Behind The Shot: ‘A Night To Remember’ by Arild Heitmann – Skånland, Norway

Aurora borealis long exposure capture Skånland, Norway

A Night To Remember by Arild Heitmann

November 14th 2010... I was heading deep into the woods for another nightly adventure… I came down to a river running out of a small frozen lake. My headlamp was living its own life, turning on and off every other second. I must have looked like a walking disco...

I managed to get out in the middle of the river to these wonderful rocks. I knew immediately what I wanted. The rocks were frosted so brilliantly. I knew that if i could pull this off, i would have a shot that could be hard to top. The aurora was dancing vividly across the sky in the exact right direction.

At the time i was using the old Canon 5D paired with an EF 17-40mm f/4L lens. I set up my composition and focused on infinity. I set the aperture wide open, ISO was set to 800 and I exposed in bulb mode since this would be a longer exposure. Time for the "magic cloth"! I pulled out a yellow kitchen cloth from my pack and after I had done some serious compositional thinking, I held the cloth over the sky and opened the shutter. After a little over 100 seconds, I removed the cloth and let the sky expose for about another 20 seconds. This made the reflections and the foreground stand out in a really appealing way.

When I got home I started the processing. The RAW file looked great. Noise was almost unnoticeable. Then followed the obligatory and crucial white balance adjustment, a little Levels… and then some dodging and burning. All that was done in a few minutes. - Arild Heitmann

Equipment and settings: Canon EOS 5D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L zoom lens, shutter release, Benro tripod, yellow kitchen cloth - Bulb mode, 126-second exposure for the whole scene with only 20 seconds of exposure for the sky at f/4, ISO 800

This image is available as a print here. Follow Heitmann's work on Facebook, Flickr and 500px. His portfolio can be seen at his website,


    I’ve seen a lot of beautiful Aurora pictures, and I must say that this is among the best. I do have a question, though. Why a yellow cloth (as opposed to a black cloth, for instance)?

    Confused – Paragraph 3 Quote : “I held the cloth over the sky and opened the shutter. After a little over 100 seconds, I removed the cloth and let the sky expose for about another 20 seconds. ” Don’t you mean “I held the cloth over the camera…” instead? “over the sky” makes no sense in this context.

    David, a black cloth would probably work better. I just didnt have any 🙂

    James, i held the cloth over the lens, NOT the actual sky. But looking through the viewfinder you could say i covered the sky with the cloth…

    Your pictures are awesome. But I have one question. You say on your website that “99 out of 100 aurorashots are absolute bullsh!t” May I ask why that is?

    I assume I could try this on regular star shots on dim lit nights. Could I use a ND 4 stop or the big stopper, 10 stop, Lee? Outrageously nice picture!


    I find it very hard to believe postprocessing was done in only a few minutes considering the power line going across at this spot which you must have removed from the photo. PS content aware function was not invented back then 😉

    Great picture though.

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