Home of the Northern Lights

By Jan Curtis

These images are intended for non-commercial, educational uses and are
copyrighted (2000 Jan Curtis).


Multiple Bands

Multiple Colors

Broad Curtain

During December 2000 and January 2001, aurora activity was mostly weak, however when it became visible, there was an opportunity to be creative. The images below were taken using longer than usual exposures and longer focal length lens.

  • rising arc...Top image taken 27 Dec 00 and bottom image taken 28 Dec 00 using Royal Gold 400 @f/2.0 for 25 secs. Note the slight difference in color between the two.

  • bands...left image using 35mm lens, right image using 85 mm lens, both @f/2.0 for 30 secs taken 20 Jan 01.
  • bands...left image using 35mm lens, @f/2.0 for 30 secs (note all the stars) and the right image for 20 secs (note the Big Dipper).


    While the end of November was very cloudy, it was also filled with several days of aurora sub-storming. On 24 November, just after 9PM, the results of an M-Class solar flare resulted in some moderately bright curtains and rays. Then on 27 November, one of a series of X-Class flares, 10 times stronger than M-Class, struck, resulting in a variety of auroral forms. Used Kodak Royal Gold 400, 35 mm lens. Example of print verses negative scan can be seen in the two last images below.

  • bands...around 9PM & 9:05PM on 24 Nov. over my house (SE), 18 sec @ f/2.0
  • intensifying band & rays...around 9:15PM looking North, 15 sec @ f/2.0
  • bands & rays...around 9:20PM & 9:25PM (NE), 12 sec @ f/2.0

  • faint black aurora...around 9:00PM on 27 Nov overhead, 25 sec @ f/2.0
  • faint stationary curtain...around 9:05PM & 9:15PM on looking NNW, 20 sec @f/2.0
  • shock wave arrives!...around 9:20PM & 9:25PM, 12 Sec @ f/2.0
  • shock wave arrives!...This is direct negative scan. Note difference from previous image (MUCH MORE DETAIL)!!


    Using Royal Gold 400, I continued photographing the aurora storm from 12 hours earlier on 6 November, A.S.T..

  • Rayed Curtain...between 7 to 7:30 PM
  • Rayed Curtain & Partial Corona...looking NW & overhead
  • Rayed Curtain...looking NE
  • Rayed Curtain...9PM and 9:02PM

  • Black Aurora...22 November between 5AM and 5:05AM
  • Black Aurora...dark lanes against diffused background glow


    Between cloudy nights and bright moonlight, this fall has proven to be a slow season for aurora watching up here in Central Alaska. However, with patience, luck eventually turns good. As seen in these images, nice rays, curtains, and a very rare pre-dawn red aurora took center stage.

  • Nearly Rayless Curtain...04 October 2000 around 9:30PM (near Big Dipper)
  • Rayed Curtain...around 10:00PM
  • Overhead Spiral... 10:10PM
  • Rayed Band Under Full Moon...13 October 2000 around 11:30PM
  • Rayed Band Under Full Moon...around 11:33PM
  • Ray filled Curtain...05 November 2000 around 9:30PM (note high clouds)
  • Partial Corona...06 November 2000 around 6:17AM (I missed a full corona by 1 minute)
  • Great Red Aurora...around 6:20AM (purple color is reflected sunlight)
  • Great Red Aurora... 6:22AM (within 30 secs of each other). Right image color corrected from negative.
  • around 6:25AM (within 30 secs of each other): Purple Glow, Rainbow Rays color corrected from negative.
  • Great Red Aurora...6:33AM (looking south). 300 miles south...by Dennis Anderson

    All pictures taken on Kodak PJ800, 35 mm lens, f/2.0 @ 10 secs, except 15 secs for red aurora.


    This set of images illustrates how pairing identical settings is the best way to show how dynamic the aurora can be over just a few minutes. Additionally, clouds and aurora often provide interesting opportunities to show contrast and depth to one's photos.

  • Band Through Clouds...24 September 2000 between 11:30PM and Midnight
  • Band Brightens Dramatically
  • Rays & Curtains...3 October, 2000 between 11:00PM and Midnight
  • Curtain with Nice Folds
  • Moderate Rays in Bands


    As we see aurora activity intensify over the next two years, successfully photographing the northern lights actually becomes more difficult. When brighter aurora occur, they are usually characteristically fast moving and rapidly change shapes. Film exposures become more problematic. With shorter exposures, contrast between the brightest to faintest portions of the aurora becomes greater. The brighter wins out at the expense of the more subtle details.

    Below are two examples of difficult aurora: (1) during Major Auroral Sub-Storms and (2) during twilight .

    All exposures are 2 to 6 secs at f/2.0 using 35mm lens and Kodak's PJ-800 negative (print film). Adjacent images are also taken just 10 secs apart. The storm on 10 September lasted 13 minutes and was not forecasted to occur. My dogs woke me just in time to see this event!!!

  • Very Bright Curtain...3:20AM, 10 September 2000
  • Very Bright Curtain...3:21AM
  • Very Bright Arc...3:22AM ---> Brightest portion was casting shadows (appeared as bright as a full moon)
  • Very Bright Arc...3:23AM

  • Band and Rays in Twilight...8 April 2000


    The end of the 1999-2000 aurora season for central Alaska was spectacular! On 6 April, the largest aurora storm to hit the earth since March 1989 was witnesses thoughout Europe, South Africa (very rare), and in the lower-48, as far south as Georgia. While the storm ended within an hour after arriving in Alaska, I was successful in capturing a full, multi-colored corona and bands. All exposures are 10 secs at f/2.0 using 35mm lens and Kodak's PJ-800 negative (print film). Most adjacent images are also taken just 10 secs apart. Times are approximate.

  • Red Bands in Twilight...10:28PM
  • Partial Corona in Twilight...10:29PM
  • Corona...10:32PM
  • Corona...10:33PM & 10:35
  • Corona...10:36PM
  • Corona...10:37PM
  • Corona...10:38PM
  • Multi-Colored Bands...10:50PM
  • Converging rays...10:55PM
  • Corona...11:15PM
  • Corona...11:16PM
  • Corona...11:18PM

    The very last display of the season I photographed occurred between 10:30PM and midnight on 7 April. A very unusual multi-band formation, large overhead arc (curtain), and standing rays (very difficult to photograph because they usually move quickly), were recorded.

  • 5 to 6 parallel bands... 10:50PM, color corrected
  • multi-bands... 10:55PM
  • large "OMEGA" arc... 11:55PM. James Travis 60 miles to the east recorded this event at the same time. Note the difference in perspective.
  • banded rays... 12:00AM (8th)


    On 1-2 April, 2000, while activity was occurring in twilight, the aurora was a striking green color against a midnight blue sky. Film: Kodak PJ-800, f/2, 35 mm lens.

  • Green Arc...at 9:35PM. Left image color corrected from negative. (NASA's APOD...19 May, 2000)
  • Band in Twilight...8 secs at 9:40PM
  • Power Lines...8 secs at 9:45PM
  • Rapid Flare-Up...10 secs at 12:32AM (Left taken 10 secs after Right image)
  • Contrast...10 secs at 12:33AM and 12:34AM (Top taken 1 minute before Bottom image), bottom image color corrected.
  • Red over Green...10 secs at 12:34AM (Left taken 10 secs after Right image)
  • Red over Green...10 secs at 12:34AM


    I am often asked if my pictures are representative of what the eye sees. In many of my photos, I attempt to capture the aurora as closely as I can to reality but the nature of film cannot reproduce what the more sensitive eye can discern. I do see reds but the film "sees" it better. Below are some select images taken on 29 February and 6 March, 2000 using Kodak's Royal Gold 400 print film.

  • Pair of shots taken on 29 Feb at 11 PM at Chena Hot Springs. The top image is 25 seconds at f/2 and the bottom is 10 seconds. The smoke in the valley is the steam from the hots springs being lit by the resort's lights.

  • Curtains as seen edgewise and as broadside. Taken a few seconds apart, exposure was 8 seconds at f/2.0. 6 March at 9:05 PM local time from Fairbanks. Left image color corrected from negative.

  • Swirl. Taken a few seconds apart, exposure was 10 seconds at f/2.0. 6 March at 9:10 PM local time.
  • Curtain on edge. Taken a few seconds apart, exposure was 7 seconds at f/1.4. 6 March at 9:15 PM local time.
  • Curtain Expands


    On 23-24 February, 2000, using Fuji's 800 NHGII print film, 35 mm lens at f/2.0 (exposure between 5-12 seconds), I captured an two unusual aurora storms. The first on the 23rd contained nice reds (which is rare at these high latitudes), and on the 24th, a beautiful multi-rayed band and sweeping curtain. I have included higher resolution scanned images for those with faster (wider bandwidths) internet connections.

  • Red over Green
  • Curtain with foreground lit
  • Curtain without foreground lit...higher resolution
  • Salmon pink glow
  • Narrow curtain
  • Multiple banded ray...higher resolution
    taken 4 minutes later developing drape
    taken 1 minute later...Sweeping drape


    On 6-7 February, 2000, I was invited by a tour company as a guest lecturer at Chena Hot Springs Resort, some 70 miles east of Fairbanks. As luck would have it, after a hopelessly cloudy day, the skies cleared as nightfall gave way to a wonderful aurora display. Using Fuji's 800 NHGII print film, 35 mm lens at f/1.4 to f/2.0 (exposure: 10-12 seconds), I captured some interesting aurora formations.

    Near the time of new moon, these two images were taken about 10 minutes apart, the left at F/2, the right at f/1.4 (12 secs each); Note the contrast. Because of commercial processing, an averaging of the print is performed. The f/1.4 shot should reveal more stars but the brighter resulting aurora was toned down at the expense of the star images. The image on the left was more closely what the eye perceived while the right image shows this moderate intense aurora as being brighter than it was; higher resolution.

    The next pair of images shows the effect of artifical foreground lighting verses a more natural setting. Both were taken at F/2 for 12 seconds about 30 minutes apart; higher resolution.

    Just after midnight (local time), an aurora substorm lasting about 25 minutes was visible across the entire sky. As the display intensified (Higher resolution) the snow took on a green appearance. Some red can be seen on the top of the rays; higher resolution.

    At the height of the display, looking east and (west), the aurora definitely dominated the sky. While landscape orientated photos capture the expanse of the aurora, I personally like the portrait orientiation which highlights the vertical height of the northern lights (higher resolution).

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    Since 16 August 1999

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    Last updated: 1 August, 2001