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  • October 2016
    M T W T F S S
    « Nov    


    Another set of Iceland pics, likely the last, this time from one of the most amazing waterfalls in the world. I visited three separate times, but you’ll only see pictures from the first trip. That first day was bitterly cold, windy, and snowing. Not ideal for taking pictures, although I gave it my best shot.

    The third trip was specifically timed so I could get the rainbow. Search for ‘gullfoss rainbow’ and you’ll get about a zillion pictures. I couldn’t leave Iceland without adding 1 more to the list. Knowing how rainbows are formed, I calculated what I thought was the best time to stop by. Another cold and windy day – I’m not sure there’s any other kind in Iceland – but the sun was out and I got a shot. Not spectacular, but good enough to add to the list. They might benefit from some judicial photo editing, and I might return to them again in the future.

    I think I ended up with some decent photos, and the waterfall truly is amazing and a must-see in person. But compared to standing under the aurora


    Thingvellir, Iceland

    I’m not sure how to pronounce, or even spell, Thingvellir (Þingvellir), but it is a beautiful, peaceful place smack in the middle of nowhere. A snowstorm had just passed through the morning I went, and the combination of scattered clouds and snow covered scenery made for easy picture taking.

    It was during the editing of these photos that I discovered the ‘sunlight’ filter that is part of the Nik Collection (also makers of the indispensable Snapseed iPhone photo editing app). It applies light into the shadows, helping make the image softer, without taking away sharpness. A simple effect, but highly effective. It is especially beautiful when applied to portraits.

    Click here for gallery.


    Even more Aurora

    Best Höfn Aurora (Link to gallery, so you can skip the narrative).

    Following the success of St. Patrick’s Day storm ‘photoshoot’, I would have been happy to leave Iceland without seeing any further aurora. But Mother Nature wanted to send us out with a bang, and delivered another incredible display two nights later.

    As you might expect, following the excitement of St. Patty’s Day, I spent the next day flipping through the photos to see what I captured. A couple of things stood out, as items I needed to correct:

    1. Focusing. I knew in the moment that I was having difficulty keeping sharp focus, and far too many images were slightly blurred.
    2. High ISO noise. I had experimented with high ISO, going up to 6400, and although this brought out the sharp details of the aurora, the photos lacked ‘punch’, through a combination of the resultant low contrast and high noise.

    So two days later, when the aurora were starting to spin up, I went out and practiced. Since I knew I had good shots ‘in the can’ (or ‘on the card’, as it were), I allowed myself a little experimentation: I fiddled with ISO, f/stop and exposure, and wandered around the area quite a bit to change the foreground. If I missed an arc, so what. I was previously so intent on making sure I didn’t miss an opportunity, that I had neglected the immortal words of John Wooden: Be quick, but don’t hurry.

    With a few hours of practice, I was dialed in and ready.

    I had been out for several hours in sub freezing, windy conditions, so I went back into the cottage to warm up and wait for the big display… and almost missed it! By the time I had thrown on my coat and gloves the aurora were directly overhead. I snapped a few shots (here, here and here) then ran around the area like a mad man looking for good foreground material. By this time I was more experienced, and was able to quickly set up, reframe, refocus, and shoot. And because of that, the photos from this night are some of my favorite of the entire trip.

    There are three groups of photos from the night:

    1. ‘Practice time’. These turned out to be some of the best. The sun was slowly setting, leaving the sky a beautiful purple. A series of slowly drifting arcs appeared, and the green on purple contrast is wonderful. That comet PanSTARRS was also in the picture was completely by luck. Completely.
    2. Auroral Expansion. Active aurora all over the sky, including some beautiful, strong arcs over the mountains.
    3. Quiet time. This was the most interesting of all. After the auroral substorm, a large belt of aurora set up south of us. It changed slowly, and had immense structuring.

    All in all, a perfect way to end the trip. You can tell I was dialed in, because this time I posted only 20 photos from that night – I took shots I knew would be good, and didn’t shoot willy-nilly. The comet is in some of them, as are the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, and the Andromeda galaxy. You can view them here:

    Best Höfn Aurora

    St. Patrick’s Day Geomagnetic Storm

    What a difference a few years (and a camera upgrade) make! My first attempt at photographing the aurora ended with some decent pictures, but nothing spectacular. Partly, I wasn’t experienced enough to know the appropriate ISO / exposure combination. Higher ISO captures some of the details, but at the expense of noise, while longer exposures with lower ISO reduce the noise, but blur the dynamic details. It was also 40 below, making it difficult to focus…

    My trip to Iceland was centered on obtaining much better pictures of the aurora, new camera and lens in hand. Success! The sun and solar wind cooperated – twice! – and generated a series of beautiful aurora on two separate nights. For the St. Patrick’s Day Storm, I had been monitoring the solar wind continuously and was praying for it to remain southward (needed to create the aurora) until dusk. Being at such high latitude, the sun took FOREVER to set. For about an hour I could see the aurora overhead in the slightly blue sky, providing a very nice palette of colors. An eagle eye observer will also spot comet PANSTARRS. Thankfully, just after sunset, a spectacular auroral display occurred just over our head. Amazing.

    My D600 can shoot at ISO 6400, with much less noise than ISO 1600 on my old D200, making it easy to capture details and colors of the aurora that I was unable to catch last time around. In fact, the aurora were so intense and long-lasting, that I was able to play around with framing, foreground objects, and even higher ISO (more so the second night). A truly spectacular display – our innkeeper said the best he’s seen in years. An experience I’ll never forget.

    A lesson for all those out there hoping to capture the aurora: Focusing is hard! Auto focus of course fails. One would think you could just rotate the focus ring all the way to infinity, but alas, no. Proper focus is a few degrees shy of that. And the aurora are too dim and dynamic to focus manually through the eyepiece. So, trial and error is the only solution, and zooming in or out changes the focus. So does bumping the camera as you excitedly move from scene to scene, which happened more often then I’d like to admit. Some of these photos are slightly out of focus, but I don’t care. I’m very happy with how they turned out.

    Of course, nothing can compare with actually being underneath the aurora. The best pictures in the world  just do not do it justice.

    Gallery of St. Patrick’s day storm aurora.