I have lived in Minnesota for almost 15 years and have always wanted to see the Northern Lights. I would hear people talking about their experience and it annoyed me that I had not seen them yet. So I decided to get serious about seeing the Northern Lights. Even after getting serious, I still went out about ten times in the middle of the night, usually in the cold without seeing them. I finally got to see them. It was worth the wait! Here is what I have learned about seeing the Northern Lights and some photos that I took.
How to know if there are Northern Lights
There are several tools on the internet that help you to know if there is a possibility of seeing the northern lights. My favorite website is aurora service that not only has the current levels of northern lights but also has a tab that you can click that gives you a three day forecast. A second way to find out if there are going to be Northern Lights is to like a couple of facebook pages. I check Aurora Borealis Notification and Aurora Alerts. I also have downloaded an IOS App called Aurora Forecast. Lastly and most imporantly, check twitter. While the forecasts are helpful, it still does not mean that you are going to get to see Northern Lights. However, other people seeing it in your area does. I use the hashtag #northernlights and #aurora to see where people are reporting sightings. I even might ask are people seeing #northernlights in Minnesota? People usually answer pretty quickly. Once you think they might be out, the next step is to find a good spot.
Choosing a Good Spot.
Unless it is an amazing active show, most likely you are going to need to find a very dark place to see the Northern Lights. You also want to look north and find a place where there are no trees. I made the mistake in the past of just getting in the car and driving, hoping that I would find a good spot or see it from the road. After many many times trying this out, I failed so I needed a new plan. Our cabin is in Duluth Minnesota so I googled “where to see the northern lights by Duluth Minnesota.” An answer came up as Island Lake Reservoir which is about 20 minutes north of Duluth. I knew from past experience that I needed a spot to wait it out so I google “Island Lake public access” which gave me boat launches and beaches on Island Lake. I then found the north facing public access on the list and had found my spot. My experience of failing by just driving around and succeding by making a plan has taught me that I need to know where I am going before I go looking for Northern Lights.
Unless it is an incredibly active show, you need a good camera setup to be able to photograph the Northern Lights. I have a Nikon D7000 dslr camera and I used wide angle lens. I also used a tripod. The setting of my camera varied as I tried to get the best photos but it was always using a remote for the camera so that my finger did not move the camera and at least 15 seconds on the shutter speed. I went for more seconds but found that more that 25 seconds was way too much. Enjoy my photos, it was an amazing experience and I hope that now that I have good plan, it will not be my last.