Aurora Borealis, Fairbanks, Alaska 2018 Trip Report

By Eric Rock on Mar 20, 2018

Interior Alaska in winter promises snow-covered landscapes and crystal clear skies along with the chance for a display of the northern lights. This year, with snowfall in the area approaching 80 inches, there were plenty of snowy landscapes waiting to be photographed. Our trip was based in the Fairbanks area, known for its location under the most active area on Earth for the regular occurrence of aurora borealis. The aurora forecast for the week was promising.  But little did we know what lay ahead.
Our group met with great expectations in Fairbanks—the Golden Heart City—to kick off of our photographic adventure. Wanting to take advantage of the clear skies on our first night we set off just as our welcome dinner came to a close. The success of an aurora trip depends on the adaptability of a group to quickly adjust its schedule to take advantage of changing weather conditions—and our group was up to the task. A quick change into winter gear was made and a short drive took us beyond the light pollution of the city. We headed out to a local ski area which offers a commanding view of the night sky. The northern lights were already developing when we arrived and the group quickly set up and began to create images of the early night’s display. This was a great location to photograph the aurora glowing over a landscape of snow-covered spruce trees.
Photographing the northern lightsThe next morning “went to the dogs.” With the warmer weather of early March, and the approaching equinox, daylight increased over six minutes each day, allowing us the plenty of opportunities to photograph one of Alaska’s favorite pastimes—dog mushing. Our first morning out found us setting up to photograph the action at the Limited North American Championship Sled Dog Race. At the starting line, the dogs barked and tugged with excitement. This commotion provided great action shots of mushers and dogs as they started down the trail. Afterwards we received an invite from seasoned Fairbanks musher Andrea Swingley to visit with her team and have some one-on-one time with her dogs. After a question and answer session we headed further down the race trail for some photos of the mushers and teams racing through the surrounding boreal forest.
Our group left Fairbanks for a lodge farther out of town where we could photograph in a more remote and natural setting. This was a great location for shooting around the lodge, working on diverse Alaska winter images. As it happened our lodge also hosted a sled dog team. Here we could photograph the dogs and even take a sled dog ride through the surrounding forest.

Sled dog racer in Fairbanks, AlaskaAs soon as the sun set each day our attention turned to the night sky and the quest to photograph the northern lights. Three of our evenings here provided clear skies and great aurora activity. On the last of these evenings we set up along a trail in a remote location in the forest where the valley stretched out before us.  As we photographed, the night’s display developed into one of the brighter and more active auroras observed in recent weeks. With the aurora show lasting for hours, we could move around and compose images in multiple locations along the trail, taking advantage of different foregrounds to complement the dancing and swirling patterns of the glowing lights overhead. The aurora borealis was so active it was difficult to focus on any one composition for long—a nice problem to have!
For a photo tour leader little is as rewarding as knowing every participant has captured good images on the trip. For the group the highlight was the wonderful display of nature’s awe-inspiring northern lights. With the four nights of aurora activity, this was a short but very successful week in the field. The addition of photographing snowy landscapes, furry sled dogs, and crystal ice carvings at the World Ice Art Championships enhanced a great week of shooting with an enthusiastic group that was more than up for this northern adventure. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip!  

Related Tags:  alaska, aurora, borealis, fairbanks, lights, northern

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