to predict where I could go to maximize the potential of that night. The night of, it appeared a stratus deck might impact a few areas in Saskatchewan (including this one), but there were inconsistencies in the models. I decided to drive the hour and a half to this location anyway because I knew the potential to go home with multiple photographs in one memorable night was high. I knew I was in for a treat as I drove away from Regina’s lights, and I enjoyed views of Aurora lighting up the sky from the driver’s seat.

Once I arrived, I hiked to my first spot and set up my first composition facing northeast as darkness hit and I waited. While Aurora was beautiful as I drove, by the time I set up my first composition, it was far from what I had been anticipating. The main aurora oval was just a faint band on the southern horizon, and activity at our latitude had died down significantly. Geomagnetic storms ebb and flow, so I knew I needed to wait it out and hope the clouds stayed away while I did. Thirty minutes later, the landscape suddenly began to light up. The moon had long since set, and I was in a Class 1 dark sky; the only explanation could be that the aurora was picking up. But I couldn’t see anything to explain the phenomenon in the sky around me. The sky to the west was blocked by the trees I had my back to, so I got out into the open and couldn’t believe what I saw. The sky was blood red to the naked eye. I’ve photographed Aurora Borealis dozens of times in my photography life and have never had the privilege of seeing reds to the naked eye, let alone that vibrant. I ran as fast as I could to where my second camera was timelapsing the empty northern sky and composed this tree facing south to capture the Northern Lights eruption.

A night photograph of a geomagnetic storm over a lone tree in Saskatchewan. Aurora Borealis in vibrant red and greens

As I was setting that up, my main camera was still timelapsing my northeast composition when one of the brightest, longest-lasting meteors I’ve witnessed streaked right through that part of the sky. I was dumbstruck and bolted back to my main body, praying fervently that I had captured that moment. Cancelling my timelapse, I quickly reviewed the images and let out an audible shriek of delight when this image appeared on the LCD screen.

A night photograph including aurora borealis and a bright meteor in Saskatchewan

I didn’t know how this night could get any better. It was only 1 AM, and I had already photographed a couple of the best night photographs I will ever take. There was one tree in this area that I’d photographed before and I wondered if I could get a unique composition of it, looking up toward the aurora corona. I packed up both of my cameras and got down to the bottom of the ravine where this tree was. By the time I arrived, aurora had died down in the south sky a little bit, so the composition where the tree takes its most dramatic shape wasn’t quite there. I set up the main camera to timelapse the ongoing corona while I explored for another spot to set up my second body.

A photograph of the Aurora Borealis corona. Shaped like a butterfly

There’s a little creek that runs through the center of the ravine. The tree I liked most was on one side alone, with others scattered on the other side. In my hurry to leave the house, I had forgotten my boots. After trying a couple of different things, I decided I needed to risk the wet feet by trying to find a path across in the dark. Thankfully, I found some high ground where I was able to cross. Thirty seconds later, I was wishing for wet feet. I glanced down at my pants and saw I must have walked through a large wood tick family as I went through the brush. Disgusted, I flicked as many off as I could but kept finding them crawling along well into the morning hours. I didn’t feel like going much further through the scrubby brush at the bottom of the ravine so I set up on these three trees and got a long timelapse started.

A night photograph of a geomagnetic storm over three trees in Saskatchewan. Aurora Borealis in vibrant red and greens

I picked up another couple dozen ticks on the way back to my main camera while the aurora display was doing its best to distract me from my predicament. I arrived back at the lone tree to find that aurora was beginning to take shape again in the southern sky. I cancelled my timelapse of the corona and set up another photograph I knew I would be happy with if the aurora cooperated. I waited for nearly thirty minutes on this composition, but eventually, the southern sky filled with pillars that included all the different colours of the Northern Lights.

Aurora Borealis behind a large tree in Saskatchewan featuring all the different colours of the northern lights: blue, green, yellow, red, and purple

By now, the pre-dawn twilight glow had begun to invade the northeast sky. So I decided that after 5 hours of shooting, it was time to make the trip back home with a smile on my face, full camera cards, host to five additional wood ticks I would pull off during the drive, and the memory of a night where nature proclaimed the majesty of it’s Creator.

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