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‘Chasing the Lights’ Part 2: Fairbanks photographer specializes in capturing aurora

By Lauren Maxwell 9:50 PM February 24, 2016
FAIRBANKS –

Have you ever seen photos of the Northern Lights and wondered if you could take shots like that yourself? Shooting the lights can be tricky, but having someone who knows the ropes can help. Someone like Fairbanks photographer Sean Kurdziolek, who’s made the lights his business.

“A lot of people call it ‘chasing,’” Kurdziolek said. “And there’s really nothing wrong with calling it chasing. But I prefer to call it hunting. You don’t always have to chase it. A lot of times if you stay where you’re at, it will come to you.”

Kurdziolek became a photographer so he could learn how to shoot the aurora, but said his love of the lights came first. Now he does outdoor portrait photography under the lights and leads workshops to help others photograph the aurora successfully.

Kurdziolek said most modern cameras can photograph the lights if they have a manual setting and if the person knows how to use it. He said beginners often have trouble with focusing in the dark. He recommends stepping back about 50 feet from an illuminated object like a license plate and zooming in.

“What we are doing is focusing in to infinity, which is basically the furthest out you can shoot to,” he explained.

Other settings depend on what the lights are doing. If they are moving fast, Kurdziolek said a faster shutter speed is needed to capture detail. But if the lights are moving more slowly, a slower shutter speed is called for.

“A big part of learning how to shoot the aurora is understanding that exposure, and learning how the different settings affect your images,” Kurdziolek said.

A tripod is a must, and a remote shutter release or timer is also helpful to keep the camera as steady as possible during long exposures. Kurdziolek said people should be prepared to change the settings on their camera as the lights change during the course of the evening. Trial and error and lots of practice can lead to some beautiful shots.

To learn more about Sean Kurdziolek’s photography check out: www.seankurdz.com

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