Answering the Door - Seeing the Northern Lights

Answering the Door

This column was given birth in the Fall/Winter 2013/2014 issue.

Thank you for your letters--, emails, and phone calls. Your beautiful words and prayers touch me deeply.

Article by Helen Longest-Saccone, Editor-in-Chief

Photography by Marty Saccone, Editor

Seeing the Northern Lights

by Marty Saccone

It caught my attention on the radio early this past September that intensive solar flare activity was occurring on the sun at that time. Reports were that the radiational energy field emitted from these solar storm activities could possibly cause disruptions on earth to various radio communication systems as it neared and interacted with the earth’s magnetic field. I was somewhat familiar with this phenomenon from similar occurrences that have occurred in the past.

However, what really caught my attention was the information that followed.


Aurora borealis (the northern lights), Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, Maine, by Marty Saccone. Nikon D800E, Nikkor 24mm F2.8 lens, f/4 at 20 seconds, matrix metering mode, manual exposure mode, ISO equivalent 1100, Manfrotto tripod.


There was a very high likelihood for sighting the Northern Lights and seeing aurora activity. The northern hemisphere would provide excellent vantage points, particularly at locations that have low levels of light pollution. My own backyard in east Maine provides remote, dark, and spacious skies for viewing the Northern Lights. It was a perfect photo opportunity to try something new, and I was psyched.

Conditions were forecasted to be best on the evening of September 12th.

I did a little research, noting sky conditions, moon phase, and time of moonrise.

Predictions were for clear skies but with a near full moon rising at 8:13 p.m. Hum, “bad news” I thought, full moon, too much visible light to see anything. I was up for giving it a try anyway, figuring I could do a bit of astro photography or moonscape images if nothing materialized.

Arriving early that night, I occupied myself with shooting some dusk images until darkness set in. A high tree line obscured the direction of the oncoming moonrise. The stars were like jewels on a black velvet backdrop, beautiful. I saw no hint of the Northern Lights or aurora though.

It was now about 8:45 p.m. and I could see a faint glow of the moon rising below the high tree line to the east. The sky and stars remained bright but with no hint of aurora to be seen. I decided to stay for awhile anyway, figuring it was worth the opportunity to potentially see the Northern Lights.

While I waited, the very bright Big Dipper constellation was directly behind me and to the north, just above the trees begging to be photographed. Nothing much was happening so I turned my tripod and camera toward the Big Dipper and casually took a 20-second exposure at f/5.6 on my 24mm lens at an ISO of 1100.

When the exposure completed and the image appeared on the camera LCD screen, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. The Big Dipper and surrounding stars were suspended in a bright red aurora plasma sky. I took another image and achieved the same result.

I quickly moved to another position, turning the camera a bit more easterly and took another 20-second exposure. This time I was gifted with a green and red aurora sky hanging above silhouetted trees.

I couldn’t believe it; my naked eye saw nothing yet the camera was seeing this wonderful variation of the aurora’s colors.

I tried a 30-second exposure of the aurora; it was a bit brighter but the colors were beginning to fade and within minutes almost nothing was visible. It was now 8:59 p.m. and there was no further aurora activity that evening.

In essence my camera captured images of the aurora that evening, but I did not see the Northern Lights or aurora activity with my own eyes.

Now when I venture out and wonder if the Northern Lights are present, I take several quick images, facing north, east, south, and west and then delete them, satisfied that “Seeing the Northern Lights” is not as it implies.




by Helen Longest-Saccone


Just as exposure revealed the aurora borealis to Marty so too does exposure to love reveal the light of God.

God’s love is exhibited daily and we do not need a camera’s exposure to see His love. Just look at a Mother embracing her child or a grandfather walking down a lane holding the hands of his grandchildren. Witness an act of kindness for a stranger in a store or a person with their dog or cat. What about a woman with her horse or someone making a contribution to a food bank for the needy—are these acts of love? Yes. And acts of love are God working through us, and we do not have to see God to see love.

Jesus said in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

This is a tough commandment for me to follow, to love everyone without judgment—those who are near and far, those who I agree with, and those who live differently. But if God loves me just as I am, why can’t I love everyone just as they are? Why would I choose the negative emotions of hate, judgment, or fear over love, peace, and faith? If Marty headed out in faith to photograph a possible aurora borealis, why can’t I approach each day with faith that I will love everyone—that I will have a day filled with God. I may not be able to see Him with my human eyes but His love and blessings are ever present in my life.

God’s gifts are abundant. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” It sometimes takes me more than the time of a 20-second exposure to recognize God’s gifts, but when I stop and truly look I see all He gives me. And His greatest of gifts is His love.

In recent months God’s gifts have been so numerous and so generous that I have been overwhelmed with gratitude. Jesus is always correct—when I ask it is given, when I seek I find, when I knock God showers me with abundance in so many different ways. For all He gives I feel blessed and thankful. Believing has given me a life I never dreamed of before.

I now approach life with faith—I give all my thanks, troubles and joys to God. As a result He gives me great gifts, including peace.

Nature Photographer Magazine
PO Box 220
Lubec, ME 04652
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