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Photographing the Northern Lights – Part 2 – When to go

In the first of this four-part blog series, we looked at choosing a destination. For my next trip, I have picked Yellowknife!

Once you have decided on where to go, then you need to find the best time of the year to head up North. This is a personal choice, depending largely on your availability. However, there are three main considerations to look into: enough nighttime, chances for clear skies, and darkness of the sky.

Because you will travel to a location close to the arctic circle, summertime is not an option. Although auroras happen all year around, with 24 hours of daylight on summer solstice, auroras are not visible when the skies are bright. Avoid planning a trip 2 months before or after the summer solstice. The more night time you can get, the better chances of seeing auroras.

So it leaves you with Fall, Winter and early Spring. Check the average cloud coverage at the destination of your choice for the time that you are considering; the less chances of cloudy nights, the more chances of seeing northern lights.

How dark the skies will be also depends on the moon. Do you prefer completely dark skies? Then travel around a new moon. Do you prefer lighter skies? Then travel around a full or quarter moon. Make sure to check moon phases and rise/set time when planning your trip.

Other factors to consider are the temperature – how cold is it going to be?; the presence of snow – it makes for beautiful landscapes but lakes will be frozen and there will be no reflective surfaces…

So have you now decided Where and When to go? I have! Yellowknife, mid-March when the skies are dark…

northern light full moon bright skies

Aurora Borealis in Yellowknife. September 2014, full moon.

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