There are some things you probably wish you could photograph or is in your photo bucket list but for many reasons may be out of reach. It could be a place in a far away land that is just too expensive to get to. It could be a place that is physically just too difficult to reach to like the rim of a volcano. Or it could also be more than a place but something that happens only at a specific time and specific place such as the Aurora Borealis. More commonly known as the Northern Lights, or Southern Lights if you’re in the southern hemisphere, this is a photographic subjects that has always been in my bucket list which I have always wanted to see and photograph. Sure there’s a good chance you can see them if you live in the far North or South but for most of us who live out of reach of them they remain a subject that is just not easy to see.
Where I live in Colorado there have been very few times that you could see them and I have always been tantalized by the prospect of being able to catch them in my home State during a big solar flare. So when I got an email alert on Tuesday January 7th that a huge sunspot had produced and X1 class eruption toward earth I knew my chance had come. This was the first chance I had in 19 years of living in Colorado of seeing them with my own eyes. Was I excited? You betcha. Pretty soon the news had alerted everyone in Colorado that the chance to see the Norther Lights was coming in two days.
Thursday came and a group of photo buddies and I started to figure out where we could go to see and photograph the elusive light display. We started to think of a myriad of places in true mountains away from the city that would be dark and provide us with some interesting subjects to photograph with the lights. Well, after a lot of back and forth we narrowed down a place then I remembered one thing that was a major factor, the weather. Yes the stars had aligned to bring me my long awaited view of the Northern Lights but the weather was also a factor in getting a view of this rare spectacle.
The forecast in Colorado was snow in the mountains for much of the west side of the state and cloudy through most the east part of the state. We were out of luck. Despite the major setback I was determined to get a chance, any chance, no matter how slim to see the Northern Lights. After checking weather reports for many parts of the state I noticed the north eastern area outside of Denver was forecasted to have partly cloud skies. For me that was a window of opportunity that seemed brighter than it looked. I soon found a State Park in the area and I notified my photo buddies I was going to try it despite the slim chance of seeing them. They agreed it was worth the try and we planned our departure and prepared for a cold night out in the darkness.
When we arrived to Jackson Reservoir State Park we looked up and saw clouds. A lot of clouds. It was not encouraging but the half moon and an occasional star would start to peek through the clouds then disappear again. We had dove over an hour to a remote spot in the landscape and had no chance at seeing the lights. What does one do when you end up in a disappointing photographic situation? The group of photo buddies I was with are not discouraged but make use of the trip despite the cloudy skies. So we followed the old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”. We started taking long exposures and even doing a little light painting. The clouds made some interesting sky texture for our landscape and the glow of the moon was another element we could use in a photograph. Although, they were not the glowing colored waves we had hoped for, we made some photographs anyways.
In the end, we had planned a location, traveled a long way, and still ended up with some photographs. We also took away some more important things from that night. We built some friendships and camaraderie and went on a photo adventure together, which for some of us is the best part of getting together with friends to take pictures. We had fun. We tried new techniques but more importably, we got out and took some photographs which for me, is part of the fun of being a photographer. If the opportunity arises again to see the Northern Lights and there is a slim chance of seeing them you can be rest assured I will be out there in a heart beat with my photo buddies to take in another photo adventure because the enjoyment of photography for me is more than sharing photographs but also sharing the memories with others too.