Alaska: Northern Lights Take 2

My second night in Alaska was absolutely magical as we watched the Northern Lights dance above the rooftops and then took a drive up on to Ester Dome to get a bigger view of the sky.  It was quite a snowy road up, up, up the mountain but when we got to the top...the view was amazing!  

Just look at them dance!!!

What I'd like to share with you about this second night is more about post processing your shots rather than your camera settings (which I covered in depth in my blog, Alaska: The Northern Lights Take 1)  I'll share those here, too, just so you know what they were, but I'll also show you some SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) shots compared to the post processed version.  (I was shooting in Aperture Priority mode, just so you know)

I want you to know that you don't have to have a fancy processing program...I have been using an online program that I have been very happy with called PicMonkey.  I do pay the minimal fee for all the fun options available and do have plans to work with Photoshop Lightroom eventually, but for now, this has been a very easy to use program with great results.  Let's get to those lights!!! 

SOOC -- ISO 1250, f3.5, 2 sec.

Post Processed

In the shots above the difference is minimal but the sky is a deeper more vibrant blue and the green is brighter.  When post-processing there is SOOO much room for expression!  You can choose to really over-process and make the photo look very very different from the actual shot or you can choose to be more subtle and bring out the highlights and accentuate the shot your camera captured.  I have done both, depending on the shot and here I chose to try to stay as true to the night as I could.  

In my post-processing I adjusted the curves to brighten the highlights and boosted the colors slightly.  I also deepened the shadows just  a little.  You'll see more contrast in the shots that follow...let's keep going.

SOOC: ISO 1250, f3.5, 1.6 sec.

Post Processed

In the shots above you can see that the tree is brighter, the blue is more vibrant and the green is more dynamic.  Again, not a huge adjustment but one that I think enhances the shot.

SOOC: ISO 1250, f3.5, 1.3 sec.

Post Processed (also cropped)

Now, in the shots below I want you to notice the snow.  The SOOC shot, although my camera is set to Auto White Balance the snow is not very white.  When I adjusted the temperature of the shot to get that snow white in post processing, notice the change of colors in the sky!  The golden glow on the snow was probably caused by the street lights and the moon.  You can use a grey card to adjust your white balance to your setting...wishing I had done that.  Note to self for the next time, right?

SOOC: ISO 1250, f3.5, 1.3 sec.

Post processed


Post Processed

The color saturation and highlights were increased in the photos below to bring out the colors more brightly yet keep the shot closer to the true event.  Amazing what just a few little tweaks will do!


Post Processed

Do you see the dragon here?  :)

At the top of the hill were the radio towers and they gave some perspective.  They also gave off a high pitched sound that made watching the lights from there more 'atmosphere'!

So...those post processing tips....  As I said, I used an online program called PicMonkey.  All the edits I used you can use without a subscription :)  I used the editing tool called EXPOSURE and adjusted the shot using the Auto Adjust option, just to see what it would look like.  Usually it was waayyy overdone so I undid that action and increased the HIGHLIGHTS on my own as well as the SHADOWS just slightly and the CONTRAST ever so slightly (like only up to 2 or 3 on the CONTRAST).  I saved that edit then opened COLORS and increased the SATURATION a bit and sometimes moved the TEMPERATURE dial over to cool things off, that is to give it more of a blue tone (to get the snow white by removing the orange, warmer tone).    

And that is really all...just a few tweaks to bring out the colors and brighten the sky.  With post-processing it is an art and the artist has so much at their fingertips on just how to interpret their photo.  I chose not to over exaggerate things and just to enhance them.

 What would you do? (let me know in the comments!)

I know that this is a photo-heavy post but's the Northern Lights!  I wanted you to see not only the enhanced versions but also the variety of the shapes and colors and how they move across the sky.  A truly beautiful thing to see.  As always, thank you for following along with me and if you have questions, please feel free to let me know.  You can also share with your friends who love photography or nature ;)  Until next time....

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