Posts Tagged ‘how to shoot northern lights’

Photographing the Northern Lights in the Lofoten Islands, Norway

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Gorgeous aurora borealis in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

Part of the reason I chose to take an Winter Aurora Photography Workshop in the Lofoten Islands with Stian Klo was the possibility of seeing the northern lights, and challenge of photographing them.


The northern lights move quickly in the arctic sky GIF

Aurora hunting is always exciting. Photographing the northern lights in arctic winter conditions pushed me way outside of my comfort zone.


Northern lights + cloudy skies = meh 

Conditions need to align to get a good photo of the northern lights. The first night I tried photographing the aurora, cloudy skies made it rather difficult. But it was good practice for playing with settings on my Canon SLR and getting used to shooting in these conditions.


Arctic landscape + northern lights = win

The combination of cumbersome arctic gear, deep fresh snow, night shooting in cold temperatures was fairly stressful. I’m grateful I got a few images northern lights images I’m happy with.


Northern lights on display in Norway

Once the aurora shows up, the cold just disappears and the adrenaline starts pumping. I forgot I was freezing. My tripod froze up and I did not care. I moved around a bit and took in the amazing light show. It wasn’t until after I was done shooting and I began to thaw in the car when I realized just how cold it was.


Auroragasm in the Lofoten Islands

With a group of photographers in a workshop environment, it’s interesting to see how different everyone works. There were some hard core landscape photographers in the mix. As a travel photographer, I’m a solid all-around shooter. But my style is realistic. I’m not one who likes to spend hours editing to produce a perfect image. I’m convinced my strong suit will never be photographing in arctic conditions at night. But I am better at it than I was before taking Stian Klo’s workshop, and that was the point.


Green streaks of the aurora in the Norwegian sky

I definitely picked up a few great editing tips from photographers/Lofoten Tours partners Stian Klo and Arild Heitmann to integrate into my workflow. It is always inspiring seeing how others photograph the same scene.

While chasing the aurora, I concentrated on still photography using my DSLR. I was blown away by Abu Dhabi-based landscape photographer Natasha Haggard’s time lapse and drone work. She graciously allowed me to include her fantastic video it in this post. Her YouTube channel is worth checking out.

Aurora Chasing video by Landscape photographer Natasha Haggard of The Light Majestic 

Take a peek at Natasha’s website, The Light Majestic to see more of her amazing work.

Much thanks to tour leader Stian Klo and photographer/driver Vidar who were great at both helping and pushing me outside my comfort zone.

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Chasing the Northern Lights in Norway’s Lofoten Islands



The Northern Lights on display near Svolvær

After first seeing the northern lights in Iceland last year, I’ve become a bit addicted to aurora hunting.


Aurora hunting in the Lofoten Islands of Norway

Since locations in and near the arctic circle and away from the light pollution you find in large cities are the best places to spot the northern lights, I recently visited Norway’s gorgeous Lofoten Islands with this blog’s social media manager, Anastasia Chernykh, for a photo trip.

Norway’s Northern Lights reflected

The aurora season runs from September to April. To increase our chances of capturing the mysterious solar phenomenon, we hired photo guide Alex Conu, who is known for his award-winning astrophotography and runs photography workshops. Originally from Romania, Alex understands the northern lights phenomenon very well and was great about explaining them.


Green and Purple Northern Lights

Norway knows the northern lights are a big draw for tourists and has a Northern Lights Tracker, which is very user friendly. There is also an Aurora Forecast app available for serious aurora hunters, although it requires a bit of knowledge to understand and read.


Stars, aurora and reflections in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

The northern lights are a phenomenon that runs in an 11 year cycle that peaked about a year and a half ago. If you’re interested in seeing or photographing the the aurora, your chances will be best during the next year before they wane. There will still be northern lights, but scientists think they’ll be more elusive.


Faint aurora in Hamnoy, Norway

Science (and aurora trackers) can tell when there has been a lot of solar activity and then you have about two days to get someplace to spot them. There was a full moon during our time in the Lofoten Islands, which was helpful for composing shots with some visible foreground interest. The Lofoten Islands are located in the Gulf Stream, so the winters are mild by arctic standards, making them a favorite spot for aurora hunters and photographers.


Northern Lights Image above by Anastasia Chernkyh

Local weather and light pollution can keep you from seeing the northern lights. This happened our first night in the Lofoten Islands, when we were staying in Hamnoy. The northern lights were faintly visible but the heavy cloud cover made viewing (and photographing) them virtually impossible.


Anastasia Chernkyh got this amazing shot of the northern lights reflected before they began to dance

We had better luck the night we went out with Alex. Not only did the northern lights show up, but they danced for us! Alex was very good about helping us with photography tips as well as telling us to put our cameras down when the northern lights began to dance. The rapidly moving aurora is harder to photograph with a still camera and was worth just experiencing and taking in the awe of this glorious phenomenon.

Alex Conu

Colors of Lofoten Photo Workshops


 Note: all the images in this post were shot by me and Anastasia Chernykh on DSLR. Stay tuned for a future post on photographing the northern lights with an iPhone 7 plus.


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Night Photography in Stockholm and Finnish Lapland (and Photo Tips)


Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Finnish Lapland, as photographed on my Canon 5D MK III

One of the reasons I chose to go with Photo Enrichment Adventures to Lapland and Stockholm was for another chance to photograph the Aurora Borealis. After aurora hunting in Iceland in October, I got hooked on the phenomenon and know I’ll be seeking out more opportunities to see the Northern Lights.

Photo Enrichment specializes in small group cultural tours with an emphasis on photography. I enjoy night photography but it’s definitely not my forte, and welcomed the chance up up my night photography game. Shooting after dark involves long shutter speeds and that means a tripod is required.

I brought tripod set-ups for both my DSLR, a Canon 5D MK III as well as a far more compact version for my iPhone 6s.


Stockholm’s Parliament building illuminated at night 

Situated between the head of Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, Stockholm is hella windy at night and the night I spent shooting after dark in Stockholm was by far the coldest.

The most important gear in addition to a tripod is the right gloves. My hands tend to get extremely cold and I’ve been shooting with mittens over texting gloves, trying to find the correct pair or combo since I visited Iceland last fall.

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iPhone 6s Slow Shutter Shot of Stockholm at night

Since I know I will be doing more night photography in cold conditions, I’ve now purchased a pair of heated gloves. After a lot of research I figured out that the gloves for hunters and snipers have the same features photographers need, including a free trigger finger. The Heat 3 Smart Gloves came highly rated but with a steep price tag, so I opted for the slightly less expensive Swany Arctic Toaster Mittens.


Stockholm at night, a Canon 5 D MK III shot

The Aurora Borealis only showed up one night during my stay in Finnish Lapland, and earlier than expected, so I only photographed them using my Canon DSLR setup.

The other nights I tried shooting with both my Canon and my iPhone 6s, using the Slow Shutter app, and overall I was impressed with the resulting images from my iPhone. The photos from Stockholm blew out some of the details in the highlights that my Canon was able to capture, but I am still happy with the images.

The Slow Shutter app also has an intervalometer feature built in so you can set exposure times and shutter speeds. Slow Shutter’s intervalometer was more intuitive than the stand alone remote timer I used from Canon.

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Cabins in Kukkolankoski, Finland (iPhone image above)

Slow Shutter produced images that were a bit noisy, but editing them and blending together a few of my favorite edits using the Image Blender app makes the noise less noticeable. They don’t have the same sharpness as the shots from my Canon DSLR but they certainly captured the mood!

I plan on doing more night photography in the coming months so that my comfort level and skill improves.


Cabins in Kukkolankoski photographed with my Canon 5D MK III

The other piece of gear which is so essential for cold weather shooting is extremely low tech: large Ziploc storage bags. After shooting in extremely cold conditions, you take out your battery and SD and CF cards and place your DSLR and lenses in these to prevent condensation when they warm up to room temperature. Very useful!

For more tips on photographing in extreme conditions, check out Dan Carr’s excellent post on Cold Weather Photography and Extreme Conditions.

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Tips For Chasing (and Photographing) the Northern Lights In Iceland


A view of the Northern Lights near Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

With it’s proximity to the Arctic Circle and low light pollution, Iceland is considered one of the best places on the planet to view the northern lights. The best time to view the northern lights in Iceland is from mid-September until mid-April, with deep winter bringing the best chances. Even then, there is no guarantee you’ll sight this elusive celestial phenomenon. I got lucky on the last night of my trip and saw (and to attempted to photograph) the northern lights last week.

Since the aurora borealis is most visible away from light pollution, I didn’t even attempt to spot them in Reykjavik. Unfortunately this meant I was in a deep, jet lag-induced sleep when the northern lights made their first appearance!


The Northern Lights above Ion Adventure Hotel

Also known as aurora borealis, the northern nights are an astrological phenomena caused by solar flares crashing into one another in the atmosphere (for a more technical definition, consult wikipedia).

While there is no guarantee you’ll ever see the northern lights, Iceland’s sparse population and proximity to the arctic circle is one of the best places to view them. There is even an Icelandic Aurora Forecast Tracker online to help, although even if there is aurora activity the clouds need to part in order for you to see it. The night before these photos were taken, aurora activity was predicted to be very high and I headed to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon with Jorunn, my photo guide and the aurora barely flirted and the clouds did not cooperate. I’m glad I bailed on that extremely cold attempt just after midnight so it wouldn’t impact my shooting the next day. At breakfast, Jorunn overheard a photographer saying she stayed out past three am and never saw the northern lights.

Seeing the northern lights in real life was nothing short of an amazing experience that I cannot fully describe. But any photographer who is lucky enough to see the northern lights is going to be compelled to photograph them. The almost otherworldly celestial light is wildly tempting subject matter and, I must confess, a bit distracting.

The fifteen minutes display of auroral activity photographed in this post was one of the most beautifully serene and surreal things I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes I witnessed the whole thing while sipping Brennivín enjoying the waves of light instead of playing with exposure lengths and f-stops.


Starry skies and surreal streaks- the Icelandic Northern Lights

Viewing the Northern Lights was surreal and mezmerizing. Ancient Nordic people thought the lights were thought to be a sign from the heavens. Having seen their pulsating beauty, which comes in flickering waves where the streaky skies shift colors from green to purple and pink, I totally get it. I’ve seen amazing images of the the northern lights but to be honest, not even the best photo can do their shape-shifting beauty justice.


Aurora Borealis hunting in Iceland

Here’s how I photographed the northern lights in Iceland. I did what I usually avoid doing if I can help it– I packed my tripod. Since I am not really fan of tripod shooting, I made it easy on myself by investing in a Really Right Stuff mid-sized ballhead for my tripod legs after reading rave reviews about it’s ease of use. I’m really glad I did. It’s by far the easiest tripod mount I’ve ever used and I didn’t have to mess around with it much. I wanted pictures, but I really wanted to have the full-on Aurora Borealis experience! I am now less daunted by tripod use and I’m excited to use it in more night time photographic shoots.


Streaks of pink shifting through the Aurora Borealis

I attempted to photograph the aurora borealis using two of my fastest wide angle lenses, a Canon 35mm 1.4 lens and a Canon 14mm f/2.8L superwide angle lens.

Once I got my tripod up, I aimed  my camera up at the sky and attempting to get something in the foreground (a touch of landscape, or of the roof of the Ion Hotel, where I was at the time) in the shot for a bit of perspective. I varied my exposure times between 8-15 seconds. I’m happy with the resulting photos for a first attempt. My next time around I’ll probably use an intervalometer as a shutter release and to time my shots.


The Northern Lights Dancing in Icelandic Skies

I also attempted to photograph the Northern Lights with my iPhone 6s using a tripod mount and Slow Shutter Cam App. I had my tripod mount clamped to the edge of a deck railing and it was too dark to see what shot I was framing. Below is the best shot I got of the northern lights using my iPhone 6s.

Photo Oct 05, 6 35 12 PM

iPhone 6s Image of the Northern Lights

My iPhone image is grainy and my composure isn’t great, but you can tell it’s the northern lights!  Since this was my first experience photographing the northern lights, I concentrated more on shooting with my Canon 5D MK III, since I knew it had the best chance of getting a decent shot with it. If I were more familiar with using the Slow Shutter App, I think I would have had better results. But when you see the aurora borealis in real life, you want to just take in the phenomenal light show and not play with your cameras the whole time. I’m going to practice using this app more, so that I’ll be more confident using it in the future.


Watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

While the general rule to stack the odds in your favor to view the northern nights is too get away from light pollution, there was plenty of aurora activity in Reykjavik during my trip to Iceland. There are many tour companies offering aurora hunting experiences. There are also plenty of photo workshops for aurora hunting. I had a great experience with my day tours with Jorunn from Iceland Photo Tours and will rave about her in future posts.

 I’m hoping this won’t be my last meeting with the northern lights. Photographer slash friend Ralph Velasco is leading an Artic Adventure of Lapland in the spring and I’m hoping to join. If there is aurora activity on that trip, I’m hoping to take my northern lights photography to the next level. It will make lugging my tripod so worth it.

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