Chasing the Northern Lights

Today’s Post by Barry Staver

I’ve only experienced one other photography challenge as great as capturing Northern Lights – shooting underwater images.

Understanding fireworks photography is a good starting point because both have similar parameters. The first hurdle to overcome is camera stability and the need for a solid tripod. Second, you need to further insure against blurred images by using the shutter delay setting found in the camera menus or by using a remote shutter trigger. Third, requires manually pre-focusing the camera, setting the f/stop and shutter speed which means disabling all the automatic settings we’re accustomed to using.

We need to also factor in the cold weather, as Northern Lights are normally seen and photographed in the winter in the extreme northern or southern tips of the planet. Fireworks are normally photographed during a warm summer night in July. Not only do you have to keep yourself warm but camera batteries drain quickly when exposed to cold. I kept extra batteries warm inside shirt pockets inside of a thermal suit.

My Bucket List adventure took place near Tromso, Norway. Temperature was in the low 20’s Fahrenheit. First photograph shows two groups of photographers on the shore shooting toward the water, yet another incredible display of the “Green Lady” is right behind them. That was one “nice problem” to have – light displays in front, behind, often directly overhead. This meant an almost constant refocusing of the camera, as merely moving and rotating it on the tripod while wearing gloves tended to bump and change the focus ring. In hindsight, I should have set the focus and gaffer taped the focus ring in place.

A great advantage of digital photography is the ability to quickly review images, make any necessary corrections for focus, exposure, and get right back to shooting. The first image was a four second exposure with a Lumix GH4, ISO at 1250, 12-35mm Lumix lens set to it’s widest aperture, f/2.8.

Second shot is looking out over the ice-covered fjord, catching the green reflection on the water and ice surface. Same camera, lens, and ISO. Shutter speed reduced to 2.5 seconds.


Barry along with Joe Farace is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print with new copies available at collector (high) prices or used copies for giveaway prices, only $7 as I write this, from Amazon.