How A Photog Survives Subzero Alaskan Nights

Ronn Murray goes native to capture the stunning Northern Lights

Chandalar Ranch, where Murray runs most of his group photography tours out of.

For the average viewer, it’s probably difficult to understand the preparation that goes into good landscape photography. Right place, right time and—voilà!—stunning red sunsets warm the ocean’s blue waves and majestic mountains peek through swirling banks of clouds. Oftentimes, though, capturing natural beauty isn’t so, well… natural. It takes hard work, not to mention physical and mental fortitude.

Ronn Murray’s captivating collection of Aurora Borealis photos taken this winter under the starry skies of Fairbanks, Alaska actually took years of failed attempts and rugged dedication to realize.

The auroras, or ‘Northern Lights,’ as they’re more commonly known, are a rare and stunning sight, lighting up the night sky in a swath of dancing neon greens, blues and reds. Murray explained the natural phenomenon in a recent interview with Matador Network:

To put it very simply, it’s electrons coming from the sun, bombarding our atmosphere and igniting the gases in our atmosphere, the same way a neon light works. So it’s just an electrical current of sorts exciting gases, making the gases glow.

Murray’s pieces place the snowy landscape into the foreground, a meticulous detail which often required hours of extra hiking and careful positioning, so as not to place the focus solely on the sky, which he describes as ‘boring.’ While the work itself captures the viewer’s awe, it’s his fearless methods—more like a survivalist’s than a sharp-eyed photographer’s—that set his work apart. Murray discusses his process:

That night I know I had two pairs of Smartwool socks and then my Baffin boots which are rated to 60 below zero. I probably had four or five layers on my legs and six or seven layers up top, a fur hat and then the snow machine mask which dissipates your breath away from your camera. The only thing that was really ever exposed were my eyes. And if you leave skin exposed at those temperatures, it gets frostbit so you have to cover everything.

His solution? Hunker down next to a log and burrow into the snow, which kept him warmer than the outside temperature, an Antarctic -52 degrees. Murray didn't get any frostbite, and actually managed to take his favorite photograph ever (to the left of this article—click to enlarge), but did lose a tripod, which became so brittle it snapped in half. Now that's cool.

To read the original interview, click through to Matador Network.


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