Northern Lights In Maine – May 2024

On May 11, 2024, the night skies erupted in a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis otherwise known as the Northern Lights seen from all over the US.

Are you a Portrait Photographer or a Landscape Photographer?

I’ll be honest with you – I’m a die-hard portrait photographer through and through. Capturing the essence of human subjects is my passion, and I’ve never really considered myself a landscape photographer. It’s just not my forte, and I have immense respect for those who truly excel in that realm. However, this past weekend’s view of the Northern Lights was simply too breathtaking not to share.

The Northern Lights Make a Rare Appearance

Late last week, whispers of the Northern Lights being visible in Maine began circulating. Now, as someone who’s heard these rumors countless times before without success, I initially dismissed them. Little did I know, I was about to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event.

On Friday night, around 9:30 PM, my phone started buzzing with texts from excited friends: “Go outside and look up!” “Hope you’re seeing this!” and “Dude, you’d better be getting pictures!” Begrudgingly, I dragged myself out of bed, threw on a hoodie and slippers, grabbed my camera and tripod, and mumbled under my breath, “This better be good.”

Holy shit.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. 
a colorful sky with trees and a house and the northern lights

Pictures of the Northern Lights in Maine

Let me preface this by saying that, yes, I do edit my photos. I adjust lighting, colors, saturation, and so on to help you see the world through my eyes. However, with these images of the Northern Lights, very little adjustment was necessary. Once I dialed in my settings, I simply looked for interesting angles and compositions. The skies were constantly changing, so I kept shooting.

To prove just how spectacular the display was, here’s a 10-second exposure from my iPhone 14 Pro:

a colorful sky with trees

The fact is, these were some of the brightest, most vibrant skies I’ve ever seen. And all I had to do was stand outside in pajamas and Crocs. Scientists said it was a K8-K9 on the index which is super rare.

According to AuroraZone.com,

“The Kp-Index – derived from the German “Planetarische Kennziffer meaning “Planetary Index” – is a measure of geomagnetic activity in the Earth’s atmosphere. Geomagnetic activity is the origin of the  href=”https://www.theaurorazone.com/about-the-aurora/the-science-of-the-northern-lights/how-do-the-northern-lights-appear”>Aurora Borealis

The Kp-Index does just that by utilising a scale from 0 to 9 where 9 represents a hugely significant geomagnetic storm. However, such storms are very rare indeed (approx. 1 every 3 years) and historical records point to Kp1, Kp2 and, to a lesser extent Kp3, being far and away the most frequent levels.”

Being the quintessential portrait artist, I meticulously went through all the images I captured, coaxing out the personality of the sky, just as I do with my human subjects. A shadow here, a highlight there – I even managed to recover beautiful colors from some horribly underexposed shots through the miracles of digital processing.

I stayed outside for about two hours, circling my house and trying to capture the widest variety of shots possible while remaining on my property. It was an absolute blast! I even started using a small flashlight to do some light painting and expose more of my surroundings.

For the non-photographers out there, when shooting in extremely low light conditions and pushing your camera to its limits, digital noise can creep into the image, creating an undesirable grainy appearance. You can see some of that grain in the iPhone photo. Part of my editing process involves reducing that noise as much as possible without affecting the rest of the image. I found that using software called Topaz Denoise AI helped me reduce or even eliminate the majority of the noise, leaving much more pleasing images.

The True Gift: Witnessing Nature's Majesty

After the fact, many people expressed disappointment with the photos they had captured of the Northern Lights. To them, I had to explain that they had missed the point entirely! Our solar system gifted us with the opportunity to witness the majestic power of the Universe with our own eyes. While having stunning photos like these is undoubtedly cool, it is my job as a photographer to capture such moments well. The truly important part was to enjoy the show, share it with friends if they happened to be nearby, and soak in the moment.

So, if you were in a portion of the US where you couldn’t see the Northern Lights, take a moment and imagine what it was like here in Western Maine – a breathtaking celestial display that left me, a portrait photographer, in awe of the wonders of the world around me.

How I Captured Photos of the Northern Lights in Maine

For those interested in the technical details, here’s how I captured these images of the Northern Lights:

Gear:

Tripod: Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with an Arca Swiss ballhead
Camera: Fujifilm H2S (APS-C sensor)
Lens: Venus Optics Laowa 9mm F/2.8 Zero Distortion manual focus lens

Settings:

Exposure: Generally started at 30 seconds (for those shots with star trails), but mainly between 3-10 seconds to avoid star trails
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 3200-5000

Post-Processing:

Adobe Lightroom for basic adjustments
Topaz Denoise AI for noise reduction

Remember, the most crucial element is simply being present and appreciating nature’s wonders. So the next time the Northern Lights come around, don’t forget to look up, just in case!

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Generator Ep. 015 – Carey Sheffield: The Power of Self Portraits

In this episode, Maine photographer Matt Stagliano speaks with Carey Sheffield.

Carey is a Florida based photographer who doesn’t just take pictures—she weaves stories of connection and emotion.. She dives deep into the soul of the craft, staying emotionally engaged with each image, each moment, as if they were threads in a beautiful tapestry of human experience.

She uses the lens to look inward as much as outward, and let me tell you, that journey of self-discovery? It’s a powerful one. It’s raw and it is real. It’s not just about capturing her own image; it’s about peeling back the layers, and having a conversation with herself that’s as intimate as it is revealing.

So today, we’re not just talking about photography. We’re diving into a story of connection, emotion, and the kind of self-awareness that comes from truly seeing—not just with the eyes, but with the heart.

For more of Carey’s work, please visit her website at https://careysheffield.com/ or on Instagram at @careysheffield

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