Photographer Justin Anderson shot a trio of gorgeous celestial elements together. During the total lunar eclipse, he was able to capture the Blood Moon, aurora, and the Milky Way galaxy together in one stunning panorama.
Although Anderson was only five years old when he first started using a camera, he soon discovered a love for wide-ranging landscapes and the beauty in the sky. His original subjects were storms rolling through the prairies near his home in Southern Manitoba, Canada, but in 2019 he captured a huge geomagnetic storm and found himself hooked on the night sky.
” I discovered how useful Facebook groups can be to someone unfamiliar with this phenomenon when I began getting involved. I found people would constantly ask me if I went to Iceland or Alaska for my photos, meanwhile they were taken 10 minutes outside of my hometown,” Anderson tells PetaPixel.
People wanted me to notify them privately when I was out. So, with Ryan Lucenkiw as my partner we created Manitoba Aurora & Astronomy HTML3. We are a community filled with like-minded individuals, with one goal in mind: Making the night sky more accessible for Manitobans!”
Over the last few years, the aurora community in Manitoba has grown to more than 40,000 members, and Anderson chases the aurora full time. Anderson is also an ambassador for a NASA-funded project called Aurorasaurus, which helps to study the aurora.
Luck Favors the Prepared
One week before the lunar eclipse, Anderson says he was speaking to members of his community about his desire to shoot the aurora during totality. Anderson says that he wanted to capture both the aurora and eclipse simultaneously, but realized this wasn’t possible.
“When I was planning a location I only ventured 15 minutes from my house,” he says. I planned to photograph the crescent moon from a small town grain elevator. “I didn’t think of a northern view, as the chance of aurora was very low
On the night of the eclipse Anderson reached his vantage point northwest from the elevator to set up his cameras.
“My Canon 6D Mark II was shooting with a Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5. 6 lens, then my Canon 6D was shooting with a Samyang 85mm f/1. 4 lens. I simply let them shoot a timelapse while I sat back and enjoyed the show,” he explains.
“While I was watching the eclipse I looked to the north, where the sun was still setting and I could see some faint dancing on the horizon. It was aurora low above the horizon, which I recognized immediately as a full-time chaser.
“I grabbed my Sony Alpha 7S II and Samyang 24mm f/1. 4 lens and set it up facing north in hopes of catching a timelapse of the Sun setting and aurora dancing,” he explains.
“As the sky continued to get darker thanks to the Sun setting and the Moon eclipsing, the aurora started to strengthen until it was 30 to 40-degrees above the horizon. At this time I ran to my vehicle and grabbed a Canon 50mm f/1. 8 lens, the cheapest lens you can get from Canon, and put it on my Canon 6D and shot from left to right, capturing as much of the aurora as possible then panning across to the Milky Way then the eclipse,” Anderson recalls.
“When I got to the eclipse, I changed the settings so the Moon was not overexposed, giving me an HDR-like image simply for the Moon. Anderson said that while he was optimistic about being able to capture both the aurora as well as the eclipse, actually seeing it happen still amazed him. Not only that, he was able to add the vastness of the Milky Way into the photo, which revealed itself once totality was reached.
“I did not anticipate capturing the aurora during the eclipse, it was more of a happy coincidence,” he says. The panorama was exactly what I wanted to capture when I took the photo. A photo that showed the view from my vantage point with all three elements.”
A Colorblind Aurora Photographer
In an unusual twist, Anderson recently realized that as much as he loves the aurora, he actually has never seen it the way most people do.
“In February of 2022, I learned that I am partially color blind. He explains that the green cones of my eyes detect more red than green. Therefore, green appears more gray to me.
“I can still see green, however, it is as if someone desaturated the green channel (to about -40). When I began chasing the aurora, I realized that I couldn’t see the green of the northern lights. While I can see the purples, reds, pinks, and blues, the green has always just been grey to my eye. My photos often look grayish-green to me. Other people claim that the green looks very saturated Anderson says the aurora often appears like a cloud when Anderson is out hunting it.
“Thankfully I chase the aurora full time so I have trained my eye to distinguish the aurora from a cloud, but it can still be difficult at times.”
Image credits: Photos by Justin Anderson.