Live Streaming the Northern Lights
with Sean Kurdziolek
Some people think I’m crazy, but I LOVE winter in Alaska! The main reason is because that’s when we get the best views of the aurora borealis, or “northern lights”. The aurora is simply amazing and awe-inspiring. Witnessing the aurora in Alaska for the first time in the early 2000’s was the very thing that inspired me to take up photography. I felt a strong desire to somehow capture the beauty and wonder of the aurora and share it with others. Learning to use a camera seemed like a great way to do that.
Fast forward to today – Digital cameras are everywhere and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t familiar with Facebook and YouTube. Anyone with a smart phone can “go live” and reach people around the world. I decided that I wanted to be able to go live and share the beauty of the aurora in real time, but I needed a little more than a just a smart phone to do this. Since our first aurora live stream, we have been asked the same question over and over: “how are you doing this?” Here’s a breakdown of the equipment I am using when live streaming the Northern Lights:
Join Sean Kurdziolek Portraits & Gallery to watch the northern lights live from North Pole, Alaska. Like our page for more updates in the future. You can also visit our website for information about booking an #AuroraPortrait session or workshop: www.seankurdz.com. Purchase our fine art prints at our gallery in North Pole or online: https://seankurdz.shootproof.com#Sony #Phottix #NorthPole #Alaska #Northernlights #Auroraborealis #Fairbanks #alaskadventure #thingstodoinAlaska #ExploreFairbanks
Posted by Sean Kurdziolek Portraits and Gallery on Wednesday, September 27, 2017
First is camera body – the Sony α7S. This camera made waves when it was introduced due to the incredible low-light capabilities of its sensor. This translates into the ability to capture high-quality real-time video at high ISOs with minimal noise. I usually need my ISO somewhere between 32,000 and 102,400. There aren’t many cameras on the market that can even go that high, much less produce usable video. There were really only two choices when I decided to purchase a camera capable of capturing live video of the aurora – the Sony α7S, and its successor, the Sony α7SII.
The next thing needed is a wide and fast lens. The perfect lens for aurora video – one with great image quality that is both ultra-wide and ultra-fast – simply doesn’t exist, because, well, physics and stuff. The next-best-thing for me is the Rokinon 24mm T1.5 Cine lens. This lens (and its sibling, the Rokinon 24mm F/1.4) is popular with astro and aurora photographers because it has a great balance of image quality, fast maximum aperture, and a wide field of view.
I’m using an Atomos Ninja Flame to monitor the feed on it’s 7” HD display while recording Ultra High-Def 4K footage. This isn’t absolutely needed for the live stream, but it has many advantages including better overall quality of both the live video stream and the recorded video. It also allows me to apply LUTs (Look Up Tables) to the output but not the recorded video. This gets a little technical, but it basically means that I can record the best possible video (for later editing purposes) while live streaming the best quality video (for live viewing purposes) at the same time. I use the recorded footage to compile short highlight videos from each live event, like this one:
Posted by Sean Kurdziolek Portraits and Gallery on Tuesday, October 3, 2017
I need good audio to be able to talk to the viewers during a live stream so I use a Rode VideoMic Pro. This is a great shotgun microphone. It gives me some of the control that I need because I have cars driving by in the distance, wind, and other noises that can make it hard to hear me. It’s all happening live and unedited, and this mic gives me what I need to do that. Another reason for needing a good mic is that the camera’s internal mic is on the front of the camera, and I am standing behind the camera.
The next component makes the live stream possible – a Teradek VidiU Pro. This device has HDMI input and is capable pushing live video out to live platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, and many more. It is basically the bridge between my camera equipment and the internet. I use it to log-in to my Facebook page and simply press the “start” button when I’m ready to go live. I am currently only streaming to Facebook, but this device is also capable of streaming to multiple platforms at once (we may try streaming simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube in the near future).
Teradek wrote an article about us too. Click the link to see what they had to say: This Live Stream of the Northern Lights Will Completely Enchant You
Finally, I need a fast internet connection to send this out to the world. This presents somewhat of a problem because the best locations for viewing the aurora up here in Alaska don’t typically have a good 4G LTE signal. At this time, I am staying relatively close to civilization and using the WiFi hotspot feature on my Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone. I also use my phone to monitor the live video and read the comments and questions coming in. In the future, we are looking at adding a mobile internet modem to my kit from a different service provider. This will give me a greater coverage area and increased speed and reliability using the VidiU Pro’s network bonding feature.
My trusty and sturdy Manfrotto tripod and bunch of cables, brackets, and mounts complete the equipment list. We have had a blast streaming the aurora while interacting live with the viewers. We will be doing this throughout the aurora season (late August to mid April). Be sure to like our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and enable notifications to catch our Live Streaming the Northern Lights!
Sean out in his studio