Chasing the Aurora Borealis

Excerpt from this article in the New Yorker:

They’d been in Inari for four nights, and had seen a faint glow one evening, after being roused by the hotel’s Aurora Alert. It hadn’t impressed them. “Definitely not worth being woken up for,” they said. They talked about the disparity between photographs of the aurora borealis and what you can actually see, making some technical point that I didn’t take in at the time, and grumbled, “They ought to tell you about this.”

We discussed why the aurora often looks so much better in photographs. He explained that a camera on a tripod, set for a five-second exposure, takes in far more light than the human eye does when it looks at something, and consequently it produces a more vivid image. A camera can turn even relatively weak displays into dramatic pictures—and these images can then be subjected to digital enhancements. Posted online, the pictures are automatically sharpened by the high-contrast settings of most social-media platforms, and further boosted by the backlit screens of our devices. Cumulatively, these improvements have encouraged unrealistic expectations. “It’s a shame,” Skogli said. “You have a responsibility to show the truth.” He has tried to open a discussion on the subject within the tourism industry, without success. In a rare departure from diplomatic geniality, he dismissed most Instagram photos of the lights as junk—“digitally colorized files to produce likes.”

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