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Northern lights aglow in Michigan

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

It was a perfect night to see a green sky in northern Michigan.

The dancing, shimmering northern lights that graced Tuesday night into Wednesday morning dazzled skygazers and inspired photographers, including Nastasia Peteuil and Edward Dollan, to turn their cameras northward.

Although they have never met, the images captured by the two professional photographers have drawn the interest of the eyes of social media users.

It was the first time that Peteuil — who is originally from France — had ever seen the northern lights (aurora borealis).

"I was excited waiting to finally see them," said Peteuil, 26, who moved to Detroit three years ago after attending the University of Michigan. "I was in Frankfort, near Lake Michigan, when I heard it would be a good night. We tried to find someplace dark where I could shoot them."

Peteuil finally ended up near the Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort, where she encountered three other photographers aiming at the folds of green dancing over the lake.

"At first, I really couldn't see them; it just seemed like a bright light. The other photographers gave me advice and then they showed up on the camera," said Peteuil, who has worked as a photojournalist in France and the U.S. "The colors are crazy. The response on social outlets has been great; people are really impressed by the photos."

Peteuil — who is currently working on a documentary called "There's No Place Like Detroit" — used a Canon digital camera with a 24 mm lens.

Nerd alert: The aurora borealis is actually a geomagnetic storm that occurs when the sun ejects billions of tons of plasma that creates a solar wind that sweeps over the Earth and enters the planet's atmosphere via the north and south poles.

Cue the northern lights and grab your camera.

Dollan traveled from his home in Petoskey to the beach at Mackinaw City to shoot the lights as they performed over the Mackinac Bridge.

"I've had an interest in the northern lights for years," said Dollan, a professional photographer who can be found on Facebook at Sinister Rose. "I tracked them over the previous 24 hours through a website so I decided to drive up to the bridge."

Dollan had always wanted to shoot the lights over the Mighty Mac but was concerned about light pollution from the bridge.

"The bridge gives off so much light that sometimes you can see them reflected in the clouds," said Dollan, 38. "But I like what I saw, plus I had the entire beach to myself. I experimented with various settings until I found the perfect exposure.

"The great thing about digital is that you can see your results right away."

Dollan said he began shooting at about 1:15 a.m. Wednesday and finished by about 2 a.m.

"These were the best northern lights that I've ever seen," Dollan said. "I've been waiting over a year to get shots over the bridge."

According to the National Weather Service in the Upper Peninsula, the chances of a rippling repeat of Tuesday night's lights are dim due to cloudy skies and diminished geomagnetic activity.

According to Dollan, more than 2,000 people have viewed his photographs — which are available for purchase — in less than two hours after they were posted.

The photos were taken with a Canon 5D Mark 1 with a 50 mm lens. The exposure was for 30 seconds.

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