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Eye vs. Camera vs. Edit

With the recent surge of stunning images capturing the rare sight of the aurora borealis in the Chicagoland area, many have asked about the difference between these images and what was observed firsthand. This curiosity is valid and calls for exploration.

Initially, it's essential to acknowledge that the human eye outperforms a camera in

most aspects. Unlike a camera, it excels at blending various tones to form a cohesive image. However, the eye lacks the capacity to maintain a fixed image to build an exposure. In low-light conditions, the eye actually begins to perceive in monochrome, diminishing the richness of colors. Conversely, a camera can sustain an exposure to enhance the vibrancy of an image. Even though a camera's raw image may differ from the eventual shared images, the camera's capabilities contribute to the overall difference.


Let's delve into a comparison of three versions of a captured image.


Firstly, the human eye:


In reality, I had to enhance the photo to mirror what I witnessed with my eyes. The primary challenge was light pollution. Despite venturing far from the city, light pollution persisted in the sky. While the Aurora was visible and showed hints of color, to a casual observer, it might have appeared as an unusual cloudy evening. Those familiar with spending nights in the mountains can attest to the genuine night sky's beauty. Unfortunately, for individuals confined to urban areas, the true splendor of the starry sky remains something unseen.


Next, the RAW image:

Canon R5 at 15mm

2 seconds at F2.8

ISO 2000


This image captured more color detail and slight motion blur due to the prolonged exposure of two seconds. Despite achieving a more vibrant picture, the long exposure added to the impact of light pollution; masking the vivid hues and striking contrast that define the Aurora, leaving a more washed out look. Consequently, the RAW image directly from the camera's sensor often differs significantly from the captivating online images. Nevertheless, the essence lies not in adding or removing elements, but rather post-processing light pollution reduction.


Lastly, the Edit:

In most settings, artificial light from urban centers, towns, or passing vehicles can obscure the aurora's true brilliance. Instead of introducing new elements, photographers eliminate this unwanted interference to reveal the raw beauty unhindered.


By eliminating the shroud of light pollution, the edited version shows the aurora in its full splendor, showcasing vibrant colors across the night sky. The objective is not to augment but to reveal. Personally, I want to do as little as possilbe in order to bring out a natural looking image. Below are the adjustments applied:

Contrast: [+18]

Blacks: [-17]

Dehaze: [+32]

Clarity: [+3]


The intent is solely to eradicate light pollution and enhance contrast marginally. No color or saturation is introduced. The sole adjustment was darkening the faint street in the foreground to guide the viewer's eyes upwards.


Through skilled photographers' lenses, we catch a glimpse of the mesmerizing spectacle that has fascinated humanity for ages. These edited images do not embellish reality but rather show the magnificence of the aurora borealis, reminding us of the wondrous beauty lying just beyond our everyday perception.

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