June 02, 2016 - 9:00 PM
LUMBY - Growing up in Japan, the northern lights were a mystical phenomenon well-recognized photographer Yuichi Takasaka only learned about in school.
“You can’t see them from Japan. Maybe once every ten years you can see and photograph them,” Takasaka says from his home in Lumby, B.C.
He immigrated to Canada in 1989 at the age of 20 and got a job working as a tour guide for Japan Airlines Affiliated. He travelled across Canada running tours, and when the time came for a change, he and his wife decided to use all the air miles he racked up for a flight to the farthest Canadian destination there was: Yellowknife.
“The first night we got there, we looked outside the hotel and the northern lights were unbelievable — everywhere was green,” he says.
He was hired on by a small company in Yellowknife to coordinate tours for fishing, hunting — and watching the northern lights. At that time, in the 1990s, he says almost 100 per cent of tourists who came to see the northern lights were, like himself, Japanese.
“The northern lights are in the top of the bucket list for them. They like nature, so they go all over the world to see waterfalls, big trees and the northern lights,” Takasaka says.
There were no digital cameras at that time, and Takasaka spent many freezing nights experimenting with his film camera, trying to capture the dazzling display. Long story short, he got good at it. Not many people were photographing the Aurora Borealis at that time, and his images were soon being used in travel brochures, magazines, and even science textbooks. He has since contributed many photos to NASA and the National Geographic.
“I sort of became ‘the aurora guy’ and everyone in the world was using my photos,” he says.
After seven years in Yellowknife, Takasaka and his family relocated to the North Okanagan. While not nearly as renowned for the northern lights as the North West Territories, you can still spot them here from time to time. Takasaka checks the aurora forecast daily and often heads out to places like Silver Star Mountain and Sugar Lake with his camera.
“Usually I take at least thousands of photos,” Takasaka says of a typical night under the stars. “I took 10,000 in one night.”
Nowadays, he runs photography tours for Japanese travellers wanting to not only see, but to capture, the northern lights. He also travels all over the world in pursuit of his next shot of the Aurora Borealis.
“The northern lights are always different. My main thing is it’s not just the northern lights, it’s the scenery in the foreground. That’s why I go all over the world. Last year to Iceland, this year to Finland. The year before I went to Sweden. I’ve been to Norway, Scotland and Tasmania,” he says.
Since the rise of digital cameras, he says taking pictures of the northern lights has become much more accessible to people. With the latest technology, he says it’s not too difficult to get a good photo.
“It’s mostly the timing. You have to know where and when to be there, on top of all the technical stuff,” he says.
You can follow Takasaka’s adventures chasing the northern lights on Twitter, @ytakasaka, on YouTube or his website. And if this story got you itching to see the northern lights for yourself, you might be in luck. Takasaka says there's a good chance they will be visible from the Okanagan this weekend. Check here for more information.
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