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Northern lights HDR photography

Northern lights HDR photography

Northern Lights HDR Photography

HDR exposures

HDR means ‘High Dynamic Range’. Multiple exposures are combined to give the result that a single exposure couldn’t achieve. For this scene, I actually took 3 exposures. First was the sky for 25 seconds, then the landscape for 225 seconds then the lights for 1 second. This final exposure was never used in the final image, so this is a 2 exposure HDR.

How to photograph the Northern Lights.

Here is the unprocessed 225 sec exposure open in Lightroom so you can see the histogram.

Exposing for the shadows Northern lights HDR

225sec Exposing for the shadows. The histogram tells me that I have all the shadow data.

Lightroom shadow adjustment

All of the shadows are included in the exposure, so I can go ahead and increase the levels of the shadows by boosting shadows and blacks. Then using de-haze to introduce contrast I maintained a ‘Night Look’.

LR shadow adjustment

Shadow levels increased with shadow and black slider.

The 25 second sky exposure was given a similar treatment in light room to boost the shadows in the sky to give a better print.

Lightroom adjust aurora sky

Increasing shadows in the sky.

Photoshop Layers

The next step is to open both images as layers in Adobe photoshop. It is possible to open both files as layers, but I just open both files and used Select all > Copy > paste to add 1 image as a layer on top of the other. I selected the brighter pixels in the top layer (brighter image) by using ‘Ctrl+Alt+2’ to select the highlights, then holding shift, I was able to add to the selection until the whole sky was selected.

Layers in photoshop

With the brighter image on top, I used ‘Ctrl+Alt+2’ to select the highlights.

With my selection, I click the Mask Icon to turn the selection into a mask. Then I invert the mask (Ctrl+i) to allow the highlights from the bottom layer replace the highlights in the top layer.

Highlight mask photoshop

The highlight mask is inverted to reveal 2 perfectly blended exposures.

Colour Jelly

Colour Jelly

This was mid January on a 3 day photo tour. We hit the beach about an hour before sunrise after a comfortable breakfast.

Nacreous Dawn

Nacreous Dawn

Nacreous clouds are difficult to expose. The trick here was under-exposure to make sure I didn’t loose any of the details and colours in the glowing cloud.

January Star

January Star

It was horrible conditions that brought about this beauty. We were sand blasted and windswept on the black sand beach, day 2 of a 3 day tour.

My Gear on Amazon

Buying through these ads generates a little extra income for me and helps to pay for the website.
Canon 5D - full frame This is a heavy duty camera than I have used in all weathers. It has a very Powerful live-view and great quality images.
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 l This lens was all I needed for many years. Sharp from corner to corner, makes it a champion for landscape details.
Canon 135mm f/1.2L Wonderfully sharp!
Medium weight Tripod My Gitzo has been on the ice beach a thousand times and is still strong.

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