Landscape photographer Hallgrimur P. Helgason tells us his best tips on how to photograph the northern lights in Iceland
The northern lights have been a fascination for many people all over the years. Also, everybody knows that the most beautiful views are by far located in the remote island of Iceland. My friend Hallgrimur P. Helgason has probably taken the most beautiful images of the northern lights and in this articles he will give us some tips on how to photograph of the northern lights.
Spotting the Icelandic lights
We were driving on a long road in the middle of a cold night. There is no light of a town nearby and a clear starry night is your only companion. Then, from one moment to another, the sky transforms into a dance of lights that transform your drive into a scene from a sci-fi movie. We were not sure what it was and simply made us stop and marvel a spectacle only nature can create. Only after a few seconds we realized these were the northern lights – a little miracle which last only a couple of minutes, but it becomes an unforgettable experience.
Seeing the northern lights can happen anytime during winter. We can either be at dinner in our hotel or stargazing on a clear night. With such a short time it is nice to be prepare and photograph the northern lights in a proper way. Well, Icelandic photographer Hallgrimur P. Helgason is telling us some of his secrets and shows us how to take that perfect photograph of the northern lights while traveling in the land of ice and fire.
Here are some of Hallgrimur best tips and some of his favourite photographs of the northern lights taken right in his home country: Iceland
Wear proper clothing
Icelandic nights can be very cold. Dress warm and don’t forget to use gloves, preferably some you can use on the camera without taking them off. Bring as well some extra batteries (fully charged) and keep in your inner pocked for warmth as they discharge more quickly in the cold.
Get out from the city lights
Go out into the dark away from city light pollution. As well take into consideration that you won´t see an aurora every single night. To increase your chances of finding one when you are chasing, check out websites like Aurora Service which can tell you which chances are, you will see an aurora- Of course, take also into consideration that the night must be clear.
Learn your camera settings
To be able to control the settings on your camera you must set it on manual mode (M). And you must lock the focusing on infinity (recommend you Google it if you don’t know how). A remote control is good, but if you don´t have one, don’t worry, I often use 2 sec. self-take to avoid any shake.
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The proper equipment makes better photos
I recommend a wide lens preferably with f/2.8 or larger aperture. A good example could be the Samyang 14mm lens, which is very good, affordable and it’s pin sharp on f/2.8 (not all lenses are). Another plus is that it’s a manual lens, which means that the aperture and focusing are set on the lens and not on the camera.
What happens when you photograph the northern lights with a smartphone?
Most smartphones are useless for catching that colorful perfect image. However modern smartphones let you change the settings to manual and other even let you photograph in RAW. Find out if your smartphone has a manual modus and start learning how to use it.
Bring a tripod
Without a tripod is going to be impossible to get the right photograph. Take always a tripod with you and photograph with the lowest aperture possible with an exposure time from 10-15 seconds depending on how clear the aurora is.
As you can see, getting the perfect photograph of the northern lights is not rocket science. However, it is a mix of patience, knowledge and and luck you will be able to soon capture amazing photographs of the northern lights.