View Full Version : has anyone captured the Northern Lights in B&W?

Liquid Artist
26-Jan-2014, 01:05
I will be working on the Northern Canadian iceroads for 2 months or so starting next week.
While up there I am hoping on capturing the Northern Lights, preferably on B&W 4x5. (Delta 100 film Linhof Tech iii probably Schneider 135mm or 210mm) If it's even possible.

So I am hoping that anyone who has tried can give me some pointers, even if it's just what not to do.

Adding to the challenge, I am not allowed to stop on the ice, so long exposures are out of the question. It will most certainly be hand held, Plus I won't be able to climatize my camera so I may have to shoot through a snow covered window while driving a fully loaded Super -B fuel truck.

So if you have any tips please help me out, and thanks in advance.

26-Jan-2014, 01:19
In my experience in the south digital is the way to go, but see no reason not to try B&W film. Maybe Acros or TMY would be a better film choice. Have you seen Michael Massaia's night work from NY, I think most of it is on TMX in pyro. The main problem however is the strangely inactive sun.

26-Jan-2014, 09:24
I'll be honest I don't think you can get anything shooting through the window of a moving vehicle.

Using 400 speed film I typically shoot 15-30 second exposures with the lens wide open at F3.5 and develop normally. I usually use Provia 400X although I have shot some B&W using Ilford Delta 400 when I needed to finish a roll that was in the camera. Sorry I didn't scan those frames but they look good.

If you are shooting ISO 100 film and a lens that is probably F5.6 you'd be out of luck even on a tripod unless you push it like crazy. 30 seconds is really the upper limit for exposures, ideally 10-20 seconds is better to keep things from getting too smeary.

With digital I used to shoot ISO 100 to keep noise down and it still gave shorter exposures than film. If you brought a digital camera and shot at crazy high ISO you might have a chance to get something recognizable.

26-Jan-2014, 09:53
4x5 from a moving vehicle? Really?
B+w northern lights? Sound like shooting the sunset in b+w, it just doesn't seem right.

Liquid Artist
26-Jan-2014, 10:20
Thank you for the responses so far.
I will be bringing my digital, however it's a Sigma SD14. So it's almost as limited as LF.
I will be bringing along my minox, with a fair amount of different film's, which will most likely give me the best results this year
However I still want to try my Linhof if at all possible. One issue I am having is I just got hired on the last day possible so everything is rushed. Plus it takes a minimum of 1 week to get any film ordered to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. If I order it to Yellowknife, NWT it should be there in time for the season next year.

I do have a bulk roll of 35mm Kodak Tri-X 320, plus a modified film holder for panoramics I will bring along.
If I have the time I may modify a couple more film holders for the trip.

We apparently have a couple of stops along the way. I am hoping that I'll have a decent chance to set up at one of these stops, if security will even let me.
I am not counting on any permission this year, since no one there knows me, and the stops are usually mines.

This is my first time working on the ice roads (on my bucket list for the last 30 years or so) so all that I know is it's nothing like the TV show IRT, and that I want to at least try capturing some photos out there.
My girlfriend has never seen the lights, so I would really love to capture it on at least 1 photo for her.

Liquid Artist
26-Jan-2014, 10:27
4x5 from a moving vehicle? Really?
B+w northern lights? Sound like shooting the sunset in b+w, it just doesn't seem right.

I agree with you Vinny, but I still want to try. I also want to try capturing a rainbow on B&W, even though I can't picture it working.
If it doesn't work out I'm only out some time and a couple of sheets of film. If it does turn out I may have something special.

Larry Gebhardt
26-Jan-2014, 15:18
Try desaturating a color picture you have (or find on the web) to see if it's something you will want to bother doing.

Kirk Gittings
26-Jan-2014, 16:46
rainbow...William Clift 109267

Leszek Vogt
26-Jan-2014, 17:25
Whether you do b&w or color you'll be doing long exposure....well, unless you have ASA 250,000 film:rolleyes: The last 'lights I did in AK, it required 15sec and F2.2 - 2.5 aperture on a digital and the ISO 640. Some 'lights are more intensive or you get too much light (that you don't need) from the nearby city/village, whatever. Perhaps you could get little creative and have a longer bathroom break enroute, eh ? Right now and for over a month, you should get more intensive colors than just the standard greenish....and color film would capture that better (hands down). If possible, you could use a beanbag on a bench and without the need for a tripod...tho trigger release (locking) is a must. It shouldn't take more than 3-4 min to squeeze out couple of exposures. From my experience, they usually occur from 10PM-1AM, but could last longer. By the way, your truck or any vehicle will vibrate, so you'll get blurry shots every time. Good luck.


Liquid Artist
26-Jan-2014, 22:06
rainbow...William Clift 109267
In my opinion that is a stunning photo. Thanks Kirk,

Thanks Leszek,
I did find a box of Ektachrome (dated 1982) which I plan on shooting. I don't know how it was stored, so I'm not expecting anything to really turn out.
As long as I don't have any real problems up there I will be back next year and should be prepared (with 8x10 too)

At this time color film is again impossible to get in time here.

Steven Tribe
27-Jan-2014, 02:15
As someone who can see the Aurora Borealis a few nights a year, I would like to mention that 90% of the optical experience is related to colour and fine movement of the curtain effect. What you will get on long exposures and black and white is a light misty effect which has nothing to do with AB.

Liquid Artist
27-Jan-2014, 06:30
Thanks Steve,
Although I've seen it several times this will be the first time I will be this far North.

It looks like I'll be leaving Edmonton on Thursday, and if everything goes right it will take me 2 days of driving to reach Yellowknife.
Unless something goes terribly wrong I should have wifi every 2nd night or so, and will try posting any interesting digital photos I happen to get (on the image sharing section ... possibly the odd one here to discuss technique) if I have the energy.
We will be driving 16 hours or so a day, just over 400km so I know I'll be exhausted most days.

If it's anyone's dream to work on the ice roads it's something you should really try before getting married, and having children. Since I'm engaged it's my last real chance as a single man. If I like it I'll try talking my companion into letting me go next year, but it's ultimately her decision and if she says no I will respect it. I think there's a saying Happy Wife, Happy Life. Which most truck drivers seem to forget about.

28-Jan-2014, 04:46
While i haven't tried, i would think it would be like taking a picture of a rainbow in black and white.
Although wouldn't mind seeing some high quality results. The luminosity could produce some interesting effects.

Liquid Artist
28-Jan-2014, 06:31
I talked to one of my coworkers last night, and he told me there's 1 camp I may have some time at. So with a little luck they're out when I am there.

I just realized that several big diesel tractor units idling on the ice close by may shake the ground pretty good. Plus the tripod legs may sink and possibly freeze into the ice.
So I am going to bring along some sort of rubber mat, hoping it absorbs some of the vibration. Plus leave both it and my tripod in the box under the bunk. Right besides my linhof. I am greatful LF doesn't require batteries, it's nice having only less thing to worry about.

29-Jan-2014, 09:25
4x5 from a moving vehicle? Really?
B+w northern lights? Sound like shooting the sunset in b+w, it just doesn't seem right.

Which makes it a worthy challenge. Frankly, I don't know how the OP could accomplish this in very low light using LF without long exposures, and moving to boot, but the process of figuring it out, or catching them in better light seems a worthwhile goal. Sunsets, rainbows, and moonbows have all been captured in B/W, but just as any interpretation of color into monochrome hue, it takes some artistry to do it well.

Liquid Artist
30-Jan-2014, 06:27
Today is the start of the trip. They figure the ice road should be open tomorrow, and my first trip is booked in for Feb1st.

While I do have an idea or 2 I am still open to suggestions.
I don't know how much internet access I'll have but I'll try posting anything that seems to work uf at all possible.
-20 degrees C in Edmonton (home) now, which is almost as cold as Yellowknife. However we're going 400km further north than that and will see some really cold temperatures. I am suddenly wondering why I always wanted to do this, but really looking forward to getting started at the same time.

31-Jan-2014, 00:50
I'm scanning a few things so I pulled that strip to scan for you guys. These frames were shot pulled over on the road so I could finish the roll of Delta 400 and load my camera with Provia 400X so they are nothing special but it answers the question of what they look like on B&W film. Rough scans and no processing done at all, including no dust spotting or noise reduction.

They were taken on a Pentax 645N with 35mm F3.5 lens, shot wide open, with exposures between 10 and 26 seconds. Ilford Delta 400 processed normally, I think I was still using ID-11 at the time.

16-Feb-2014, 22:37
I don't know where you're going to be trucking, but you'll probably have chain up areas and wrapper checks and wide roads that aren't ice to stop on. And trucking in the dark will make seeing any oncoming traffic easier. Not to mention you'll all be using your VHF radios? I don't think you'll have a problem. But I've trucked northern Alberta in the oil patch for 10 years and found my biggest problem was not getting the opportunities to stop and take photos, but actually taking those opportunities to stop and take photos. ;)

And don't worry about your equipment. I've taken 30 - 40 year old camera out into -35C weather without problems. Just take your time, and keep warm. ;)