Polar Lake, in Canada's Northwest Territories, under a sky with a dazzling aurora borealis display in the Taiga biome near Great Slave Lake. (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Every year, from September through March, an astronomical phenomenon lights up the skies of the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re there, you might see an explosion of candy-colored light painting the skies. It is, of course, the legendary aurora borealis, and it never fails to leave an impression on those lucky enough to experience it. And if you’re not able to be there in person, there are intrepid souls who seek it out and commit it to film or, these days, pixels. People such as photographer Jack Dykinga, who told In Sight about his experience seeing and documenting the aurora borealis:

“Ever since seeing the mystical ‘Northern Lights’ as a kid back in the 60s, that otherworldly color remained in the back of my mind.

"Years later, as a refugee from the big city photojournalism of Chicago, my interests shifted to the natural world and the land forms with environmental issues that will determine the future of our species. Maybe it was simply the craving for a break from the Sonoran Desert heat of my adopted home in Tucson, but I began to consider chasing the fabled Northern Lights in the cool forests of Canada. I learned about the solar winds and charged particles bombarding our atmosphere being drawn to the poles that create nightly ‘performance art’ in the sky.

"I drove my truck to the northern reaches of Alberta and was mesmerized by the ebb and flow of color across the forested horizon. However, hunched over my laptop reviewing my images became the unwanted wake-up call signaling that while my intentions were good, my skill set and equipment were not up to the task.

"As often happens in photographic projects, there’s a crossroads. One can cut the losses and forget the crazy idea or try again.

"So, in September of the following year, after poring over maps searching for wetlands in both the Canadian provinces of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, I resumed my quest.

"By this time, I had seen many images of a gauzy blue-green light creating silky smudges across the sky, but I wanted to show the sharp-edged streaks of the particle bombardment. I would try to enlist both the new high-speed wide-angle optics and newly minted Nikon D850’s higher resolution sensor. In theory, this combination would allow short exposure times (one to three seconds) as opposed to the typical 10-to-30-second exposures.

"Photography is nothing without the patience and the endless sleepless waiting for the right conditions of dark cloudless sky, little wind and perfect locations. A summary of my three-week trip with a mere five days of photography says it all. "

The images by Dykinga, who won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography), tell the story of the land. He is a regular contributor to Arizona Highways and National Geographic magazines. His 12 wilderness advocacy, large format books include: “Frog Mountain Blues;” “The Secret Forest;” “The Sierra Pinacate;” “The Sonoran Desert;” “Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau;” and “Desert: The Mojave and Death Valley.” He wrote and photographed “Large Format Nature Photography,” a “how to” guide to color landscape photography. “Jack Dykinga’s ARIZONA,” released in 2004 by Westcliffe Publishers, a compilation of his best Arizona images, andIMAGES: Jack Dykinga’s Grand Canyon” released by Arizona Highways, May 2008, reflect his love for Arizona. Dykinga’s latest book: “Capture the Magic” released in November 2013, delves into composition and the creative process. Dykinga’s latest book: A Photographer’s Life” was released in January 2017. “Magic Light” by Arizona Highways magazine, was published summer 2017.

You can see more of Dykinga’s work on his website, here.


Polar Lake, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, with a moonrise, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga) (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, with a moonrise, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Alexandria Falls, in Canada's Northwest Territories, Canada. The aurora borealis illuminates the Hay River Gorge.(Jack Dykinga)

The aurora borealis in Northern Alberta. The photographer camped with his friend Jim Kiser en route home. (Jack Dykinga)

In Canada's Northwest Territories, the Taiga wetlands with silhouetted black spruce and larch against the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Canada's Northwest Territories, from a series on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Canada's Northwest Territories, from a series on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

Polar Lake, from a series of images on the aurora borealis. (Jack Dykinga)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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