A Night with the Lights – Part II

The mission was simple… to see and photograph the northern lights once again. I wanted to get to the most convenient place I knew which also had a low level of light pollution and faced the north. I decided to visit a summer cottage and take a boat from there to an island close by. Once I reached the island at about 5 p.m., I scouted the north-facing shore for possible photo and camping options. Things were looking good, and the shore had some awesome rocky puddles running along it. I found a place to put my tent, and found my main composition area for some photography. It was quiet, peaceful and a great way to start the evening.

Above: Scouting by boat for a photography/camping location. It can be difficult to choose and settle on a location sometimes since one often tends to ask a lot of ”What if?”, questions when it comes to creating an image. The other locations were great too, but I think that they will be useful for future use instead.

Above: A bad, but idea-giving photo of my nature hotel for the night.

The main photography location for the night was good, but I also had a few other backup plans as well (including a composition with two trees in it). Time was also now starting to run out, and the last thing I wanted to do was to be out there in the dark like some lost idiot scrambling for compositions. It can work, but I personally don’t enjoy rushing things that way. The sunset was coming soon. I took a moment to rest and enjoy it this time, as I usually plan to shoot around, or just after sunset. However, that didn’t stop me from taking a pic or two :). I couldn’t resist.

Above: What a sunset it was! Not a good composition, but I took a photo regardless. Too much fiery sky to resist.

Above: Shortly after sunset. I ended up taking this shot in the place that I had planned to use for my main northern lights photo, just so that I wouldn’t end up leaving without any decent shots from the trip. I actually quite like how it turned out, although the sunset was unfortunately a bit too much off to the left. Moving the composition was also not an option as there wasn’t anything else in the area that I found to be suitable.

After taking the photo shown above, I spent the rest of the night waiting in my tent, drifting in and out of sleep in anticipation of my potential sky-bound guest. I sent my alarm for 2 a.m.-one hour before the northern lights were expected to show. Regular check ups were in order via the front of my tent (AKA ”tentavision”.), and to much of my delight the guest had decided to arrive early (around 1.30 a.m.). It was time to get shooting!

Above: The picture above was actually a ”Plan B photo”, but I enjoy it more than the one I had set up to be my main photo. It almost seems like the trees were enjoying the view as much as I was. I think of the big tree as a parent along with the smaller child tree. A memorable moment for sure.

Above: This was when the aurora seemed to be at its most active, twisting and flying around wildly in the sky. The position of it at this time wasn’t suitable for any of my planned compositions, so I just took a simple shot of the sky. The northern lights weren’t as active as they were the second time I saw them, but it was nevertheless still amazing as always!

Above: This was the photo that I had planned for as my main photo for the night. I’m quite happy with it, but I still prefer the one with the trees in it. By now it was already around 3.30 a.m., and I was starting to get tired regardless of the amount of coffee I drank. I stuck around for a couple more hours in hopes of getting more good shots, but it seemed as though the show was over and it was time to leave this island and head back to the summer cottage.

Above: One more photo to show the last of the aurora. The visibility continued to dip as the sun began to rise.

The rest of the morning involved taking an amazingly surreal boat trip in the dark back to the summer cottage. I was way too tired to take photos of this journey back, but it was a good way to end the trip. I eventually arrived back at around 5.30 a.m., and went straight to bed. I think that the short trip was worth it and I recommend that others take the time to go and watch the northern lights from time to time (or include it as part of a holiday somewhere up north). It really removes one from the bubble of daily life and can give one the indescribable feeling of connecting with something greater than ourselves. Nature and its therapeutic quality has been good to me once again, and the pictures are a special bonus. I hope that you enjoyed them.

Anyways, have a great autumn and remember the keep an eye on the weather! I think that the next show could be on the 26th/27th of September, so go have a walk and a look to the north :). See you out there!

 

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A Night with the Lights

I’ve wanted to see the northern lights for as long as I’ve seen pictures of them, and last month I managed gaze upon the aurora for the first time, even getting a photo or two. Ever since then, I have been determined to witness them light up the skies once again, hypnotising all measly human beings that gather below.

The Trip:

Since it was a nice Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a cycle from Joensuu to Kontiolahti. I left at around 16:00 in order to get there before sunset so that I could think about how and where to compose my shot. There was this amazing little place on the lake with a single tree standing alone amongst some rocks. I had been there once before, but I thought that this could be a suitable place for the night. I set up my camera and took a few test shots. Then I waited.

By the time the sunset was ending, I could already see hints of aurora in the sky (at around 19:00). I knew that I could be in for a treat. I let time do its thing, and at around 20:30 I phoned a relative who was waiting for the show in Joensuu to find out if they could see it too. We had both seen some aurora, but it was still calm. We finished our chat, hung up the phone, then I looked up at the sky and immediately it started. It was mind-blowing. Aurora stretched far across the sky from one side to the other. Below are some photos from around 19:09 to 20:35.

Above: A hint of aurora at 19:09.

Above: Aurora at 20:14.

Above: Aurora at around 20:30.

Around: Aurora at around 20:35.

At around 21:30, many other people and photographers started showing up, eager to enjoy the show. The previous lights had faded, but they could return at any moment. Everyone and their grandma’s cousin were looking at the sky, setting up their camera or just relaxing under the glow. I knew it was an excitement shared by all. I took a few more photos from that area and then decided to explore some more.

While exploring the area with a torch in hand, I managed to lose a glove in the dark. A minor setback, but well worth the trouble. Below is a photo from the second shoot.

Above: Aurora at 22:25, and someone arriving late to the party.

After all of this, I decided to start making my way home. It was getting late but I just couldn’t help stopping along the way to take more photos. Below are some from the way back.

Above: Aurora at around 23:00.

Above: Aurora at 23:41.

Above: Aurora at 0:19. Close to Lidl in Pilkko, Joensuu.

I eventually got home at 01:00 with a memory card full of photos, one cold hand and a satisfied smile on my face. It was a great night, and hopefully the lights will return again soon to tilt our necks and please our eyes. It’s been great to see all the pictures from all over the country, both north and south.

What I’ve Learned:

Keeping an eye on the forecast is a must. I use apps like My Aurora Forecast (for aurora predictions), and Clear Outside (for checking cloud cover etc.). Both work fine but obviously aren’t always completely accurate. Reading about the kp index is a must as well. Once you know when it could occur, it’s only a matter of finding a suitable location for viewing. It’s best to face north, be away from light pollution (city areas), and wear enough warm clothing to keep yourself feeling warm and patient. I sometimes take a flask of hot water for tea as well as some food for the gullet when I’m out for long periods of time.

Technique:

I’m still getting the hang of this, since this was only my second time photographing aurora, but I’ve found the settings to be similar to the ones used in astrophotography. For most of these photos I just focused on infinity. With others I took two photos, one focused on the foreground and the other on infinity. I then blended them together in Photoshop. I mostly left the aperture wide open, which was f3.5 in my case. The shutter speed is going to vary depending on your camera and lens, but I tried to keep it under 15 seconds. Keeping the shutter speed short is going to prevent stars from trailing in your photos. Personally I’m not always fussy with that, but I like to get them pin-sharp if possible. My ISO stayed between 800 and 1600. I used a Nikon D7100 (crop sensor) with a Sigma 10-20mm, as well as a tripod. Anyways, feel free to drop me some hints if you have any 🙂

Hope to see you all out there next time!