GALAXIES Vol. IV – Deep-sky of the Arctic

Deep-sky timelapse is a fairly new branch of filmmaking and sub-field of astrophotography. It combines medium format or deeper-field astrophotography and time-lapse. Most astro-timelapse feature wide angle shots of the milky way but my aim is to push the boundaries to show the night sky in a very innovative way.

For this fourth episode of my Galaxies series exclusively dedicated to astrolapse, I wanted to focus on very technical and difficult scenes. I also wanted to include a feature that has been my subject to shoot over the past 6 years: the Aurora Borealis. Shooting deep-sky within the arctic circle is very challenging but not because of any light pollution. You can find very dark skies but believe it or not the aurora can be your worse enemy. The sequence at 1:05 in the short film can tell you exactly why. To correctly expose a deep-sky image at night, you need a fairly long shutter (generally above 15 seconds) and a tracker as well. You also need a wide aperture and high ISOs. The background sky has a very stable light but the aurora is quite the opposite. It can change from very faint to over 10 times brighter in a few seconds. Needless to say that when it does it completely over shines the deep-field and washes everything away. The challenge here is to wait until the aurora is passed or simply await for a night with very low auroral activity. Since we are at solar minimum these nights were actually numerous in theory but now you also need good terrestrial weather conditions (no clouds or low humidity). I was also confronted with some effects from light pollution reflecting awfully on the snow and also airglow that kind of jams the view. 

Nevertheless I was blessed with some very good nights of shooting throughout the 2018-2019 aurora season. I based my short film on the beautiful island of Senja in arctic Norway. The high mountains there enabled me to get fairly narrow angle and still got some mountain foregrounds. Polaris being almost at zenith, the whole night sky takes longer to set and all the deep-sky objects slide longly on the horizon line, allowing nice foregrounds. In this movie I especially wanted to feature a number of objects seen through weak aurora like Orion and its nebulae, the Swan region and its nebulae, the Andromeda galaxy, the Big Dipper… I also got some very rare shots of Comet Wirtanen, one at 50mm in the aurora setting over the fjords and the other at 135mm sandwiched between the Hyades (Aldebaran shining yellow) and the Pleiades shining blue. I also wanted some close-ups of the Orion nebula.

The goal once again was to use the best techniques in astrophotography and time-lapse to exploit each frame to its maximum without compromising the quality. From planning, to traveling to remote locations, to shooting with some of the best astro-gear, and eventually finding a novel post-processing workflow, I was able to get some astounding and never-seen-before sequences. The use of an astro-modified camera (Canon 6D), light pollution filters (Pure night, Nachtlicht) and a star tracker (Vixen Polarie) enabled me to capture the H-alpha emission nebula better and generally get better contrast and light altogether (See the two previous episodes for explanation). To create motion I also used the Vixen Polarie.

Cameras: Sony a7s, Canon 6D Baader modded
Lenses: Sigma 14mm f1.8, Sigma 20mm f1.4, Sigma 50mm f1.4, Samyang 85mm f1.4, Samyang 135mm f2
Post-process: Adobe Lightroom, Timelapse+ plug-in for Lr, Ps CS6, TDLF, Sequence, FCPX

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