Expert Voices

Aurora at Moonlight

aurora borealis, northern lights
The aurora borealis in the skies above Maine. (Image credit: Image copyright Mike Taylor - Taylor Photography)

Mike Taylor is an accomplished landscape astrophotographer who offers night photography and post-processing workshops. Taylor contributed this article to's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

On the morning of Feb. 19, the spikes of the Northern Lights were quite strong when I first headed out to see what I could capture close to my home in central Maine. The cloud cover quickly moved out, but then came back after about a half hour — I almost missed the show!

This scene was captured in the beginning of that 30-minute window. I was not expecting the pink and red hues to be so strong since I couldn't see them with my naked eye, but the camera certainly captured the colors. [How Cameras Reveal the Northern Lights' True Colors (Op-Ed)]

This was one of my test shots to check my camera settings and composition. The moon was very bright behind me as I was photographing — only five days since being at its full phase — and washed out a lot of the sky and the aurora , but made for some nice foreground lighting. The snow cover on the ground was over a foot thick and it took me a few minutes to get to a spot a couple hundred feet away where I liked the composition better than this scene, and by the time I continued shooting, the aurora display had calmed down quite a bit.

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Thus this "test shot" was really my best capture of the show. I'm usually on top of aurora forecasts, but this one caught me a bit by surprise and I was fortunate to start photographing within five minutes of leaving my house.

During processing in the digital darkroom, I increased the color saturation and contrast a bit while actually bringing down the highlights to bring out the details in the sky as much as possible.

I photographed this image using a full frame Nikon D600 paired with the phenomenal 14-24mm aspherical wide angle lens @ 14mm using an aperture of f/2.8 with a shutter speed of 20 secs, an ISO setting of 800 and with my white balance set to a temperature of Kelvin 3570 on February 19, 2014 at 2:56 AM.

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Taylor Photography