Copper Mountain, ColoradoCopper Mountain, Colorado

Lofoten Scenes: Northern Lights

June 07, 2017

Northern Lights over Uttakleiv Beach in the Lofoten Islands, NorwayNorthern Lights over Uttakleiv Beach in the Lofoten Islands, NorwayThe Northern Lights were weak this evening and came in waves, but still cast a nice reflection along the coastline of Uttakleiv Beach in the Lofoten Islands of Norway

One of my goals this trip was to try and get a few pictures of the northern lights.  Prior to this trip, I knew nothing about the northern lights.  I had seen plenty of pictures and knew that you had to get closer to the Arctic circle to see them, so I figured I'd just go to Norway and they'd be there.  Once we arrived, our guides told us that the weather had drastically changed from the week before.  It was snowing when we landed, and they were predicting lots of snow during our week in the Lofoten Islands, which would make for some nice snowy landscape scenes.  The prior week had been rainy and there had been no snow on the ground.  Unfortunately with snow comes cloudy skies, making it impossible to see any lights that might appear in the night sky, so our guides were not very hopeful about seeing the lights this week.

During our second night in our fishing cabin hotel, our group decided we would keep a lookout for anything that appeared in the sky.  It was snowing, but the forecast for lights was there.  We were all pretty tired from our first day of shooting, so when we were woken up at midnight by banging pots and pans and yelling for everyone to get out and shoot, I wasn't really sure what to make of it all.  I threw on my clothes and ran outside to set up my tripod.  It was still snowing and I didn't really see anything, but started taking my 30 second exposures.  Eventually we saw some very faint green behind some clouds, but honestly I wasn't too impressed.  After an hour, we all just went back to sleep.

Next day at breakfast, I better understood why we had to be ready at short notice to take northern lights pictures.  Their appearance is unpredictable, and may not last very long, so when they appear you want to be ready.  Our guides told us stories of guides pulling fire alarms in hotels to get groups of tourists up to see the northern lights.

Over the next few days, other members of my group shared their stories of seeing the lights, and shared some of their pictures.  This only got me more frustrated that I hadn't seen any yet, and with the weather forecasts I might not see them this trip.

On the fourth night, we were finally rewarded with a forecast of a clear night sky, so we decided to head out with our waterproof gear and headlamps at around 10 pm to Uttalkeiv Beach.  I wore pretty much every piece of clothing I had brought with me, since it was probably going to be cold standing in the Arctic ocean all night.

First thing I remember once the bus stopped and everyone started running towards the beach to set up their tripods was how freaking dark it was.  I picked a spot away from everyone else, set up my gear, and was ready to take some damn pictures when I realized I couldn't see anything.  How the hell do you manual focus your lens when you can't freaking see anything?  I tried a few test shots at close to infinite focus, but when it's pitch black out a "test shot" usually is a 1 minute exposure at high ISO.  At this rate, it was probably going to take me all night to just figure out how to focus, and I would probably miss the whole show.  I think there were a few others in my group who had the same thoughts as me.After a while, I remembered one piece of advise from the photographers was to try and focus on a distant star and manually set your white balance to something around 2950K.  I eventually zoomed in via live view, found a star, and got my setup in focus.  Once I got that figured out, I remember thinking ok yeah I'm not moving here for the next 4 hours because I'll never get this thing in focus again.

Focus frustration aside, my nervousness melted away as the lights began to appear.  They just sort of materialized out of nowhere behind the mountains, and came over us in waves of green and purple.  Apparently they were pretty weak, but it was still amazing to see.

I even took a camera phone picture of my DSLR's LCD screen of one of the shots I had taken, just to show people that this was what I was getting straight from the camera, with no post processing in Photoshop.

We ended up staying out in the cold, getting northern lights pictures until around 5 in the morning.  I'll be honest, towards the end my feet were starting to get super cold.  I think some water had gotten past my waterproof slip-ons, so that night's sleep in a warm hotel room was one of the better ones I've had.

I took a bunch of shots (hundreds), with the hopes of getting at least one keeper from each location.  You can even see here where I finally remembered to manually set my white balance.

Northern Lights over Haukland Beach in the Lofoten Islands, NorwayNorthern Lights over Haukland Beach in the Lofoten Islands, NorwayThe aurora was weak this night, but still put on a nice show over the calm waters of Haukland Beach.

Northern Lights over Uttakleiv Beach in the Lofoten Islands, NorwayNorthern Lights over Uttakleiv Beach in the Lofoten Islands, NorwayThe Northern Lights were weak this evening and came in waves, but still cast a nice reflection along the coastline of Uttakleiv Beach in the Lofoten Islands of Norway

These are my favorites from each location.  I think I was a little too paranoid about changing my setup once I got everything in focus, so I didn't move around a lot.  Learned a bunch my first time around shooting the northern lights, and I've already planned another trip in November to try and shoot them again.  Seeing these appear overhead in person for the first time was an experience I will never forget.

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