Horny Lights

Horny Lights

Taken on November 16th, 2017

Location: Vestrahorn Mountain, Iceland.

Camera equipment

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
  • Medium weight Gitzo
  • Magic Cloth = Black inter glove.

The Canon 5D mark iii Canon 5D  mark III Canon 5D mark III Recommended for Magic Cloth Photography

L series Canon EF-24mm f/1.4Canon  EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM A nice prime lens for landscape.

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Camera settings

  • ƒ/2.8
  • 24 mm
  • 98 seconds
  • 1600

Mode: Bulb mode.
Focus: Just before infinity.

Background

We had a day of clear skies on our workshop. We chased the sunset to Stokksnes, but were disappointed to see the sun drop below thick horizon clouds about 45 mins early. The late afternoon light can be perfect from Stokksnes in Winter.
We stayed until the colours disappeared and went for a swim and lunch in the nearby town of Höfn. As there is normally a couple of hours between sunset and the appearance of Northern lights, the plan was to waste time in the swimming pool and have a leisurely evening meal. Several soaks in the ice bucket and a hearty reindeer burger later, we found ourselves looking at a declining Aurora forecast. Not to be defeated, we decided to head back to Vestrahorn anyway with a view to doing star trails or some form of night photography.

The best time for Auroras

People often ask me the best time to see northern lights in Iceland. They are normally best between 22.00 and 02.00, but here we were just after 19.00. As we got away from the town lights, we observed a streak of light across the sky. Maybe we would get lucky! It was a very weak Aurora, but it was over the Vestrahorn mountain and it was better than nothing.

Around 19.30 we were treated to a couple of minutes of good Northern lights activity.

Focal length

24mm is just wide enough to capture the whole mountain from Stokksness. But, I normally pick on the right edge of the mountain to allow space.

Aperture

f/2.8 is a standard for Northern lights. Focussing just before infinity gives a pretty good focus throughout the scene… at least it is more than acceptable at night. The priority is to have sharp stars. f/2.8 on my 24mm prime does produce a touch of coma in the outer edges of the frame, but is satisfactory.

Composition

For this shot, I swung the camera to the right when the Aurora activity increased in the East. I allowed enough space to prioritise the Northern lights in the spacious sky. This put the mounting peaks in the centre of the frame (which I would normally try to avoid), but in this case there is plenty of interest in the sky for this to work. This is a good example of how to break the rules of composition.

Magic Cloth Technique

Don’t forget to share!!

  • Long exposure = 98 seconds.
  • I had a comment on my flickr that 98 seconds is too long for a Northern Lights photograph. This is a matter of opinion depending if you want the stars to trail or if you want pinpoint stars. As you can see, the stars are pinpoint.

    The Magic Cloth (my gloved hand) was introduced to the scene around 20 seconds into the exposure. The remaining 80 seconds were spent, carefully exposing the foreground. This was a moonless night and the foreground is a dark colour. For about an hour before this shot, I had experimented with many exposure lengths and knew the foreground required a couple of minutes at f/2.8 and iso 1600.

    The shot below was the photo I took before the featured image. This was only a 38 second exposure. This is because I stopped the exposure to take another shot when I saw the Northern lights activity increasing. This can be a frustrating aspect of Northern lights Magic cloth photography… you sometimes have to ditch a shot mid-exposure to start again when the Northern lights increase. In these cases, you just hope the activity doesn’t suddenly drop.


    Thanks for Reading!!

    Northern lights

    The shot before: shutter 38 secs.

    The difference between the 2 images is:

  • 1. Greater activity in the sky
  • 2. about a minute of foreground exposure
  • Hopefully, you can see the value of that extra foreground exposure.

    Brunahorn

    Brunahorn

    I demonstrate a lightroom preset on this photo of Brunahorn in East Iceland.

    Hvitserkur Gull

    Hvitserkur Gull

    This basalt structure has withstood many thousands of years of Icelandic weather, although it recently had a concrete base manufactured to prevent erosion.

    Vestrahorn brown

    Vestrahorn brown

    This brown landscape scene captures the essence of the Vestrahorn location during the thawing season.

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