Sunday, March 10, 2013



The Northern Lights

Click here for my recommended musical accompaniment to these images.

It only took me three and a half months to finally get up close and personal with my very own display of the oft elusive but absolutely stunning and trippy aurora borealis, or northern lights. People come from all over the world just to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon. Some succeed, some don't. And as I have found out over the course of that three and half months, just because you are IN the aurora borealis belt, the region where the magnetic disturbance displays are most likely to occur, doesn't always mean that they WILL occur.
It's southern counterpart, the aurora australis or southern lights has almost identical features to the aurora borealis and is visible from high southern latitudes in AntarcticaSouth AmericaNew Zealand and Australia.

I was sitting in Karu MC here in Rovaniemi, Finland, all comfy and warm in a chair editing photos. It was pretty cold out. Well, not really that cold, only about -12° or so,  when I get a phone call from the president of the club, Heikki. "I'm looking out at the sky from my house and there seems to be very good aurora tonight" he said. 
"Oh yeah"?. "Where do you think I should ride to, which direction"? I replied, "toward Sinettä"?. 
"Yes, that would probably be a good place to head to" he said.
So I packed up the cameras, my tripod, some extra batteries and CF Cards and I was downstairs and started up the bike to warm it up for 10 minutes before I headed out toward Sinettä.

Now, not only was I comfy, cosy and warm in Karu MC that evening, but the day before I removed the handlebar muffs, the wind protectors for my hands, from the bike to give them to Raimo, a member of Karu MC and an upholsterer, to make a new pattern for a better and warmer set. The ones I had weren't made right to begin with back in Holland, but I had no time to fix them before I left for Denmark and points north so they had to make do. But there were gaps in them that let cold air in, very cold air that over a 300 km ride in -20° and below was enough to make my hands painfully numb, even with heated grips. So when I got the chance I knew I had to get a better pair of handlebar muffs made by a good upholsterer wherever and whenever I could.

So, heading out to chase the elusive aurora that evening, the fact that I had no handlebar wind protectors didn't seem like a big deal at the time, but about 10 kilometers later with the wind rushing across my hands and nothing to protect them they started to get really really cold. The heated grips were no match for a -20° wind chill, none whatsoever.

About 12 km out of Rovaniemi I was far enough from the ambient lights of the town when I started to see it, that sort of shimmering in the sky ahead. Faint at first, but the further away from Rovaniemi I got the stronger the aurora got. But my hands at this point were painfully cold and even tough Sinetta was only another 10 km further on, I was afraid that if I kept going that they would disappear. Aurora are very unpredictable, they can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, and I couldn't let this one slip away like that. Besides, my hands were begging me to stop, so I pulled over to a car parking area right on the side of the road. First order of business was get the tripod set up and a camera on top of it, take a few test shots, figure out what I needed my settings to be and lo and behold I was looking at my first capture of aurora borealis.

This particular display had been already going on for an hour or so I guess before I got there, and continued on for about another forty minutes before it started to dim. That was about it for me. By that time I and my hands were freezing cold. I have a hard time shooting and adjusting the settings on my camera with gloves on. The camera adjustment levers, buttons and dials are not really made for gloved fingers. So my bare hands, exposed to -17° air temperatures and playing with a freezing cold camera body had had enough. And I knew I had a 20 minute ride back without handlebar muffs so I figured I'd call it a night and quit while I still didn't have frostbite.
I was cold but happy that I finally got to see my very own Northern Lights.

I shot all of the images on a Nikon D3s with a 14-24 2.8 lens.
All the images were 2.5 second exposures @ 2.8, focal length was between 17-24mm. ISO on all shots was 1000.
Not much processing went into these shots in LR4, just some sharpening and noise reduction.

Any images you see here can be purchased as High Resolution prints. 
Until my SmugMug account is up and running, just contact me for details and pricing at

Meanwhile back at Karu MC here in Rovaniemi, just because it's -15° outside doesn't mean that life stops. Oh no. Life goes on. Stuff needs to get done. Bikes need to get worked on and finished for the spring and summer riding season fast approaching here in Finland.
The morning after my Aurora Borealis encounter Jari was out sanding down the frame of his chopper to be repainted. This year it's going to be black instead of red. Powerplant is an '80's Evo motor.

Long and low, the Finnish way.

Pepe decided to take out his Ice Speedway bike for a spin around the ice this particular morning too. A 500cc Jawa engined death machine if you get caught under the wheels. It'll slice off an arm in no time.

Click the image for my first Downshift video.

Meanwhile, the other huge news, for me anyway, is that MotorTrend flew a film crew over here to Finland from the U.S. to shoot a Pt II to the first video they made about me back in April of last year, which you can watch by clicking the Down Shift logo above.

Mike Wilson is a great filmmaker who shot Pt I in the canyons of Malibu, California last year. This year Mike came with Mark to shoot in the cold Arctic winter of Finland. It's not too often that you get a film crew flown over to another continent just to make a video about you, I really feel quite honored that Mike Wilson & MotorTrend thought so much of me to do so.
More on the shoot in next weeks post.

In other news I also received a special delivery from Andy Lilienthal at WARN in the U.S., a new WARN XT17 Portable Motorcycle Winch. Since I sometimes get into situations that calling AAA or calling anybody really is just not possible, I had been thinking about installing a winch for quite some time now, and the WARN Portable Winch is really the smallest, lightest and best product out there for any  serious adventure motorcyclist. I will have a complete review of the installation procedure in the next post.

That's it for this week, I hope that you all enjoy this Sunday morning post and please leave me a comment if you have the time.

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Craig Anderson said...

Fantastic work Murph. Beautiful pic's of the Northern Lights. Thank you, Craig

Charlie6 said...

Glorious pictures've a "fine, steady hand" Sir to be able to shoot 2.5 second exposures and get what you did! At least, I didn't see you mentioning a tripod?

As to the Jawa, wow....those are some mean looking spikes on those tires!

Looking forward to Part II of the MotorTrend video as well!


Motorcycle Marc said...


Anton Damhuis said...

Monday morning and there is the RSS feed update that there is a new entry on your blog.
Got myself a nice cup of tea and then sat down for 20 minutes reading your next instalment.

Here in South Africa we going from summer into winter and there is a "slight chill" in the air. When I ride to work at 6H30 in the morning it has gone from around 18 deg cel to about 12/13 deg cel.

Last winter the average morning temperature was around 1 or 2 deg cel (lowest -0.5). And that is no were near what you are experiencing there. And you sometimes camp. Hardcore Murph, very hardcore. Don't think I would do it at those temperatures.

I'll watch part 1 of the video tonight at home.

Anonymous said...

Hey Murph

Did you here the sound out of the northern light.
That swissing och sparkling sound, a bite like if you are standing under a high voltage electric grid line.
It is a fantastic sound and al that light make it a bite scary.
Can se you have a good time up there in Finland.
Take care

Lars in Sweden

IRISH Murph said...

Hi Craig and thanks.

IRISH Murph said...

Hi Dom,

I thought a tripod was a given here, didn't think I had to mention it. I use a tripod or a monopod on all my shots actually,
let alone 2-3 second exposures. You'll never be able to handhold a 2 second exposure and get it right. A tripod is the only way to get sharp images.

Yep, those are some pretty mean spikes alright, gotta make sure you don't get caught under them.....

IRISH Murph said...

Hey Marc, thanks.

IRISH Murph said...

Hi Anton,

Yea, actually your body gets used to the surrounding conditions, so after 2 weeks in the cold your body starts to build up more of the brown fat that you need to keep you warm :

Enjoy the vid, Pt is going to be a good one too.

IRISH Murph said...

Hi Lars,

No, I didn't hear the sound this time. maybe too close to the city?. But good to know, I will make sure to listen the next time.

Hope all is well with you my friend,


Emelie Lundgren said...

Murph. Wow. I'm speachless.

Northern Lights are something I really want to see with my own eyes one day. And your pics just increased my hunger and longing for it even more. Gorgeous. Here, here to pushing through the cold attacking your hands. But, nothing is worth permanent injuries. No frostbites for you sir. Take care of yourself.


IRISH Murph said...

Hello Em, I was speechless too !!!.

No frostbite that evening tho I did feel like I came close. Thanks for the comment.


Anonymous said...

padasjoki winterrally 23-24.3. for bikers. see my post in earlie blogpost. congrats on lifestyle once more!

Anonymous said...

I also recommend when you go south You should visit Road Weirdos, Helsinki. ...same anonymous

Oliver Norris said...

well done Murph , and i hope you had a good St pats day , on the road is not easy as it takes time for your heart to catch up to where your are .... I admire you and the balls it truly takes to travel in the way you do. Every day is a blessing on a blank canves, but as you are well aware at this stage you are truly never alone , for something beautifull always watches over us .....

Ollie Norris

IRISH Murph said...

Hi Ollie,

Thanks for the positives, much appreciated. St. Pats day was great, there was no inkling of it up here in Finland :-) Perfect.

And I'm not so sure if it takes more balls than brains to do this type of trip, more frustration at mediocrity then anything else in all honesty. I get bored easy, so I have to keep exploring new territories.

Best regards from Finland,