A dream come true – Shooting the Aurora Borealis in Iceland

Greeting folks. I am slowly getting back into shooting after over two weeks home. I have a shoot this weekend that I hope will yield something worth sharing. But, before I move on from one of the most amazing photographic experiences of my life, I wanted to share this post about shooting the Aurora Borealis.

My trip to Iceland with my friends was planned months ago and I recall saying that the trip will be a complete success if I see the Northern Lights and get a photograph or two worth printing for my home or office.  I said that out loud knowing that you never really know. I have read countless travel reports where folks arrived and the weather turned and left a week later without seeing them. I knew that was a possibility.

I honestly felt that is where our trip was going. The weather changed the days prior to our arrival and we were greeted with days of rain. Lots of it. We had to cancel our cave tour and glacier trek. We missed some opportunities but did our best to make the best of it. One evening I texted my wife and said “It (my dream of photographing the northern lights) just wasn’t going to happen and we will have to come back again sometime together to see them.”

On our last night there we had returned home from a truly glorious day. My friend Glenn and I were sitting in the bar talking and scanning images.  A woman ran back into the bar yelling “The Northern Lights are out!” (We later found out this was her second trip to Iceland to see them as they did not see them on their first trip). Glenn and I grabbed our cameras and let our friend Brady know as well. We ran out and even though the light wasn’t great and we had some ambient, yellow light from our hotel, there they were in all their glory.

I had prepped and planned for this moment and quickly changed my camera settings and set my camera up on a tripod in front of a small tidal pond to get a reflection. And I shot and shot and shot. All night. Skipped our evening meal in fact.  As my pictures will show, the Northern Lights change in a moments notice and they come and go. You never really know what you will get. I moved around a lot trying to frame and capture them differently. Also, the tide did go out so I lost the reflection alter in the evening. I ended up finishing shooting well after midnight with an early morning departure planned for the airport.

I did not care. I got to see one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. And, I even got a picture or two that are meaningful to me. This was a dream come true and I feel blessed to have seen them in the grand scale that I got to see them. Thankful to say the least.

I have not spent much time editing these images. I only did a small amount of curves tweaking and noise reduction in Lightroom. I can, and will, spend more time editing before I print any, but I wanted to share them more in the tweaked state as opposed to really edited and/or modified.

Anyway, here are a bunch of pics taken over several hours in varying light that show you the variability of the beautiful and awe inspiring Aurora Borealis.

I hope you enjoy them. I know I took these and am biased, but can look at these images all day.

If you ever get a chance to see them in all their glory and splendor, I encourage you to do as I did and ignore everything and watch until they are gone. It is truly something special and spectacular.

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6 Comments

  1. Lovely photographs. Could you share a bit about the technique, shutter speed, ISO, and what lens you used? I’d be interested in the technical aspect of them.

    Reply

    1. Thank you. I will post a more thoughtful response this evening with more detail. In the mean time the slideshow does have camera info as well as shutter speed and f stop. More later.

      Reply

    2. OK. Here is a more thoughtful response. Hope this helps. I had prepped and planned for this moment and quickly set my camera up on a tripod in front of a small tidal pond to get a reflection. My settings were as followed.

      – RAW

      – IS off (and on tripod)

      – Panasonic 12 mm f1.4 set at 1.4 or 1.6 (I accidently moved it to 1.6 for many shots)

      – Carefully set manual focus to infinity. Note on this. I wish a distance scale appeared in the EVF or was printed on the camera. I had set the camera to live boost to amplify the light and slowly turn the focus ring in very small increments and wait for the camera to re adjust and update the EVF. It took forever and I was so worried I would screw up all the images.

      – I had pre calculated the max time with the 24mm for stars to not leave trails at ISO 400 or 800 to be 15-20 seconds so I experimented with times between 15-20 with a few errors because I was excited and missed the time leaving a few short start trails. To determine that max shutter speed limit, take 500 and divide by your focal length.

      – Custom timer set to 5 seconds release so I had no camera shake. You can also use a wifi app but chose not too due to cold temps.

      Reply

      1. I am impressed. 👍🏻 Your results were stunning! Thank you for sharing the images and technical details.

  2. WOW! Totally awesome! I really like how you framed the church in the foreground.

    Reply

    1. Thank you Tim!

      Reply

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