written by: Juan Martinez
photographs by: Hallgrimur P. Helgason
The northern lights have been a fascination for many people all over the years and anybody knows that the most beautiful views are by far located in Iceland. Now the question is: how do photographers take these amazing images?
Imagine driving on a long road in the middle of a cold night. You can spot any light of a town nearby and the 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 and makes you stop and simply marvel at this spectacle only nature can create. These are the northern lights, an expectacle that might only last minutes, but it´s an unforgettable experience.
The northern lights have been a fascination for many people all over the years and anybody knows that the most beautiful views are by far located in Iceland. However, we still ask ourselves how do photographers take this splendid photographs of this short displays of nature and getting the most of it. Well, Icelandic photographer Hallgrimur P. Helgason decided to tell us some of his secrets and show us how to take that perfect magical photograph of the Northern lights in the land of ice and fire.
Here are some of Hallgrimur best tips and photographs of the northern lights from his home country: Iceland
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.
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 or Aurora Forecast which can tell you which chances are, you will see an aurora and of course, the night must be clear.
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.
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.
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.
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 isn´t rocket science. However, it is a mix of patience, knowledge and and luck.
Are you looking for more information about Iceland? Check out some of our other guides about this country and get some tips how to rent a car in Iceland or some tips during a roadtrip in Iceland on a budget.