Suburban Northern Lights

Suburban Northern Lights

I constantly advise photographers to get out of the city and away from the city lights to get the best northern lights photographs, but that is not always possible.  Sometimes there are great Aurora Borealis conditions when you are stuck in the capital.

This article discusses my attempts to photograph Northern Lights over a suburb of Reykjavik. The suburb is called Gravavogur (Cemetery district) and is the suburb in which I moved to in 2004. Being a purist nature landscaper, I tend to avoid photography anywhere near Reykjavik – even though Gravavogur is where I learned my craft. I constantly advise photographers to get out of the city and away from the city lights to get the best aurora images. But, seeing as I am here, I thought I would tackle the challenging conditions and try to photograph the northern lights near my home in the capital of Iceland.

Dynamic Range issue

Here is the problem…

Reykjavik Aurora

With a regular Aurora exposure, the city lights become blown out.

HDR merge

One solution is to simply take 2 exposures…

Reykjavik Aurora

Exposed for the Aurora.

City Aurora

Exposed for the street lights.

Merge them together in photoshop…

Grava Vogur Aurora

The result is quite pleasing, but you might want to attempt to get both elements exposed correctly in a single frame, i.e for competition purposes.

Magic Cloth

Using the Magic Cloth in this situation is almost the opposite of using it in the nature, where photographers struggle to expose the unlit foreground. Here, the Aurora is dark in comparison with the street lights, so the cloth needs to cover up the bottom of the image quickly and allow the sky a little longer. I experimented with various techniques…

City Northern Lights

In this shot I covered the whole lens very quickly after the onset of exposure (split second), then carefully lowered the cloth to about the mid way point to give the sky a little more exposure. The result is maybe not as powerful as the HDR, but it was achieved in a single exposure.

Vestrahorn brown

Vestrahorn brown

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

Valentine’s day

Valentine’s day

This was the worst weather I had seen at this beach. The terrific winds were blasting sand at the backs of our necks as we struggled with our cameras.

Hassy on the berg beach

Hassy on the berg beach

This photo was taken on a mild September morning with slight chances of gaps in the clouds for the Sunrise at Jökulsarlon glacier ice beach.

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