Busy Weekend with the sky…

Hello, I have been a bit delinquent with updating my blog lately. Sorry!  I have be shooting like a madman and this side of my photography has taken the hit.

Now the good stuff…

The weekend of September 9/10, 2011 was a fantastic weekend for viewing and photographing the Aurora Borealis.  I started imaging around 8:30pm!!!  The sun had just set and the show began.  I started near Bruderheim, Alberta and migrated north and then east to Andrew/Wellington areas.  Below are a few of the events that took place during this outing.

At this point I have to introduce a fellow photographer that I have been shooting aurora with lately.  His name is Olivier Du Tre. He is a fantastic photographer who’s base location is Cochrane, Alberta.  His website http://www.olivierdutre.com.  He has some truly magnificent images on his website and I encourage you to visit it!  Like myself, he has become, dare I say, addicted to capturing the Aurora Borealis.  We have been communicating via email regarding the last few aurora events that have happened in our area.  We are located about 300km apart from each other so we see very similar things in the sky.  Oddly enough we have only communicated through email so far, but we seem to have developed a great rapport with each other.  He was also out shooting this same event Friday night.  Emails began flying back and forth and the following adventure unfolded.

This is one of my first sequences of the night.  It was around 8:46pm.

Oli emailed me and asked me if I could see anything as he was still at home.  GO MAN GO  was my response while I was operating one of my cameras.

Shortly after this a very large John Deer combine entered the field with the old house on it.  This field had been previously cut and had a few farming implements right next to the access point to the highway.  The driver of the combine drove over to the area with all the implements and began disconnecting a piece equipment off the front of the combine that needed to be removed in order to be properly transported to the next field.  Well… I was standing by my truck with my headlamp on, so the driver could see me, as I was already parked in HIS field.  After about 5 minutes of working on his equipment, he got back into the cab and drove his combine right towards me.  Eight very bright spotlights on a vehicle the size of a house, which is being driven by a complete stranger coming right at me, was a very unnerving experience!  He stopped 5 feet from the front of my truck with the ladder to the cab right in front of me.  The driver motioned me to come up the ladder.  As I climbed halfway up the ladder, I was thinking “I hope this goes ok”.  He asked me “What are you up to tonight?”.  I told him that I was a photographer and then asked if I could have his permission to photograph the old house in his field.  He smiled and said “No problem, but you have to give me hand first.  I need you to guide me while I backup.” “No Problem”, I responded over the loud sound of the engine.  Keep in mind, at this point I was standing on the ladder about 6 feet off the ground, which is right in front of a tractor wheel that is about 8 feet high.  “Great” he replies, and immediately starts backing up, with me still on the ladder!!!  I am watching this huge wheel spinning around about a foot from my feet thinking I better hang on real good here.  He backs up to about two feet from this trailer and I shout “GOOD”.  He climbs out of the cab and says “Come here, I need to hook this trailer up and I need your help.”  As we walk to back of the combine, I noted the sheer size of this machine.  It was very impressive.  The driver disappears under the back of the combine and started messing around with a the tongue of the trailer.  He tried to lift it onto the hitch but couldn’t quite get it to the right location.  So I climb under and try to help him.  After 3 or 4 tries it’s a NO GO.  So he removes this 1/2 inch pin from the trailer tongue and extends the tongue about an inch and we try it again.  This time it goes. SUCCESS!  He then turns to me and shouts over the engine, “Here!” and hands me the pin.  “I am going to backup about an inch, when I do, put the pin back in the tongue on the trailer.”  He then disappears around the corner of the combine.  An Inch!  This thing is the size of a house, “Ya right!” goes though my head.

OK, just to recap here… I am now under the back of a vehicle which is the size of a house.  It’s being driven by a complete stranger. I’m in the middle of a field, in the darkness of the night with a 1/2 inch trailer pin in my hand.  I’m thinking there is NO way I am going to stay under here!  So I quickly retreat from under the combine to get clear of anything that could kill me!

The engine revs up a bit and the combine moves back and then stops!  I thinking there is no way he got this right on the first try. I quickly climb back under the combine, looking for a fast exit point just in case this thing starts moving again, and insert the pin into the hole. It drops right though to the other side. PERFECT! I climb out from under the back and walk to the front.  I give the driver a “thumbs up”.  He waves at me and drives away.  What a rush!   The loud noise of the combine mellows as it drives away from me on the highway…

OK, back to shooting!  I then took a few more sequences in this field and the hit the road to find a new location.

Ten minutes of driving and I found this place.  I set up and started to take a few images and the sky went crazy!

This was an absolute visual feast for the eyes!  It didn`t last very long but WOW, was it ever bright!  Just then I get an email from Oli, “DID YOU SEE THAT?” with a few very expressive words that I have left out.

I took a lot of images in this location before the activity began to slow down.

On the move again…then more fun and games!

Now I have to give you a bit of history between Oli and I.  The last major aurora event happened when I was visiting the West coast on Pender Island, BC. Oli and I corresponded though a few emails earlier in the day regarding the data indicating a potential show that night.  We both headed out after sunset.  He went to one of his locations and I went to a location I scouted out earlier in the day.  It was down a little cliff onto a small rocky beach.  Unfortunately, I was not able to photograph much aurora because of my southerly location and the enormous amount of light pollution from Vancouver!  While I was trying my best, Oli was sending me all these emails freaking out about the activity he was photographing.  Grrrr!  While reading one of his emails I noticed a small boat on the ocean, about 500 to 600 yards away from me.  Well, it was an RCMP rescue boat doing a routine patrol around the island.  Before I knew it, the boat turned toward me and made a direct beeline at me.  Intense, blinding spotlights were coming at me and lighting up the shoreline.  It all worked out ok after showing the RCMP my website via an iPad.  I’m pretty sure Oli got a good laugh out the email that followed after this episode.

I have been driving around the county side in the middle of the night for years and have never come across any form of police/security etc.  On this September night while sending messages to Oli, guess what… an RCMP set up a road block in the middle of nowhere!  I mean, I am on a gravel road, 40km from any town, and bam!  RCMP flagging me down!  Two cars, two officers.  They approached my truck and asked me what I was doing there!  I explained that I am a photographer taking pictures of the aurora borealis. “Please get out of the vehicle!” is what came next.  I complied, then they asked me to open the rear hatch of my truck. I did.  Flashlights probed the back of my vehicle and stopped on my LowePro camera bag. “Please open that bag!” said one of the officers.  “Sure”, I say.  I wish I had a camera in my hands. The RCMPs jaw just dropped open when I opened the bag and he saw all the gear I had in it.  I grabbed one of cameras that I just used back at the farm and showed them a few images.  At that point the tone of the whole situation changed to a relaxed situation.  They then informed me that there was a party in the area and they were looking for drunk drivers.  I wished them a safe night and drove off into the darkness.  For the record, I am totally blaming my association with Oli for this encounter!  This is two interactions with the RCMP, and the only times this has happened is when Oli happens to be out shooting at the same time as me!

To make me feel a little better Oli had sent me an email indicating I was not the only one having issues unrelated to photography.  Apparently he was being chased down a range road by a pack of Coyotes!

At this point, I headed toward a small lake and setup for another session.  This is what I was shooting.

Shortly after this, Oli got surrounded by three packs of Coyotes and I didn’t hear back from him that night.

Just kidding.  I did however manage to step right into a cow pie!  GREAT!  It was a stinky drive home from that point.

The aurora was subsiding and it was close to 3:00am and I had a good, one and a half hour drive, to get home.  So that was it!

Hope you enjoyed this adventure,  I know I did!


Guadalupe - Thank you so much for sharing your adventures and awesome pictures and videos. please don’t stop.

Sharon - I loved reading about your adventure so much I didn’t get a chance to check out the videos yet, but I will do that this afternoon. Awesome stuff and of course it could only happen to you!!

Olivier Du Tré - Dude you crack me up!

Zoltan - Thanks Austin!

Austin - Your new Aurora photo/videos are unreal!! 🙂

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