Whether in season or not, The Northern lights (or aurora borealis) are always the talk of the town amid avid travellers and photographers alike. There’s just something absolutely mystical about them that grabs you at first sight and, in all honesty, never lets you go.
I was fortunate enough to spend one full winter a couple of years ago braving the Icelandic cold and well… with cold comes lights… After a couple of months of lightless days and icy spills I decided that I was done with Iceland and it was time to migrate towards warmer climates… Or at least that’s what I thought, until I bought a one way ticket back to this little island of paradise this April.
The Northern lights season was just coming to an end, and the chance of catching them at this time of the year was like finding a needle in a haystack. Well, on my second day back, after driving for more than 6 hours in circles up and down mountains, we hunted them down and the outcome was absolutely captivating.
When shooting in unfavourable conditions, especially where extreme climate is involved, your gear and accessories mean the difference between taking that amazing photo or missing it: having the right gear definitely won’t make the shot, however will minimize the margin of error which will only play in your favour.
These are 5 of my essential must-haves when on the hunt for the Northern lights be it in Iceland, or anywhere else in the world:
1.Camera: Although it is true that the lens is more important than the camera itself, having a DSLR whether it is an entry-level one or a full frame one, is recommended than using a point and shoot one. A DSLR enables you to access certain controls and settings, crucial for Northern Light photography, that point and shoot cameras simply do not have (or are limited).
2.Tripod: This is the holy grail of the Northern Light shot. The tripod enables you to shoot using long exposures in order to capture as much light in the sensor as possible without compromising on the integrity of the shot itself and stabilizing the shot therefore keeping camera shake (or blurriness) to a minimum. I would recommend the Manfrotto Compact Action DSLR Tripod, as it’s heavy enough to handle rough weather yet is still quite lightweight and compact to carry around with you.
3.Lens: As with every low light situation, the faster the lens, the better. I always bring my 50mm 1.4 lens and one wider angle in order to get a larger amount of the landscape ( 11-16mm 2.8/ is ideal for these situations )
4.Backpack: In general, I’m a backpack person and this also goes for my photography outdoor adventures. Having that extra space that backpacks have to offer is great especially when you would want to bring an extra jumper or two to keep you warm on your hunt. A waterproof/hiking type backpack is ideal if you’re faced with harsh weather conditions such as rain and snow. I’ve been using the NX camera and laptop backpack as the backpack itself is divided in two sections – one for your personal gear and one for your camera and equipment. Although the backpack is fully padded and provides enough security to safely transport camera gear and laptop’s I would not use it in harsh weather conditions due to its lack of waterproof ability.
5.SD cards: This might be obvious however, shooting Northern Lights requires lots of trial and error meaning that you’ll be using way more space than you would normally. In addition, it’s advised to shoot in RAW so you could easily retouch little details here and there afterwards and keep as much of the quality of the photo as possible.
Donna Tzaneva is a twenty-something year old globetrotter that was born in Bulgaria, grew up in Australia and now resides in Iceland. After finishing her BSc in Equine Studies, a severe horse-back riding injury made her take a step back from that career and take up photography. She hasn’t stopped ever since.