What can I say about this awesome night. Less than 5 weeks after seeing my first total Solar Eclipse I saw the Northern Lights for the first time in my life just 2 hours from NYC!

Let’s start with earlier in the week. Wednesday May 8th, I drove up to Saratoga Springs, NY for work. I was helping out a conference. Early mornings, with some fun late evenings. By the time the conference was done at 12pm on Friday I was sitting down having some lunch, and I was talking to some people about the possibility of northern lights later that night. I said I might be driving home in a few minutes to drive back up this way!

Why would I do that you ask? Since the sun has been approaching solar maximum over the last year or so, there are more updates my certain outlets stating that New York State could see some Northern lights. I generally check spaceweather.com for all of my aurora alerts, and the 10% chance line never hits the top of NY, let alone anything close to the Catskills. It is one of those things where you need to wait and see and hope you are close enough to see them or capture some images of the aurora.

So, Friday afternoon I take the 3 hour drive home from the conference, unpack, and grab an hour nap. I am exhausted. I wake up my girlfriend comes over, we have dinner at home and I am sitting at the computer watching the alerts coming in and watching the KP Index slowly rise. My biggest problem that night, clouds and rain, EVERYWHERE! Everywhere within a 2 hour driving distance. A fellow photographer that I know on FB suggested that I drive out to Rochester, it looked clear out there. However, that is a 5 hour drive one way! After already driving 3 hours and physically exhausted from the week. I did not have a 10 hour drive in me.

I knew where I wanted to go, the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills, in upstate NY. I knew being this far south on the globe, I need to have a clear view of the norther horizon. This far south on the globe they are generally going to be shooting upward from the horizon. That location also gives me a nice perfect photo. I have the water, the mountains, in the background and then the northern lights after that. That was the plan, but I needed clear skies.

The weather app told me I would partly cloudy skies between 2 am – 3 am. I was thinking to myself this might be the best shot that I have. While I am doing all of this looking, our friend Veronica calls and asks what are you doing for the northern lights? I was planning on taking this trip alone, 99% of the time I am usually alone for trips like this. Next think you know our friend from the Bx drives up to my place and we all jump in my car at 9:30 pm for the 2 hour drive up to the Catskills. This meant we would get there for 11:30 pm and potentially sit and wait for 3 hours for some clearing in hopes to see the northern lights. Something none of us have ever seen.

Well an hour into our drive up the NY Thruway, I am driving, paying attention to the road, and to the west I see the beautiful crescent moon getting ready to set. However, it looks like I can see some stars, so the sky was clear, but I also saw a hint of pink in the black sky. This was about 10:30 pm, I asked Alyssa to take a pic of the sky, her and Veronica have their phones hanging out of the window of my car while I am driving, taking 3 second exposures and they are capturing images of the northern lights. I could not believe it! We are seeing them above our heads, and I did see a few people pulled over on the side of the road on the thruway taking photos. I chose to be smart and not stop on the side of the highway. I also thought, I have another hour to go north and the lights should be brighter and better!

The last hour of the drive, we see mostly clear skies, we see stars, and the pink hue that we saw earlier was disappearing. We arrive at the reservoir, and there have to be at least 100 people up there. I have been up there a few times to take photos, and have never seen more than 3 people, maybe 5. To see this many people up there all looking for the same thing was amazing. We get out of the car I can no longer see the colors in the sky with the naked eye that we were able to see an hour earlier driving up.

I grab my camera bag, tripod, and run over to a location to setup and start taking pics. First pic was amazing, greens and reds right there over the mountains just like I imagined. However, you really could not see it with the naked eye. The greens looked like a muted gray, but the long exposure of the camera and the cell phones were capturing everything we could not see. We sat there, well I sat there for two hours capturing images of the northern lights. The women, as expected started getting cold and went back to my car to warm up.

After I decided to call it a night, I heard a familiar voice. Dan, my friend who I met on instagram a while ago. An amazing photographer who chases the moon almost every single night around NYC. Also great shots of lightening hitting the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center. He showed up earlier in the evening and captured the amazing display of light that happened over head at 10:30 pm. I was a little jealous, lol. I took too long to make a decision. Depsite that I still managed to capture my first ever images of the northern lights right here in NY State.

We then took the 2 hour trip back to my place. I looked at photos on the big screen for an hour and finally went to sleep at 4:30 am. 7 hours of driving, covering 400 miles, but I saw the northern lights. The sun is still incredibly active and there is a slight chance we can see them again. I do have to say, the storm that caused us to see the aurora was one of the strongest storms in the last 500 years (recorded history). These lights were seen as far south as Florida and Puerto Rico.

I love sharing my adventures, especially for a trip like this. Some days there is just so much more than just the drive and photo. Sometimes there is a story that leads. up to it and some days its just hop in the car and go!

Till the next photo,

Steve

Captured This

Photography by Steve Schaum