Backpacker Photo School: Man-Made Aurora Borealis?

What if all you needed to make your own Northern Lights was a dark night and a big light? Would you do it? Of course you would.
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What if all you needed to make your own Northern Lights was a dark night and a big light? Would you do it? Of course you would.

Minnesota photographer and frequent BACKPACKER contributor Layne Kennedy is an expert on shooting the Boundary Waters and other parts of the North Country. He's shot canoeing stories and dogsledding stories for our readers' viewing pleasure, and he's just discovered an exciting photographic trick after a night out playing under the stars: "I learned how to create artificial geomagnetic storms!"



Layne was in the middle of teaching a Fall Equinox Photography Workshop when he took his students out for some night exploration. After a more traditional light painting lesson, they headed to a lake to catch some reflections of stars. Then they put the star photography and spotlights together to create patterns in the sky. The result was an artificial photograph that looks astonishingly like a real aurora borealis.

Kennedy has no plans to fool scientists anytime soon. "It didn't take long for the discovery to turn to reality. We can't use these images. They are not real and we would never pass them off as real. But, for those 15-20 minutes, seeing what light can do was magical. It sets in motion a whole new way of seeing. Its one more item in our visual tool bag to utilize when the right time comes along. A new light discovery for sure."

Read all about the evening, see more photos, and get a glimpse of Layne's glowing personality (ha) in his own telling of the evening's events.

If you're interested in learning from Layne, you're in luck. He's about to be in New York next week at the Mentor Series and will be on their trek to Vietnam in early 2011. For aspiring Great Lakes shooters or visitors, he's also scheduled for a January Dog Sledding Photo Workshop with Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, MN. He'll host other seasonal workshops throughout the year at the North House Folk School.

Any opportunity to work with a photographer of Kennedy's esteem is an opportunity you won't want to miss. And while he can't promise an aurora sighting, maybe you'll learn how to make your own.

If you missed out on BACKPACKER's lightpainting lesson, read it here.



–Genny Fullerton

Images used with permission. © Layne Kennedy 2010