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Spring of 2023 had a few of the most memorable aurora storms in recent memory. Aurora Borealis can be fickle to forecast and photograph, but when it can be done successfully, you’re left with some of the best memories you can have. During this night, there were several different substorms that hit the night sky. Each of them brings a powerful aurora surge into the sky overhead called “Corona”.
So, what is corona in the aurora borealis world? Imagine you’re out photographing Aurora. You’ve painstakingly composed your photograph of the grand landscape in the dark. Your exposure is set, you’re in focus, and you’ve been photographing your foreground with aurora dancing in the background for a while now. Everything is going according to plan. All of a sudden, you see the arc shifting, intensifying, and moving upward toward the center of the night sky, straight overhead.
You fumble wildly with your tripod to reposition, instantly forgetting the photograph you’ve been working on for hours. You aim straight up, your knees drop to the cold ground, and you contort your body so you can look through the viewfinder to center the apex of the corona in the shot. The aurora gathers overhead, waiting for you to be ready.
In the dark, you frantically fumble with the tension knobs on your tripod, loosening the wrong one. Crack. Your three-and-a-half pounds of camera gear drop onto your forehead. Thankfully it’s minus 20 outside, and you’re numb to the pain. Fumbling further, your frustrations mount as Lady Aurora decides it’s time to go on with the show. Colours and light fill the night sky, and the snowy landscape around you lights up in an eery green glow. You quickly fire a test shot, realizing halfway through your 15-second exposure that you’ve failed to adjust your settings for this much brighter and quicker aurora storm. The camera clicks, and the image review confirms your suspicions. VERY overexposed.
You dial your shutter speed back and fire again, dropping to your knees as you hear the exposure end. Perfect. Except that only half the corona is in view. Panicked, you loosen your tripod head again, reposition, and fire away. An explosion of aurora fills the sky all around you, all emanating directly above you. You can’t believe the pain in your neck from looking up, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. After reviewing your test image, you realize that with all of the repositioning, you’ve turned your focus ring instead of your focal length ring. Cursing under your breath, you start the time-consuming process of focusing at night. There are, of course, no stars bright enough to see in your camera behind a wall of aurora, so you need to aim the camera nearer the horizon. After focusing quicker than you imagined was possible, your camera is once again pointed at the center of what is now a dying substorm. You only manage a few nicely composed, well-exposed, in-focus photos of the corona but are left with memories that will forever be etched in your memory and one idea… You need to witness that phenomenon again.
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