You don’t need to spend much time in Iceland to see why it is known as “the land of ice and fire”. Vast expanses of frozen tundra, snow covered peaks and smoking geo thermal pools make up its spectacular landscape. The short winter’s days with the sun not rising until gone 10am and setting again by 3pm means the light always has a special quality to it. These factors of light and landscape make a perfect marriage to any landscape photographer. For me and I would guess for most other people visiting Iceland that the number one thing to see would have to be the northern lights. To see the lights you need good dark clear skies and also at least moderate levels of solar activity. The latter can be hard to predict and we were told by our guide that the solar activity forecasts are not at all accurate. In total we spent three of our four night stay looking for the lights. The first two evenings failed despite having reasonably favourable conditions. On our last night when we had almost given up hope we were privileged to witness an amazing show with the lights clearly visible with the naked eye moving through the night sky and twisting around mountain peaks.
Photographing the northern lights
When photographing the aurora it is important to try and keep exposure times as short as possible. I found that longer exposure times resulted in the loss of definition and the overall effect was a rather soft mushy green sky. In other respects it is quite similar to other types of night photography.
• Shoot in RAW / camera on tripod / cable release
• Lens wide open f2.8 – f4
• White balance set to tungsten
• Manual focus – infinity is a good starting point then adjust
• Start with a high iso then gradually reduce
• Use the RGB histogram to be sure the greens don't get clipped
• Keep exposure times to under 20 seconds
Other highlights of the trip were an amazing day going round the golden circle where we visited the geyser and gullfoss. Also a very relaxing morning spent at the blue lagoon.