Philip Granrud isn’t just a talented night photographer. His photos helped scientists discover an atmospheric phenomenon.
Granrud and several other photographers in Canada, New Zealand, and Montana captured night photos of light streams they thought were “proton arcs.” Upon further examination, though, the streaks were identified not as proton arcs, but as fast streams of ionized gas. The gas travels more than five kilometers a second and can reach temperatures up to 6,000 degrees Celsius.
Scientists christened the new phenomenon “Steve.”
“Steve” only occurs a few times a year, but Granrud frequently captures other nighttime beauty, including starscapes and the aurora borealis.
It was his night photos that really stole the show at a recent art display in Columbia Falls at Berube Physical Therapy.
“I’ve been showcasing my night photography recently because it’s pretty unique. Not a lot of people in the country are doing it,” he explained. “Wildlife photography would be a close second.”
Granrud started taking photos with a professional camera about seven years ago and began working as a professional photographer about three years ago, he said.
Born and raised in Kalispell, he started an electrical engineering degree at Montana State University. Although he said he didn’t finish the degree, his interest in engineering has influenced his photography and other hobbies. He even uses NASA satellite data to calculate when the Northern Lights will be most visible and vibrant.
“One of the best techniques is to study the night sky as much as possible,” he said.
Even as a kid, he noted, he often used disposable point and shoot cameras, and loved to be outside.
“My mom and dad both were Forest Service rangers, so I grew up outdoors,” he said. “I was basically conceived in the wilderness. What really got me into photography was seeing all the natural beauty around us in Montana. I saw all these amazing things and really wanted to capture them.”
Granrud shoots digital images that have to be developed through software, and tries to keep the process simple.
“My philosophy is to keep it as natural as possible, but with night photography, that’s impossible, so I overexpose those photos.”
He also shared a couple of other tips and tricks of the trade.
“For wildlife photography, a telephoto lens is a must,” he explained. “From observing animals for years, I know what they’re going do before they do it.”
Although he’s skilled at the craft, he said it’s hard to make a living as a photographer.
“Portrait photography is where most people make their money,” he said. “But with this increase in tourism, there seems to be much more interest in nature.”
But despite the challenges, he loves what he does.
“Just pursue your own passion. There’s so many different types of photography. It really shows in your work if you’re passionate,” he said. “Photography is my whole life.”