Iceland in winter is a photographers dream. The sun rises around 11.30am and only gets high enough for the light to change from pink to gold before setting just 4 hours later. A back-to-back sunrise and sunset.
What about the other 20 hours?
Well, it’s dark, cold and not a bad time to hunt the Northern Lights when the conditions are right. Clear facing north skies, minimal light pollution and just the right amount of moonlight all go a long way to helping your chances of seeing this celestial light show.
Watching the lights dance overhead for the first time is unforgettable. For me, it was one o’clock in the morning at the partially frozen glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón along Iceland’s south coast.
The night was still and clear, and having failed my previous two attempts, I decided to venture out of my cozy car to setup my tripod and capture the Milky Way over the lagoon. Waiting in the darkness all I could hear was the cracking of ice as new icebergs were formed and slowly drifted away from the icecap out to sea.
At first, it took me a while to notice the faint glow on the horizon but once it turned to bands of green, excitement kicked in and the frostbite was quickly forgotten. Batteries were dropped, gloves were lost, all in a mad attempt to point the camera in the right direction as the light raced overhead.
Scouting for compositions the day before helped me move with the lights. I alternated my shutter speed between 10-30 seconds depending on the speed and intensity of the aurora. A six minute safety shot was also taken in case it was needed for the foreground, but with a little help from Lightroom’s noise reduction, a double processing of the raw file was sufficient and I color balanced through luminosity masks.
This image is available as a limited edition print here. Based in Sydney, you can see more of Castaing’s work and contact him through his website at www.jarrodcastaing.com. Follow him at 500px, Google+, Flickr, Pinterest and Facebook.
Equipment and settings: Canon EOS 5D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L wide angle lens, Feisol tripod, Giottos Pro ballhead, cable release, bubble level and headlamp – 30 seconds at f/4, ISO 800.