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Iceland Aurora 2
Posted By: emalvick, 01-15-2013, 06:33 PM

The below photos were from the 2nd night of aurora watching. These should have turned out better, but I stupidly made a mistake in leaving a ND filter on my camera from some earlier in the day shots. The result is that most of these images end up being exposures on the order of 60 seconds. I don't know why I didn't think to check for that. I couldn't understand why my shots were requiring such long exposures, yet I was so caught up in the moment and it was pitch dark where I was at that I didn't try to see what was "wrong" with my camera. The lights were much brighter this night, but not bright enough to light up the surroundings. I was quite disappointed in my mistake, too as some of the dynamics and details associated with a shorter exposure were lost for this night. It wasn't the end of the world. Two nights after this, the sky put on a show that will probably be one of the most memorable I'll ever see (since we never see them in California). Those will come in a day or two.

The lit up foreground in these images is due to the guest house behind me combined with a 60 second exposure. It definitely wasn't bright enough to see anything, it just comes out when the shot is exposed for so long. All the shots were in a place called Breiđavík in the West Fjords near the famous bird cliffs at Lemantour (sp?). In September there is nothing at the bird cliffs and the Northern Lights are the primary attraction.


This image you can see what appears to be an abandoned car. I didn't even realize it was there until after I got home from Iceland and started evaluating the photos.





The following image, you can still see the hint of sunset in the sky.









Just to give an idea of how bad the ND affected things, this image had the brightest Aurora of the bunch this night. This show ended up being 115 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 3200. I think I had a 6 stop filter on there. I must have still been jet-lagging a bit and a bit too excited. The star trails are quite apparent as opposed to the previous thread, although since these shots were all at 10 mm, they aren't that bad. Zoomed out, you can still make out URSA major quite well, and since I was shooting towards the North, the start trails are much shorter near the north pole in the sky.

THe light on the horizon in the final shot are a couple of people with flash-lights in the distance. I had a hard time keeping them from shining a light directly on my camera when they were near my tripod. They kept wanted to see my camera up close. We had a bit of a language barrier, too, but they were pretty nice.
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01-15-2013, 06:50 PM   #2
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ND or no, these are amazing shots of the aurora. I've only seen it once, many years ago, in northern lower Michigan. Rare to see it that far south, but it was just incredible. Red curtains, that night, not green like yours. Looking forward to the next batch!
01-15-2013, 11:41 PM   #3
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I think these look great! If you hadn't mentioned the ND problem I probably wouldn't have noticed. The exposures look good to me, and I like being able to see the house (?) and car (?) in the foreground. From your comments I was wondering if you were shooting JPG. If you were shooting in RAW you could probably compensate for the ND in PP. I think you can get up to 2 full stops in an underexposed picture when using RAW, and maybe only 1/2 - 1 stop in JPG.

One thing I would have tried here would be to make another longer exposure to brighten up the foreground another stop or two, and then layer that in with the aurora. You could maybe get the best of both worlds.

BTW, I do the same kind of mental errors all the time, equivalent to your leaving the ND on. Stuff like leaving autobracket on, leaving tungsten WB on, forgetting to turn the camera off when changing a lens, and most commonly, forgetting to switch back from spot metering to pattern.
01-16-2013, 09:23 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by GeoJerry Quote
I think these look great! If you hadn't mentioned the ND problem I probably wouldn't have noticed. The exposures look good to me, and I like being able to see the house (?) and car (?) in the foreground. From your comments I was wondering if you were shooting JPG. If you were shooting in RAW you could probably compensate for the ND in PP. I think you can get up to 2 full stops in an underexposed picture when using RAW, and maybe only 1/2 - 1 stop in JPG.

One thing I would have tried here would be to make another longer exposure to brighten up the foreground another stop or two, and then layer that in with the aurora. You could maybe get the best of both worlds.

BTW, I do the same kind of mental errors all the time, equivalent to your leaving the ND on. Stuff like leaving autobracket on, leaving tungsten WB on, forgetting to turn the camera off when changing a lens, and most commonly, forgetting to switch back from spot metering to pattern.
Well, I did shoot RAW and I did compensate in the field. It was just a big mental screw up. I had started that evening taking 10-20 sec exposures like I had the previous night, and when the shots didn't turn out, I just kept adding time to the exposure. I don't think it helped that it was about 25 F outside (~ - 6C). My mind was focused on keeping warm, and well, the watching these lights live was much more entertaining than photographing them. Thinking about the exposure time on the ones that turned out (I saw that they were around 120 seconds), The ND must have been about 5 stops (I only own two, one is 3 and the other 5 stops), but no they aren't that bad. Looking back, I can see how to make better images of the lights. I just need to find my way up there again or somewhere to see them. They are not very common in the continental US. Looking back over my photos and others here, I really hope I can get back to Iceland someday if not Norway, but I'll probably have to settle for Alaska first.

The images from this night, definitely allow for more latitude in brightening the foreground unlike those in the previous thread. My thought is to play around with them in Photoshop (such as your suggestion) or even try HDR. I've recently budgeted myself for an HDR software. I just need to find the time to test a couple of the programs out I want to test. Some of these shots could lend themselves to a single shot HDR or tonemapping.

01-17-2013, 11:22 AM   #5
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Wonderful series! I've never been lucky enough to witness this phenomenon. It seems so surreal! These are breathtaking!
01-18-2013, 06:00 AM   #6
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Absolutely stunning !
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