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Tag Archives: Northern Lights
I’m just back from a short trip to Iceland, possibly the most amazing country I’ve ever visited! Outside of Reykjavik, conditions were hostile. Temperatures of -5C dropping to -10C at night with a windchill factor that threatens to strip the skin from your bones. Magnificent, outrageous landscapes take the breath away, its a landscape photographers dream.
The most useful thing I learned, embarrassingly was the thing that prevented me from photographing the most vivid display of the Northern Lights I’ve seen in five separate sightings (Alaska, Finland and Canada providing the other venues). The thing about the Northern Lights is….they don’t last. It is dark, probably windy and very very cold.
I prepared diligently, composing my shot (of photographers shooting the lights), setting up the camera in advance with a wide angle lens mounted on the tripod, remote trigger attached. Exposure set to “bulb mode” so that I could take long exposures. The idea was to pick up the whole kit, set the tripod and start taking pictures.
At first everything went according to plan. The hotel called me at first sight of the lights and accompanied by half a dozen other photographers I rushed outside, planted the tripod and waited for the other photographers to take up positions. The wind had taken the temperature down to what felt like -20C, seriously cold, and when I pressed the trigger to open the shutter….nothing happened. I then made the cardinal error – in a panic, I carried the camera indoors so that I could check the set up – immediately the lens and LCD screen misted over. Disaster.
So my top tips for successfully photographing the Northern Lights are these.
1. Prepare kit beforehand – you’ll have a couple of minutes of good shooting conditions if you’re very lucky.
2. Most DSLR’s won’t expose for longer than 30 seconds without being set to “bulb mode”, when the first action opens the shutter and the second closes it. Details will be different depending on what camera you have. My Canon displays a timer on the LCD when the shutter is opened on first click.
3. Choose a moderately high ISO – 800 or so – my problem was caused by there not being enough light to register at ISO 100. Schoolboy error.
4. Choose a mid range Aperture value – you want the light, but you don’t want a narrow depth of field if you want to put some context like a building or in my case other photographers in sharp silhouette.
5. Take as many shots as you have time for at different ISO settings and duration. This is pure guesswork, you won’t have time to inspect the results.