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Shooting the Northern Lights

Like everyone else or at least like every photography enthusiast near the north, the northern lights was something in my bucket list. I have been a student in Finland for the last 3 years and all these years i only woke up to pictures taken by my friends during the night. This year was different as i was actively trying to master the craft of picture taking and I was determined to capture this illusive and unbelievable spectacle. My flatemate who happens to be a physicist at CERN waked me up. “Yogesh lets go photograph the auroras”. “what?” .. okay ..
I packed all my gears : headlights, remote shutter, flash lights, gloves and my camera bag. Off we went. Earlier that day he had already google mapped a location with less light pollution. Only later i found out how creepy it was. We were just two of us in the middle of nowhere. We encountered a heavy activity on the way although we had no idea where we were heading. We were in the middle of a field when the lights started dancing. I quickly checked the forecast website and the Kp index was 5.3. Since i could not figure out an interesting composition i started shooting blindly.
I recalled everything of those youtube tutorials that i was watching the other day. I literally was panicking because i feared the activity would fade and since this was the first time i was seeing the auroras i didn’t want to miss shooting them trying to figure out a nicely composed shot. The show lasted for nearly 8-10 minutes. We were expecting another burst in about 30 minutes so we decided to find something interesting in the foreground to at least have some decent decent pictures. We walked for about 300 meters and there we found this summer cottage.
For the next click here hour we stayed there waiting for some activity but nothing happened. We saw some faint colors but it was not so strong like before. I decided to try some light painting with the cottage and made a couple of keepers to take home. Although we nearly froze ourselves, the experience was worth while and I’ve surely learned a couple of things from this night out. Planning ahead is really the key to capture the northern lights. Check www.aurora-service.eu. The website has prediction for 3 days. It will also serve you as a learning place, to know what there is to know about the aurora borealis.
Tripod is a must when it comes to shooting the auroras. Since you will be working with exposures of more than 10sec, it is merely impossible to pull that off without one sturdy tripod. Lens choice is another key factor. Make sure you have the fastest glass. ie, that opens to larger aperture from 1.4 to 4.0. Settings Shoot manual. Start with an ISO of around 800 as the base value. Open your aperture as wide as it can go and start from around 10 sec shutter. Compose your shot well. Just a shot of the sky with the northern lights will do you no harm
But as soon as you have something interesting in the foreground with the auroras in the sky, it will give your pictures a whole new dimension. It is important to be able to show the proper scale and grandeur of the activity. Dress appropriate. Being out on nights will be very cold. Especially nordic nights can be freezing. Accessories Make sure to carry extra batteries and flash lights. Due to the cold weather and long exposures your batteries are prone to dry out fast. Flash lights will be handy to focus on subjects during the night and also to find your way around. Happy shooting everyone.
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