The Northern Lights.

With all of the coverage in the newspapers in Ireland and the United Kingdom I thought I would post about how I photographed them last year in Iceland.  The above picture was taken on an ocean capture trip while staying at Hotel Ranga, a great place to stay if your going on holidays to Iceland.  If you don’t want to sit in the hot tub outside your room sipping a beer and watching the daylight slowly fade then stay away!

Anyway back to the photograph.  How do you photograph the northern lights?  Its dark after all.  First off you need something stable to put the camera on.  A tripod works best but if you don’t have one try a firm surface like a car roof, a table etc anything that doesn’t move.  Without a tripod its hard to angle the camera to get the sky in the shot but you could try using a bean bag or a bag of peas, a beanie hat or something mailable.  But not to labour the point a tripod works best, I just want to encourage you to think laterally for those times when you find yourself in need of one but you’ve left it behind.

I chose to deliberately include the building in the photograph to give the image some scale.  Looking at the photograph you get a better sense of the wonder and magnificence of the light show by including something like a building in the foreground.

Now the camera settings; I shot this on a canon DSLR.  I am sure you can get a photograph with a point and shoot image but a camera with a manual mode is more suitable to the task.  I used a wide open aperture of f 2.8.  At that aperture setting you have to watch your focusing and make sure its bang on.  If you’re using auto focus at night it can be a fiddle so focus on a definite edge, in this case the building, and when you have it in focus turn off auto focus to stop it hunting.

I shot this in manual mode.  With the aperture at f 2.8 I set the shutter speed to 30 seconds and as I had left my cable release in the room I used the self timer on the camera to trigger the shutter.  I checked my histogram and bracket the ISO on the camera until I got what I wanted.

Have you been photographing the northern light?  Where have you seen them?  How did you do it?  I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Especially as I will be in the North west of Ireland next week.  Drop me a line here or on my Facebook page.

About briancooney123

HOW I GOT HERE Of course, I wasn’t always a full time photographer. I spent a lot of time in the corporate world. I had a job which paid well, but just didn’t excite me. I remember the day when I had had enough. Enough of selling myself short, enough of dreaming too small, enough of doing what others expected of me. I had put away my dreams and told myself I would get back to them later, but somehow there always seemed to be something else that had to get done first. A friend of mine had recommended I take the NLP Business Practitioners course, and although I was really busy, I decided to do it. During that time, I began to imagine the different paths my life could take from here. While I had a hazy picture of what this other life might look like, I had a clear picture of where my current life was going if I didn’t change. It was a scary moment, a bit like standing on the edge of a cliff deciding whether to jump into the great unknown or stay on the cliff, safe but trapped. I jumped. The transition to the life I wanted was challenging The transition to the life I wanted was challenging but I would never go back. After that day I resolved to do what I love, to follow my bliss.  Picking up a camera after several years away, I found that many things had changed, the digital age had arrived. In the intervening years, I was too busy to pay any attention to my photography, and occasionally when I took something I really liked, I would think “how do some photographs seem so captivating and others leave me completely cold?” I knew this is what I was meant to do Somehow though, I knew this is what I was meant to do. I dedicated myself to learning everything I could about being a photographer. I took many, many courses and I read every book I could get my hands on, I still do. Since then, I have dedicated myself to helping other creative photographers achieve the results they want. And what a journey it has been. Last year I qualified as a coach. My main area of interest is creativity and helping others to express their vision. WHAT I BELIEVE Along the way, I’ve learnt that there are no rules. Experiment, explore, play. My advice is to make your art from your heart, not for the praise or the money.  Lighten up. It’s important to take your photography seriously, but it's a mistake to take yourself too seriously. Finally, you get what you want when you never, ever give up so enjoy every minute of it and just do it!
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One Response to The Northern Lights.

  1. John Stanley says:

    Hi Brian, off to Tromso, Norway, this coming week-end. Intend using the entry level D3000 Nikon with standard AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm zoom. So my max aperture will be f3.5, while max exposure time on the camera is 30 secs. The only variable, therefore, will be ISO. You say you “check my histogram and bracket the ISO”. Could you advise on what I should be looking for in the histogram? What’s the highest ISO you would go to before putting the camera back in the bag and just enjoying the moment? Many thanks. John Stanley

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