Technical: Nikon D3x, ISO 1600, 46s at f3.5, 35mm
In October I returned to magical Iceland for the fourth time this year to complete an ongoing photography project of mine. Aurora borealis was not part of the plan, but rather a pleasant surprise with no "getting the perfect shot" pressure.
For my first evening with auroral displays, I really watched the spectacle until I felt the urge to take a few snapshots. The next evening I ended up sacrificing the shot for experimentation and learning as I played around with apertures, hyperfocal, exposure lengths etc...It is recommended to shoot as wide as you can and as fast as you can (highest acceptable ISO, lowest acceptable aperture)...and well, I agree. However, on this evening the humidity was just too high for me to use filters or risk changing lenses...and amongst my experimentations I decided I wanted to use more traditional focal lengths and zoom-in (on a relative basis). Shooting wide allows you to capture the full aurora and to crop compose if necessary.
I am no expert as it comes to aurora photography but composition has been both a philosophical and technical challenge. Stronger light through a combination of moonlight and more powerful displays could very well change my first impressions.
Technically, composing in near pitch black is a challenge...it just is. Add to that the fact that displays can be erratic both in location and intensity AND that part of the displays are not even visible to the human eye...that just increases the complexity of interesting compositions as the aurora will often be the greater part of the picture. In traditional landscape photography, composition is obviously quintessential. A photographer will pre-visualize what he wants to achieve and take great care in including and excluding elements...to compose. Star trail photography, long(er) exposures & Co can be pre-visualized. Aurora certainly involves skill and technique, but as much as the results are invariably eye-candy, I feel it has as much to do with luck as with technique. Some may appreciate the wow factor and the surprise factor, but I confess that it has (at this stage) left me with some bizarre feelings and a lesser sense of accomplishment than traditional photography. This thinking out loud will no doubt evolve and I am quite excited with some of my results. I will go back and try and figure out a different way to go about this.
To give you a better sense of understanding a few notes:
- the eye could make out the basic shapes of ice in front, contours I would say. It is dark yes, but I could not expose longer w/o loosing detail or highlights in the aurora. I do not HDR, blend or do unrealistic processing.
- the red spectrum was invisible, but a few test shots revealed its presence...same for the small cloud
At the end of the day I am very excited with Prima Borealis and will no doubt return to shoot this phenomenon, just wanted to share some thoughts. What you get is far from what you see or could even imagine.
Please take the time to leave a comment, an impression, a thought, always appreciated.
Check out the set as it grows:
What do you think?