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Thread: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

  1. #1
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    Default Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Hi all,

    I'll be making a trip to the Arctic Circle in Feb. Hopefully can see the Aurora Borealis aka Northern Lights.

    Just got my first DSLR, a Canon EOS 500D recently. I only have one lens - a 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. So as you can see, I'm still very much a newbie. And a newbie trying to shoot the northern lights is almost like a disaster waiting to happen.

    To lessen the impact of the disaster (cos' I think it's still gonna turn out disastrous!), I'm hoping for some advice here.

    Does anyone have any experience, tips or advice, not just of capturing the lights but also the weather conditions, to share? I know I'll definitely need to get a tripod, but that's about it.

    Oh, and do these cameras take well to snow?

    I'd really appreciate any input. To see the northern lights is almost my lifelong dream, and I really hope I'll be able to capture nice images of them.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    This isn't a good year for the lights. Wait for 2 more years, when the sunspot activity is at it's highest. Catching the northern lights also depends on clear conditions (as little winter fog as possible), no cloud cover, preferably no or little moonlight, and going in late winter.

    That's the advice I got from a friend who has held aurora tours for 7 years previously, and he is really really experienced when it comes to auroras.

    Check this page for aurora forecast, though you can't check way in advance.
    http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    lypklypk is right. I was @ the Artic circle in Rovaniemi, Finland just 2 weeks ago for a holiday. No chance to see the lights. Northern light is very dependent on sun activity. This year seems to be bad year.

    But there are other good pictures to take. Sun rise is amazing. But make sure you do proper white balancing. Otherwise all the pictures will be bluish. If u take in Raw mode, still can save the pictures using the canon DPP software. But it is really a hassle.

    Go for the ice fishing. If u cannot catch any fish (usually the guide will catch at least one) u can get very good pictures of the wide angle area.

    Tripod is a definite, and make sure u take at least 1 spare battery. Feb should not be that cold. -9 to -13. I was there when it was -30.

    Dun carry to many gear, with all the clothings, u will most probably be fumbling, and last thing u want to do is to drop the camera on the snow. Prepare first b4 going out. ie fixing tripod base plate, settings. etc etc.

    If u really hope to get the Northern light and if u are lucky. remember to bring a cable release. 500D got only up to 30sec exposure. u may need up to a 60sec - 90sec exposure @ ISO100 to get a good shot with your lens. Also u will need to set your camera to manual focus mode (set to infinity) during this kind of shooting as AF dun really work at all.

    Good luck

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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    lypklypk, your friend conducts aurora tours? Where is he based? I might be booking an aurora tour, but haven't decided on which one yet. Does he have a website or something? Sigh, I know this year isn't good. But I've already booked everything. Plus I'm going also because I'm based in Europe now, so thought might as well...

    tikiman, thanks for your advice. I've just got the extra battery and the remote control. Also got a UV filter (more for protection), though I didn't do enough homework before that and got a circular polarising filter instead. But just when I was banging my head against the wall, I also read that the CPL might also be good for snow conditions cos' it'll cut out the reflection from the snow. True? So now which filter should I be using? The UV or the CPL?

    One more thing I'm a bit confused over. I suppose to take the lights, I'll have to open my aperture to the biggest, which is f3.5 in my case. But then, doesn't it mean a lesser depth of field? Cos' from what I've gathered, to take landscape pics, it's best at around f8, no?

    And one thing that's been bugging me, I've been hearing things like 'set the focus to infinity'. But I realize my EF-S 18-135mm IS lens, unlike many others, doesn't have that small little window where you can see the numbers (what do you even call these numbers anyway?), which include the infinity sign. So how do I 'set my focus to infinity?'

    Thanks!

  5. #5

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    He doesn't do the tours anymore... He used to be based in Yukon, Canada.

    Depending on how strong the lights are, you'll probably be taking about 15 second exposures with a large aperture lens (some people use wide angle primes with max aperture of 1.8, for example, the sigma 20/1.8), and pumping up the ISO to 800, 1600 or more.

    The idea is, you won't want a long exposure, cause the northern lights move, and you would want to capture the shape of it.

    As long as you focus to infinity (just focus at something far away, and set the lens to manual focus, so that the lens won't hunt in the dark... or you can pre-focus somewhere far where there's enough light, set to MF, tape up the part of the lens where it rotates to focus, and leave the lens as it is), your photo will not be out of focus. You might need to sharpen up the photo after the shot though, if you're planning to blow up the photo. (dependent on lens characteristics)

    As for the filter, I suggest that the UV should be on, to protect your lens. I've never had a problem with shooting in snowy places without a CP.
    Last edited by Lolrence; 31st January 2010 at 10:43 PM.

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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    When you say somewhere far away, do you mean as far as in the sky? Or somewhere on land where there's enough light? I know this is going to sound stupid, but how do you focus on somewhere as far as in the sky when it's all dark?

    Ooh, taping up the lens sounds good! But it won't spoil any mechanism, yah?

    THE trip is two days away and I'm really starting to get excited. Also crossing my fingers in regards to the Aurora.

    Thanks for all the advice, really!

  7. #7

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Eh, I'll use something on my Flickr as example...



    See the blue mountains at the back? That's considered far... Basically, focus anywhere far (on land will do) with enough light (if your lens does not have an infinity focus icon).

    You can just use a piece of small tape. It's not gonna spoil anything..

    All the best for the trip, and post some photos after!
    Last edited by Lolrence; 2nd February 2010 at 11:17 PM.

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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Now, that photo really helped. Thanks!

    Btw, I love your landscape photos. May I ask what lens do you usually use to take them?

  9. #9

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Quote Originally Posted by sharenmun View Post
    Now, that photo really helped. Thanks!

    Btw, I love your landscape photos. May I ask what lens do you usually use to take them?
    Mostly a sigma 10-20

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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Thanks for the link.

    Hmm... think you just re-affirmed my decision in regards to my next lens purchase.

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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    i can't give advice on how to take an aurora, but i can help a bit on your trip.
    perhaps to take snow, you can overexpose your pictures by 1/2 or 1 stop because snow usually underexpose your picture (correct me if i'm wrong)

    i went to Saariselka, Finland, which is north of Rovaniemi during christmas 09. because the more north you go, the higher chance you have for a sighting

    although predicted to have not much of aurora activity, however it totally based on luck. I had 3 days straight of aurora sighting, but it's weak. you might want to sleep after 2~3am, lol cause pple say that's the peak hour

    you can book an aurora snowmobile tour (around 130 euros/pax) with your resort, where they would bring you around places high up on the hill for sighting. they can provide personel snowmobile, for a given fees, however legally you need a driving license. Protection gear and warm clothing will be provided by the tour agency.

    however during the tour, you may not have the luxury of very long exposure, positioning yourself and taking tons of pictures because there is still other members who might not want to stay around for long (because it's damn cold with strong wind).

    BTW, Scandivian is having a crazy winter now. Enjoy, it'll be fun


    Taken with 450D, Tamron 18-270,focus to infinite, Exposure 30s, f/5.6 and ISO 800.
    i know the pic sucks, i can't bear the crazy temperature and just want to show aurora is all luck
    Last edited by adobe83; 4th February 2010 at 08:18 AM.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Quote Originally Posted by adobe83 View Post
    i went to Saariselka, Finland, which is north of Rovaniemi during christmas 09. because the more north you go, the higher chance you have for a sighting
    Really? My understanding is that that's not always true. For example, there are a lot more Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks, Alaska than Barrow, Alaska, even though the latter is much further north.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Quote Originally Posted by neech7 View Post
    Really? My understanding is that that's not always true. For example, there are a lot more Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks, Alaska than Barrow, Alaska, even though the latter is much further north.
    I think it'll depend on the Earth's position at that time of the year...
    The aurora is actually a big oval, not a circle, so I'm guessing there'll be years where Fairbanks gets nearer to the aurora than Barrow. If you look at http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/ you'll notice that both of those 2 places are along the edge of aurora's area of effect.

    I was in Fairbanks last December, and because it was a bad year to view the aurora, I almost didn't see anything in the sky at all. I thought I saw a really faint green in the sky, didn't think much of it, but decided to point my camera at the mountains for a long exposure shot anyway... and when I reviewed my photos in the morning, I realized that I've actually managed to capture a faint aurora.

    Sorry about the half-hearted exposure


    And yes, the best time is from 10pm-2am, some people stay till 3 or 4am... but that's your call
    Last edited by Lolrence; 4th February 2010 at 09:16 AM.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    hey i really liked that pic lypklypk! as in it somehow contains this element of surprise haha ...coz usually see the aurora with the night skies..

  16. #16

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Quote Originally Posted by lighterdenser View Post
    hey i really liked that pic lypklypk! as in it somehow contains this element of surprise haha ...coz usually see the aurora with the night skies..
    It was at night.... haha. I took a long exposure shot, which makes it look like day

  17. #17

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    i suggest to go inmarch or april im going then hehe but in norway instead. u can search on the web for further info but these 2 months are suppose to have more sun activity thats more predictable. sadly this year is not a good yeah for auroras..

    no worries with the cold. ive been using a 500D with a phottix and canon original on -20C to -25C. works fine. just rem to put it in ur bag when going indoors or ull spend the next 30 mins hugging it to get the condensation off haha.. experienced very mild battery depreciation but only when im out for more than an hour in the cold. its funny but my friends' d90 batteries deplete a lot faster than the lpe5 in the cold.

    faster lenses are better so that you can decrease ISO and exposure time. typically 12-30 sec exposures are recommended. auroras occur 80-130km absl so no worries with dop. this is all the research ive done so far, if theres anything wrong or any1 has different opinions im more than willing to hear u out

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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Hi all,

    I'm back from Finland. Very sadly, I've no aurora photos to show. I was in Saariselka for two nights, Rovaniemi two nights and Helsinki one, and guess what, everynight was super cloudy, if not snowing. I didn't even have to bother with the best time or with waiting. Sigh... Even all the photos taken in the day sucked, cos' it was just too overcast.

    Adobe83, wow, you were really lucky! 3 days in a row somemore. I wished I could have taken a photo like yours.

    mynameis greg, are you going to Tromso? I hope you are, cos' that's supposedly one of the best places in Europe for the aurora. Whether this year is a good year or not, good luck!

  19. #19

    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Quote Originally Posted by sharenmun View Post
    Hi all,

    I'm back from Finland. Very sadly, I've no aurora photos to show. I was in Saariselka for two nights, Rovaniemi two nights and Helsinki one, and guess what, everynight was super cloudy, if not snowing. I didn't even have to bother with the best time or with waiting. Sigh... Even all the photos taken in the day sucked, cos' it was just too overcast.

    Adobe83, wow, you were really lucky! 3 days in a row somemore. I wished I could have taken a photo like yours.

    mynameis greg, are you going to Tromso? I hope you are, cos' that's supposedly one of the best places in Europe for the aurora. Whether this year is a good year or not, good luck!
    Cool, share your photos!

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Finland and Aurora Borealis in Feb

    Quote Originally Posted by sharenmun View Post
    Hi all,

    I'm back from Finland. Very sadly, I've no aurora photos to show. I was in Saariselka for two nights, Rovaniemi two nights and Helsinki one, and guess what, everynight was super cloudy, if not snowing. I didn't even have to bother with the best time or with waiting. Sigh... Even all the photos taken in the day sucked, cos' it was just too overcast.

    Adobe83, wow, you were really lucky! 3 days in a row somemore. I wished I could have taken a photo like yours.

    mynameis greg, are you going to Tromso? I hope you are, cos' that's supposedly one of the best places in Europe for the aurora. Whether this year is a good year or not, good luck!
    yes do share your photos

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