It all started around 25 years ago. I was six, and I was reading a book about beautiful things happening in the sky. Things like comets, meteors and northern lights. The book had only some drawings of the aurora; no photos. But I was totally fascinated by the undulating curtains of light above an igloo. I think I will always remember that drawing.
In 2013, I went to Lofoten, Norway, for the first time, and I was lucky enough to witness a fabulous display of the northern lights. I was totally hooked. I fell so deeply in love with that place that one year later I decided, together with my wife, to move to Lofoten. I left a successful career in advertising and fashion photography in Romania to move above the Arctic Circle and shoot northern lights, landscape and adventure. And I’m extremely happy that I had the guts to take this step.
Besides photography, I also have a major in astrophysics, with a minor in physics of the atmosphere, and that helps me a lot as I do my own northern lights and weather forecast. And being able to forecast the weather in Lofoten is quite a challenge. It took me almost one year to understand all types of local microclimates.
Doing landscape and adventure photography, it’s easy to understand that I love being outside. And I also enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities like bouldering. Quite naturally, an idea popped out in my head: How about bouldering under the northern lights?
After some scouting, I decided to shoot the scene close to the beach at Skagsanden, on the island of Flakstadøya, in Lofoten, of course. I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a Canon EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L lens. When you take a shot like this, you have to overcome a few difficulties. You can’t shoot with a wide opened aperture, as you need both the sky and the foreground to be in focus. At the same time, you need a short exposure if the lights are dynamic, and they were like that when I took the shot. Then you have to balance the light on the climber with the light of the aurora. I was lit with a headlight held by my wife.
First, I had to compose the frame and set the basic exposure parameters without the climber (that’s me) in the shot. When I was happy with the composition, we tried various power settings of the headlight. Then, I set the camera to continuous shooting and went climbing. My wife did her magic with the light.
Yes, the boulder was cold and my fingers were not very happy with that. Yes, I was almost barefoot at -2 centigrade. So what? I had lots of fun, and I managed to take a shot where I mixed two of the things I love because I think you have to add a bit of yourself to every photo you take.
Alex Conu’s photos can be seen at alexconu.com. He also has an astrophotography only website that can be visited at www.astrographist.com. You can go on tour around Lofoten, together with Alex, and learn more about northern lights and landscape photography. Check out his tours at colorsoflofoten.com. You can also follow Alex on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.