Light Side Up: Filming the Aurora Borealis from the Stratosphere


Lost Horizon Creative is proud to announce the release of its latest project: Light Side Up. More than a year in planning, the highly anticipated film documents the journey of three adventurous photographers as they attempt to become the first film crew ever to capture cinema-quality footage of the northern lights from the edge of space. The full film will premiere on December 8, at 7:00 am PST, on Nate Luebbe’s YouTube channel. The YouTube Premiere will feature live Q&A with the filmmakers, as well as interactive chat during the screening.

A few rare photos of the northern lights have been shared from the International Space Station, but options for high-altitude photography are very limited for civilians. Professional photographer Nate Luebbe has spent his career chasing new perspectives, but it wasn’t until late 2019, while watching a hot air balloon launch that he realized he could use a weather balloon to send a camera directly into the stratosphere—thereby utilizing a relatively unexplored avenue for nature photography.

High-altitude balloons are launched every day for scientific research, but Luebbe wanted to push the envelope by using a professional camera system. With a highly specialized, full-frame camera designed specifically for ultra-low-light imaging, Luebbe and the team were able to capture higher-quality footage than ever before. After a full year of research, engineering, and fabricating custom stabilization systems, the first successful flight happened on September 26, 2020.

Quick stats:

  • Balloon size: 10 feet on the ground, 38 feet diameter at bursting altitude
  • Flight duration: 3 hours and 15 minutes
  • Maximum altitude: 122,600 feet (37,369m)
  • Ascent velocity: 1,000 feet/min
  • Air temperature: approx -100ºF

The payload consisted of the brand-new Sony a7S III (a new camera designed specifically for ultra-low-light applications), redundant GPS tracking systems, additional batteries, and chemical heat packets. Once filled, the payload ascended for just shy of 2 hours and, at 122,600 feet, the balloon burst, sending the payload back to earth under a parachute, to be recovered by helicopter the next day.

The first flight by the team was unsuccessful when an unforeseen cold front caused the balloon to stop ascending and float sideways for multiple hours, at which point the GPS systems failed.