Aurora over the Mackinac Bridge

Panoramic View of the Northern Lights Over The Mackinac Bridge

Few things get me as excited as the Aurora Borealis. Also known as the Northern Lights, these lights swirl through the night sky shining bright greens and magenta colored pillars and after you’ve seen them once, you dream of seeing them again. After seeing them for the first time 3 years ago I instantly thought of a picture I needed to capture with both the northern lights and the Mackinac Bridge.

Then it finally happened for me. I woke up the morning of March 17th to find out of a powerful solar storm currently in effect. I couldn’t believe I missed it. As the day wore on I was keeping tabs on the event and it was very powerful, with hemispheric pressure way up into the 100’s. By 12:30 Hemispheric Power was upwards of 116 and I started to think to myself, could this really last? I made mention to my wife that I might be running up to the Mackinac Bridge that night, a 4 hour drive. She told me I was crazy, that I would drop everything to drive 4 hours to get one shot and drive all the way back, all while getting no sleep that night. I told her she was right, I was crazy. Sometimes as a landscape photographer, you’ll do anything to get a shot you’ve dreamed of.

As the afternoon progressed, the storm stayed strong and I knew I was going to head up. It was my chance. A little later my Uncle called me and asked me if I was going to head out and if I wanted someone to tag along. I told him my plan and we made arrangements to meet up for the trip.

McGulpin Point Lighthouse

Driving up we made the decision to stop off near McGulpin Point Lighthouse first because we got up there while it was still bright out. Being a little farther outside of the city lights, we thought we had an opportunity to see the lights a little earlier. And we did, catching it faintly on the camera. We walked out to shore to get a better view of the horizon and there we saw it, swirling and dancing in the sky. Bright pinks and greens lighting up the night sky. It was happening. Anxiously, I took a few shots, packed up and started on our way to the shore on the south end of the bridge.

Aurora Pillars over Lake Michigan

We made it to the bridge and I ran out of the car, camera and tripod in hand and stomped through the snow and out onto the ice of Lake Huron. I setup the camera, composed the shot I had envisioned and started snapping. I had my shot, but I wasn’t done yet. You see, I was using this camera for the first time to catch the Northern Lights. I’ve only had but a handful of opportunities to use my new camera, a Sony a7r and I wasn’t sure the settings for my old camera, a Canon 60D, were the right settings. I tried a variety of settings and using only the display on the back of the camera I finally settled on some settings I felt comfortable with. I shot a few more shots and was happy with what I had.

Aurora over the Mackinac Bridge

The next 10-15 minutes I just stood there and watched in amazement. No matter how spectacular the image captured on the camera, there is no experience like seeing it with your own two eyes. To be there and watch a show playing in my mind the last few years in real life was an amazing feeling for me. I snapped a few more shots to make sure I got it and I was off for home.

I-75 View of Mackinac Bridge

We stopped on I-75 on the way back down for another view of the bridge but the lights had started to subside. It was a long trek back and I had kids I had to get to school in the morning. The night was done. We drove about half way where my Uncle and I parted ways and I finished my trek home.

I made it home with some time to spare and promptly loaded my images on my computer to see if I had really gotten the shot because you never can really tell on the back of the camera. Sure enough I had it. A bucket list shot and I was more than happy with how it came out. It feels good to scratch those off your list. It was a dream come true, in more ways than one.

About Michigan Photographer - Daniel Frei

Daniel Frei is a landscape photographer from Southeast Michigan. Daniel has always enjoyed taking photos while camping and hiking in the woods and has taken this joy to the next level. A stay at home dad by day, when he gets out he likes to visit local hiking trails with the occasional trip farther outside of metro Detroit. He enjoys being a home grown Michigan Photographer

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