Northern Lights in Iceland

So I promised a post about the Northern Lights, which I was lucky enough to see for about 20 mins in Iceland in November 2012. We went out in a small mini bus with about 9 others, and drove out of Reykjavik away from City lights. Not really being aware of what to expect, it was very exciting to realise there was a light green “cloud” in the sky, and that it WASN’T a CLOUD! That is how it appears – a band of colour, and then you realise that ever so slowly, it is changing, moving, expanding, contracting. Anyway, it was so exciting, and even though the temperatures were way down below zero, and the wind was blowing a hoolie, we stood outside and watched them for about 20 mins (with some hot-chocolate-on-the-bus breaks).

A few of you have asked me how to shoot the lights – so hopefully this will give you somewhere to start! If the temperature allows it, play around with ISO and exposure duration, and see what different effects you can create.

The kit I had with me was: 5DMkII, 24-105, 15mm fisheye, full sized tripod, remote control.

Most of the shots I took were using the 24-105mm lens, but I did take a couple with the fisheye just to give it a different feel. Before I went out into the bitterly cold night, I set the camera to ISO 400 and f4.0. I then tried a variety of timed shots to get the best effect. I quickly realised 400 ISO was not going to be successful without overly long exposure (which the temperatures were really making difficult), so I changed it to 800 ISO. Below is a shot at 400 ISO, exposure 30 seconds long.

Pre level check in photoshop:


Then having tweaked the levels in photoshop:


After this point, all shots are at 800 ISO.  Below is a timed shot of 10 seconds.


It wasn’t a completely wasted shot, as once the levels are sorted out in photoshop, it looks like this:


I then tried a 20 second shot which came out pretty well.


Once I dropped it into photoshop, and tweaked the levels a little, this was the result.


I finally tried a 32 second shot


Which after a quick whizz through photoshop looks as follows:


Just to show you a shot with the fish eye lens, here’s a shot taken with the same ISO as before (800) f4, and the lens is a 15mm. It is a 30 second exposure.IMG_7332edit

The “piece de resistance” was the shot below. As I was taking this shot, we saw a shooting star fall through the middle of the Northern Lights. That was a truly magical moment – and it is my favourite shot of all.


I hope this has been helpful to some of you … and for those of you who know better than me how to take these shots – I hope you could at least enjoy the photos!! It was a magical experience, and one I’d really like to repeat!


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