A Wonderful Mistake

San Francisco Peaks and Milky Way

Milky Way over San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff Arizona

Not long ago, I was told that there was a chance of seeing the Northern Lights over the northern horizon in Flagstaff, Arizona. I didn’t hear the news until 8:30 at night and the article said the best chance to see it was right after sunset, so I rushed over the closest spot I knew of where I could see the northern sky above the San Francisco Peaks. I was hoping I hadn’t missed it.

I’ve never seen the Aurora Borealis in person, and I thought it would be so cool to make a time lapse video of the Northern Lights the very first time I saw them. I didn’t notice anything unusual while I was setting up, but when I first took a test shot, I saw a very faded green area over the San Francisco Peaks. I thought it might be too dim to be seen with naked eyes, but hoped the camera would be sensitive enough to pick it up. I hurried to set up my cameras and proceeded to run them for 3 hours. I didn’t see any colorful lights in the sky while I was waiting for the camera to finish, but I was imagining that the faded green light would wave like a curtain blown by the wind once I made a video.

When I came back home and processed all the frames and created the time lapse video the next morning, there was nothing moving except millions of stars circling around the North Star. The faded greenish light was just the color of the sky. Oh well, maybe next time.

But that night, when I was packing up my equipment, I noticed that the Milky Way was over the San Francisco Peaks. I made some still images of it. It turned out that it was my favorite shot of the night. It even made me go back to the same spot and spend over night in the car to make a time lapse video of Milky Way over the peaks.

Not what I expected but it was time well spent.

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This post was written by who has written 3 posts on Keiji Iwai Photography.

Keiji Iwai was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. He began taking photographs at 13 and knew immediately that this would be a life-long passion. He first came to the United States as a high school exchange student in Montana. He later returned to the U.S. to obtain a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree at Northern Arizona University. Keiji has received numerous international awards, and his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the US. He currently resides in Flagstaff.

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