The Northern Lights. A Photographer's Perspective.


I’m Emilia, the fourth blogger of this student blog. The main focus of my writings is in the international and study related topics that I hope will interest both Finnish and international students. You can learn more about me by following this blog as the academic year progresses.
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The magical dance of the Northern Lights is a unique phenomenon which people from all over the world travel to Lapland to witness, and for most travellers it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Would it be possible to capture those unforgettable moments with a digital camera? I managed to reach out to two well-known photographers in the student community and interviewed them about the topic.



Iiro Rautiainen studies audiovisual media culture and is a freelance photographer. Iiro’s career as a photographer took a more professional turn some four years ago when he began cooperating with the University of Lapland. Nowadays he also works as a press and wedding photographer. Iiro’s photos can be seen on the university website and in the university marketing procures and guide books. More: www.iirorautiainen.com

Ilkka Ruuska is a law student and a self-learned photographer who is multitalented in the field of photography. Whether the focus is on sports, nature or portraits, he has the passion for it all. Ilkka began working with the university last year. You may find some of his photos on the university website as well as on the university’s official Facebook page. More: www.flickr.com/photos/iruuska/


A guide to capturing the Northern Lights


What is an ideal place to see the Northern Lights?

 

IIRO: It is good to get as far away from the city lights as possible and to be prepared to move to the location fast. When you’ve found a good place, make sure you’re facing the Northern sky.

ILKKA: Sometimes the show might last for hours but occasionally only for a couple of seconds. This is why you need to be patient and ready to wait even for a long time. 


How do I know when it’s time to ”go for the hunt”?

 

IIRO: The Northern Lights can never be predicted with 100% certainty. However, I recommend keeping an eye out on University of Alaska – Geophysical Institute, Space Weather and Solar Ham websites for the current solar activity. 

ILKKA: Follow the forecasts, both for the solar activity and the weather! The sky needs to be clear. I follow the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center on Facebook where they notify you on the Northern Lights regularly. Also on the Foreca website you can see hourly predictions on the weather.


What kind of camera do I need and which settings should I use?

 

IIRO & ILKKA: Basically you’ll need to have a camera which has manual settings and a tripod to keep the camera steady. Adjust your camera settings so that shutter (Tv, S) is 2 – 30 seconds depending on aperture (Av, A) and ISO sensitivity. You’ll find the best results by trying out different settings. However, the common rule is that aperture (Av, A) should be set on maximum (f/ 2.8) and shutter (Tv, S) at 8 seconds minimum. If the photo has too much noise you should set the ISO smaller (ISO 200, 400, or 800). If possible, also use self-timer (2 seconds) to avoid taking blurry picture. Focus should be on the horizon or on the object.

The instructions in a nutshell


The place

  • Go far from the city lights 
  • Face the Northern sky

The time

  • Follow the weather prediction online (the sky needs to be clear) 
  • Check the solar activity
  • Prepare to wait

The equipment

  • Get a camera that you can adjust manually 
  • Use a tripod (or steady ground) to support the camera

Camera settings

  • aperture (Av, A) = maximum (The smaller the f number, the larger the aperture!) 
  • shutter (Tv, S) = between 3 – 30 seconds 
  • ISO = maximum (If there is too much noise, use smaller ISO)
  • self-timer = 2 seconds
  • focus = on the horizon or on the object


The results

 

I asked both photographers to share their best captures with the blog readers, and I also attached my very own "novice capture" in the end. Enjoy the photos and get ready to go for the hunt!


© Iiro Rautiainen
© Ilkka Ruuska. Tottorakka, Ounasvaara. 12th September 2014.
Ricoh GR compact camera, f/2.8, ISO 320, 8 sec.








© Emilia Nypelö. Tottorakka, Ounasvaara. 12th September 2014. Nikon D80.


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