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The Alaska Aurora Train

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

The Northern Lights shining over an old train in Alaska
The Alaska Aurora Train

This was by far, my luckiest photograph from Alaska. Earlier in the day, I was driving from my hotel to Denali National Park when I randomly noticed two bright blue and yellow trains with “Alaska” written on them. Luckily, there was a small road a few hundred feet down, so I immediately pulled off. An Alaskan train, sitting in the snow, with evergreens all around, truly seemed like the perfect representation of this amazing state, so I snapped a few photos then continued on to Denali National Park.

After an incredible day of exploring and photographing Denali, I drove back to my hotel to get some rest. Around 10pm I got an alert on my phone notifying me that the Aurora was going to be a bit active in the upcoming hours. The sky was crystal clear and there were millions of stars out, so I grabbed my camera and headed north towards Fairbanks.

All of a sudden, I remembered the trains from earlier in the day. My mind was so overwhelmed from Denali and all of the epic landscapes, that they completely slipped my mind. I exclaimed “Oh My God! If I can get the Northern Lights in the same picture as those trains, THAT would definitely be my ultimate Alaskan photo”. I quickly turned my car around and headed back south. I was so excited that it felt like a lifetime until I finally found the trains. I honestly passed them because it was pitch black and I didn’t know exactly where they were located. Thankfully, after a turnaround or two, my headlights captured the bright yellow on one of them, and I pulled off onto the small road from earlier.

The Aurora was creating a beautiful double band of green light that seemed to cascade over the trains. I setup my tripod across the road to capture a scene that I couldn’t believe was actually happening. I attached a Laowa 15mm f2 lens to my Nikon Z6 and started shooting 10-20 second exposure shots. The Northern Lights weren’t dancing wildly, so I was able to expose a bit longer. Unfortunately, the Aurora wasn’t strong enough to light up the side of trains, but nonetheless, I was still getting some really cool shots. Then out of nowhere, I heard the faint sound of a semi truck (I hadn’t seen a car in over an hour) and I knew this was my one chance to hopefully get some light on the trains. I was calculating in my head like crazy, trying to figure out how long my exposure should be, just to catch enough light as not to overexpose the trains. I went with 15 seconds, and as I looked at the back of the camera’s LCD screen, I literally jumped up and down for 5 minutes. THIS is why I am in love with photography!

A few other images from "The Alaska Train"

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