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Auroral Inferno

Auroral Inferno, Prospect Lake Territorial Park, Northwest Territories, Canada

Auroral Inferno, Prospect Lake Territorial Park, Northwest Territories, Canada

In September 2013 I flew to Yellowknife, in Canada's Northwest Territories, to satisfy a long-standing urge to see and photograph the aurora. I knew the sky in Yellowknife was frequently overcast at that time of year, but I didn't anticipate just how consistently cloudy the weather could be. After one perfect night, during which I shot Electric Aurora, Big Dipper Aurora, and Auroral Arch, I was skunked for six nights in a row. Each night I went out and waited. Sometimes I stood by the tripod, hoping for a break in the clouds. Sometimes, when the sky was solidly overcast and any kind of break was at least half an hour away, I cat-napped in the front seat of my rental car with a timer set for 30 minutes. I would wait for hours, usually until three or four in the morning, before driving back to my hotel and crashing.

The weather forecast for my last night in Yellowknife called for still more clouds. I resigned myself to the notion that one night of great photography was all that I would get for $3,000 and eleven sleepless nights. Under cloudy skies, I hiked out to a favorite location along the nature trail in Prelude Territorial Park. At sunset, to my surprise, the sky was partly cloudy. I waited. Slowly the sky grew darker. The clouds dissipated further. An hour after sunset, the skies cleared completely, but only the faintest of auroras appeared. I waited. Two hours after sunset, the aurora began to brighten, and I started shooting. For the first time on my trip, my photos revealed a red fringe along the upper edge of the green auroral curtain. The display grew more and more spectacular, and I shot until 2 a.m., when I had to leave to have enough time to hike out, drive to Yellowknife, pack, and head to the airport.

By the time I got to the airport, the sky was completely overcast once again. The plane took off and climbed up into the clouds. Yellowknife vanished as if it had never existed. It was like leaving Never-Never Land. For just a minute the plane was immersed in a gray void. Then the plane burst through the upper edge of the cloud bank, revealing a glorious sunrise. Although I had been awake for nearly 24 hours straight, I pulled out my laptop and eagerly began examining the images I'd captured a few hours earlier. Once again I felt immensely privileged to be a landscape photographer.

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