Advice Needed - Photographing Northern Lights


danmic

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Mar 13, 2006
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#1
As per title, I would like to seek CS'er who have experienced it, particularly in area of gear and location recommendations.

I read up alot on this but there are varying views on where seem to be the best place (and time), and the optimal gear for the job.

Just would like to hear from those who've experienced first hand so that I can get this right, as it is not very often I get to (or affort) a trip to view this once in a life time experince.

BTW I will be travelling with my family, which includes parents, wife and daughter.

Appreciate.

dan
 

asterixsg

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May 22, 2006
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#2
hi dan,
i had my first chance at photographing the northern lights during my trip to iceland in march this year.

i suggest that you read this very informative website that covers everything that you need to know in order to photograph the northern lights. i found it extremely useful and i was thrilled to bits when i captured the first image of the aurora, using the tips mentioned on this site...

http://www.alaskaphotographyblog.com/how-to-photograph-the-northern-lights-with-a-digital-camera/

if you still have any queries after reading the article, drop me a note or post them here and i will answer...

have a good trip and please do share the photos of the aurora...
 

danmic

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Mar 13, 2006
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#3
Hi asterixsg,

Thanks. This is one of the many that provided excellent advise of which I've googled too. What's your experience in Iceland insofar as getaround, proximity to site and light pollution is concern? I am evaluating between Norway, Iceland and Alaska and so far it seem to me that Alaska provide to most 'tourist' friendly environment.

Would like to seek your opinion on your take as I am sure you've evaluated similiar options before deciding on Iceland...

Appreciate
dan
 

tortise

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Mar 12, 2008
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#4
Hi Dan,

I went last December for the Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway. Few lessons from my experience that i would like to share with you:

- Northern lights are best when the sky is clear (not cloudy, not snowing). that is why some of the guides generally chase the good weather first, then chase the lights. I had to also check the weather forecast daily when i was in Norway to decide when i go out to find the northern lights (to find a day where the sky during the time i'm out is likely to be clear)
- Do check the forecast of the aurora activity level, higher activity levels give you higher chances. (http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast)
- You have to be away from the city where the light pollution spoils the visibility of the northern lights, so you either have to stay somewhere more remote, plan to drive out on your own, or engage a guide (not cheap). My guides drove us hundreds of kms to the Finnish border.
- do plan more days for viewing the northern lights, my first few days (even out with a guide were practically wasted as it was snowing and cloudy), luckily the week ended with fruitful results.
- as you will be pretty far north, it will be quite cold. guides will offer additional thermal suits that are very useful for staying out in the snow for long to wait for the lights. If you are on your own, do consider bring more layers or renting.
- for photography, you need a tripod, camera with long exposure capability and preferably remote trigger.
- for lenses, as wide an angle would be better, and preferably big apertures around 2.8 etc.
- If you want to take a photo of yourself with the lights, bring a flash too, and trigger it to fire at the end of the long exposure, you have to stay still for the 20-30 secs during the long exposure tho. you also need to use manual focus such that the subjects (humans) are in focus. might be good to practice before the trip.
- it might be a pretty long wait for the northern lights, so it'll be cold, dark and boring (for kids or older people who do not appreciate torturing themselves to wait for the spectacle). My nights out chasing the northern lights were generally from 8pm till 3am. do prepare for this.

i figured you would have read or found out about most of these already, but it doesn't hurt to repeat them in case.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Norway route, let me know and i'd be glad to share what i can. Good luck and have fun, it is really a great experience!
 

Kenneth67C

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Oct 20, 2010
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#5
There may not be much left of the Northern Lights now as it will soon be Midnight Sun.
The best periods are supposedly around Jan-Mar (long winter nights). Time is around +/- 1-2 hours around midnight.
UWA lens is best to capture as much of the sky as possible. You would want to take in a bit of the land to give some perspective of the Lights.

It is possible to see the Lights in the city, depending on how much activity there is. It would be best to find accomodation which is near the forest, so that you can take in the nature into your shot, as well as to get some warmth while waiting. Exposures will be about 15-30s. Good luck.
 

AdyH

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Mar 8, 2005
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#6
Bro u might wanna consider Yellowknife in Canada as well. I did my viewing there in March this yr. The next sighting and with more tolerable weather would be around September. It happens all year round actually but with longer nite the chances are higher.

I guess u wud already gotten enuff info fm the replies and from the website. Sum it up, northern lights are a weather phenomenon which just like rain, snow can be forecasted but there's no guarantee that u will be able to see it. My advise is, stay at whichever place u staying at least for a week when u know the sky will be clear and the aurora activities is as it's peak.
 

danmic

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Mar 13, 2006
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#7
Hi All,

Appreciate it.

@AdyH, Yellowknife. I must say I've not heard of this before but after some digging, it seem a very nice place indeed. Thanks much.

dan
 

Alpc

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Oct 10, 2002
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#8
- You have to be away from the city where the light pollution spoils the visibility of the northern lights, so you either have to stay somewhere more remote, plan to drive out on your own, or engage a guide (not cheap). My guides drove us hundreds of kms to the Finnish border.
This is interesting. I would have thought Tromso was a place to view the Northern Lights (as suggested in some readings), instead you have to drive hundreds of km to Finnish borders. Any reason for that drive? Was the light pollution in Tromso that bad that it was not possible to catch it there? Because if that is so, then Finland (lappland or further) would then it be a better place to position oneself instead of Tromso?

Dan, I do hope your family members are as enthusiatic as you are on this trip, especially the part where you have to be out in the cold. If they are not, then you might have a slight problem - or you might tell them, during that period of time, they do something to entertain themselves while you go out in the cold and hunt for it.

I am also looking into this subject, thinking of making a trip next year and will be traveling with family members - they wanted to experience this, so they are willing to spend time in the cold just to do this (I did warn them that the temperature might gets to -40 degree Celsius, depending on the timing and location). I am also evaluating between the locations for doing this - cannot figure out where would be a good place: Hotel Ranga (2 hours from Reykjavik, Iceland), Inari (Finland), or Tromso (Norway); and of course when is the best time to do this. I only know that highest chances are around Nov and Mar period, when the solstices occurs. But again, these lights occurrences are more down to sunspots flares so, might be wrong with the timing as well.

Not looking at Alaska since I am heading there in late May (a few weeks time) for a trip to see the glaciers.
 

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icy55

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Mar 13, 2011
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#9
Hello I was on Oslo for about half a year and boy must I say it's indeed a scenic country. My housemate is from tromso and he told me that it's the best place to capture the lights. Best is during the dead winter seasons of dec - Jan. Norway is a beautiful country and it gives you Manu landscape photography opportunities. However, please know that is a very expensive place to visit. As the standard of living is the highest in the world. Other than that, wonderful place with wonderful people!
 

May 5, 2009
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#10
This is interesting. I would have thought Tromso was a place to view the Northern Lights (as suggested in some readings), instead you have to drive hundreds of km to Finnish borders. Any reason for that drive? Was the light pollution in Tromso that bad that it was not possible to catch it there? Because if that is so, then Finland (lappland or further) would then it be a better place to position oneself instead of Tromso?

Dan, I do hope your family members are as enthusiatic as you are on this trip, especially the part where you have to be out in the cold. If they are not, then you might have a slight problem - or you might tell them, during that period of time, they do something to entertain themselves while you go out in the cold and hunt for it.

I am also looking into this subject, thinking of making a trip next year and will be traveling with family members - they wanted to experience this, so they are willing to spend time in the cold just to do this (I did warn them that the temperature might gets to -40 degree Celsius, depending on the timing and location). I am also evaluating between the locations for doing this - cannot figure out where would be a good place: Hotel Ranga (2 hours from Reykjavik, Iceland), Inari (Finland), or Tromso (Norway); and of course when is the best time to do this. I only know that highest chances are around Nov and Mar period, when the solstices occurs. But again, these lights occurrences are more down to sunspots flares so, might be wrong with the timing as well.

Not looking at Alaska since I am heading there in late May (a few weeks time) for a trip to see the glaciers.
i would say Tromso is a better place to see Northern Lights compared to others, because the temperature at Tromso are generally milder, i went there early January this year, and the temperature at Tromso ranged from about -5 to 5 deg C, do note tat the temperature can still go below -10 degC outside Tromso. further more, Tromso is easily accessible, there are direct flights from London to Tromso by Norwegian Air.

the light pollution in Tromso City itself is quite bad, it is still possible to catch the northern lights in the city itself only when the activity is strong, soemtimes the northern lights is so faint that u need complete darkness to see it, the reason why they need to drive a few hundred km is not because of the light pollution, just that they need to find a place with clear sky, there is no way you can see the northern lights if it is cloudy.

the recommended period is from September to March because you have longer night during these period, you can plan to go during polar night period (late November to late January iirc), the few hours of magical blue hours is perfect for good photos, tripod is essential.

have fun! :)
 

tortise

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Mar 12, 2008
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#11
This is interesting. I would have thought Tromso was a place to view the Northern Lights (as suggested in some readings), instead you have to drive hundreds of km to Finnish borders. Any reason for that drive? Was the light pollution in Tromso that bad that it was not possible to catch it there? Because if that is so, then Finland (lappland or further) would then it be a better place to position oneself instead of Tromso?
Tromso is one of the best places to view the Northern Lights, but it happened that the weather when i was there was pretty crazy with snow on many nights (+ clouds that obstruct your view of the sky). It was that crazy snowstorm period in Europe which saw many flight cancellations and delays.

As miaoteh pointed out, the long drive was really to catch the clear skies for once you find that, coupled with high enough light activity, you can see northern lights. Some of the people in the hostel i was staying in managed to se the northern lights by just walking about 200m from the hotel up a hill. I tried to follow their path the next night but the clouds came and made it impossible to see anything.

If you follow the guides, they maintain communications with other guides so when one finds a good spot of clear weather, they will usually tell the others.

good luck to all who are planning to go!
 

Entity

Senior Member
Mar 19, 2009
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#12
Anywhere north of the Arctic Circle gives you a fighting chance to see the lights, but it IS a fickle creature and while you may plan your chase on one day, the lights may choose not to appear at all, and come out when you least expect it. Stay longer if you can so you increase your chances of getting it when it shows itself. A dark night sky and the absence of clouds are essential, and if you are stuck in the city, do be mentally prepared that unless the activity is exceptionally strong, you won't be able to see it overpower the city lights.

Your fingers will freeze if you spend too much time fiddling with the controls, so get used to the settings beforehand. In Scandinavia it was minus 30 degrees and even with the best weather gear on with remote stuck firmly in your pocket you will find it a challenge to stay out there for more than one hour, even less if the wind picks up. In Alaska the conditions were not as extreme. If you are travelling with family do consider that your motivation to stay outside to capture this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle may not be shared by anyone else, so make sure the family is mentally prepared as well!

Temper your expectations and enjoy the holiday; in that way any light dropped from the sky is the perfect packaging for your memorable trip. :p
 

Alpc

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Oct 10, 2002
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#13
No updates for awhile, so Dan - have you done your research and got your trip settled?!?!
 

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