Carpe Diem

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


My aurora experience was a little atypical. Family commitments kept me from traveling anywhere interesting, and they didn’t show from my backyard by about 10:30, so I went to bed. Apparently the aurora was waiting for that, because others told me it went bonkers between 11:00 and midnight. I woke up to find pretty much everyone else in the world with any kind of camera had crazy good pictures from the show that I missed.

Fortunately pundits were predicting that the show Saturday night was going to be amazing too, so I reached out to @James_Lorentson to see if he had any interest in running up to Trout Lake. Apparently he too was one of the four people in the Northwest that had missed the show, and was eager to give it a whirl.

I thought we’d probably have the place to ourselves, but when we arrived at Trout Lake just as the sun was about to set we found the parking lot full. I should point out that it only holds three cars, but it’s a moot point because as the night progressed we found ourselves with about forty new friends. (Fortunately when we arrived a local told us we should probably set up our tripods right away, so we were able to get lakeside spots.)

Blue hour was well under way when we began to see hints of the aurora. I’d never seen it before and didn’t know what to expect. James and I both began to take some test shots just to see how things were developing from the camera’s point of view. I was amazed that the noticeable, but faint, color in the sky really popped from the camera. The color grew over the next seven, or so, minutes, and then faded away again to just a trace. James and I settled in for the amazing show that was predicted later that night.

It’s good we took those initial photographs, because it never happened. Looking at updates on James’ phone, it was very strong, but north of us. The prediction of how likely it was to show for us kept falling and falling, so a little before one in the morning we bagged it. We had brought gear to spend the night, but decided we’d just head home. (James was driving, bless his soul.)

In the end, I was very thankful we had those brief moments. I can now say I’ve seen the Northern Lights! I would love to have experienced more, but that will have to wait until next time.

By the way, James is a working on his YouTube channel again and has a couple of excellent videos he recently added. (The most recent is on tripod heads, which I’m pretty sure is a desperate attempt to help me keep from drowning my camera a third time. At Trout Lake he kept nervously eyeing my rig, which was over the edge of the lake. His cameras were too, but of course he cares enough about them to get a secure head and mount. He even casually mentioned he had brought desiccant, just in case, …for me.)

Specific Feedback

The camera read this scene as quite colorful, and I’ve run with that. Too much? (The challenge in deciding levels is that the camera saw way more than my eye did, so it’s a judgement call.)

I wanted the stars to be visible at this resolution (full-size they show better), so I used noise reduction and the difference layer mode to make a mask that selected them, and then brightened them some. How do they look?

Technical Details

NIKKOR Z 20mm f/1.8 S
2.5 sec. at f/6.3 and ISO 64

I blended in an earlier blue hour image for extra detail in the land portion, but because there were still dregs of daylight the original is a close second and it was probably overkill.

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This is gorgeous, and so well executed!! Good you started shooting when you did. The backdrop gradient in the sky is lovely, as is the composition and the reflection. You brought out the stars very nicely. The colors look clean and believable, as does the land.

I am one of the four people in the San Francisco Bay Area who didn’t see (and photograph) it. I was alert to the possibility and in and out from dark until 1 am tending to an astro shoot (couldn’t do the final composition until the object got above trees to the NE) but apparently wasn’t out enough. There was a dim reddish glow in the sky with no detail and I didn’t shoot it but I should shoot myself because maybe the camera would have seen some detail. (And I KNEW that.) And the next night, not even a hint of glow.

Hi John,
wow, that looks great. I’m happy for you that you made the most of your second attempt.

Because I had the same experience as you, I also didn’t go out on the first evening when the Northern Lights forecast was extreme. But I was also too lazy on the second evening. :see_no_evil:

I don’t think it’s too colorful. It is normal that the human eye cannot perceive the colors in the sky well. Your camera did a good job.

I also like the way you treated the stars.

But in my opinion, the land is a little too bright (this is of course a matter of personal preference). I hope you don’t mind that I downloaded your picture to play around with it.

I just darkened the mountain and the land slightly. I also tried to even out the brightness (the left side was quite bright, the right side dark).

But these are just details. Your picture is great the way it is.


Thanks @Diane_Miller and @Jens_Ober !

@Jens_Ober, the brightness of the left side and the mountain are consistent with the original image (not that that’s to be desired) because of residual light from the end of day. (The land was much darker then what I posted.) Thanks for your suggestions; I’ll play with them!

I think @Jens_Ober has a good idea here – his version looks more realistic.

In night photography we’re dealing with what the camera can capture and there is no value in trying to temper it with how we saw it. For brightening and bringing out color in the aurora, I don’t have any problem is pushing things until you start to get artifacts in colors. But we still need to create an image that is pleasing to view. Garish is definitely too far, so it’s a judgment call.


John, you did well on Sat. night with a fine set of colors from the aurora and tons of stars. The star reflections are quite striking and fun because of the distortion due to wave action. I do feel like the green/yellow portions of the sky and the mountain are too bright for a night shot. The reflections in the lake are a special addition to the scene.