On the night of March 10, 2011, photographer Zoltan Kenwell pulled his truck over on the side of a road outside of Edmonton and began to set up his camera for test shots of the pale band of green light on the northern horizon. Suddenly, the faint glow exploded into a dancing curtain, covering the sky. “It was like a whole bunch of waves crashing into the shore,” Kenwell says. “The aurora did some things I never saw it do before.”
Around that time, on the other side of the world, giant waves swept across northeast Japan, the result of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake. “Literally at the exact same time that I was looking at this beautiful display on one side of the planet, this catastrophic event was happening on the other side of the planet,” Kenwell says. The experience was profound.
Night after night, Kenwell heads out in search of breathtaking aurora displays to photograph, driven by the unknown of what the night will bring. Every northern lights display is different, he says.
Kenwell’s passion for shooting the aurora borealis developed after the birth of his first son. Already accustomed to the inevitable sleep-deprivation that comes with having a child, Kenwell realized that the late hours of the night were now the only time he had to himself. Sacrificing sleep, Kenwell maintains what he calls a “double life,” working and caring for his two sons during the day and spending his nights chasing aurora.
Alone in a quiet field or overlooking a calm lake at night, Kenwell pauses to take in the beauty around him. His photographs reflect his solitary desires; few buildings, power lines or other signs of people fill the foreground.
After setting up his cameras to take shots at regular intervals, he returns to his truck to rest until the memory cards are full. His mid-outing naps are a survival strategy. Falling asleep at the wheel is one of the dangers of his nighttime profession. Aware of the risks of driving around in the dark in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius, the intrepid photographer brings with him emergency packs of food, warm clothes and extra fuel.
This year Kenwell is prepared to devote even more time to exploring Alberta in search of the northern lights. As solar activity hits an 11-year peak, spectacular aurora displays are expected to light up skies across Canada, and Kenwell plans to capture these events in time-lapse videos. Sharing the wondrous natural phenomenon with audiences around the world will make all those sleepless nights worthwhile.
Photographer Zoltan Kenwell created this time-lapse video using footage he collected during the five months leading up to the 2012 winter solstice.