By 12:30 am, he was ready, camera on a tripod, watching the sky. It was minus 14F—“not terribly bad,” he says. Years of chasing auroras—best seen in the middle of clear, frigid nights—had taught him the importance of patience and dressing in layers beneath a snowmobile suit. Plus plenty of coffee.
“I went through so many different kinds of gloves to be able to manipulate the camera and at the same time keep my hands warm,” he says.
“It’s the hands that get you because you always have to touch the camera and your fingers start freezing and you have to find the right gear for that.”
Boudreau spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force. He and his wife first fell in love with Alaska during two temporary postings to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. After retiring as a F22 squadron maintenance supervisor in 2010, the couple embraced the Last Frontier and settled in Eagle River, where Boudreau “did the stay-at-home Dad gig” with their 5-year-old son.
He also began to take pictures. A digital camera he received as a retirement gift was the catalyst.
“At first, I was excited about it, and then I hated it because I couldn’t figure it out. It had too many bells and whistles. I wanted to go back to film, but I knew the future was with digital. So I took a course to learn the camera. … And that changed everything.”
Boudreau evolved into a professional photographer specializing in colorful shots of Alaska’s sweeping landscapes.
“We do a lot of trips and I do a lot of scouting during the family trips and then I go back on my own and spend a couple days where I want to go and get the shot.”
That night, Boudreau worked the scene. He moved the camera over and over, trying different settings and exposures—on the lake, off the lake, behind the cabin, in front of the cabin. About 2 am, the aurora seemed mildly active—“just a long green line”— and Bourdeau decided to try to capture the Milky Way.
The long exposure delivered a surprising aurora band, with both reds and greens. The photo has become one of the most popular in Boudreau’s portfolio, partly because it depicts an authentic Alaska homestead cabin built by the owner on site, with potbelly stove within and an outhouse behind.
“It’s quintessential. . . . It’s got Denali in the background. It’s got everything. I even joke around and say, ‘There’s even a moose.’ And (people) look at the picture for 20 minutes to try to find the moose. And then they finally figure out, ‘Oh, you’re talking about the antlers on the door.’”