Photo Anatomy: photographing the aurora borealis in stunning detail

Photo Anatomy: photographing the aurora borealis in stunning detail

In our Photo Anatomy series on Digital Camera World we select pictures by famous photographers and explain point by point what makes them work.

In our latest instalment we look at how Norwegian photographer Ole Salomonsen captured this dramatic picture of the aurora borealis.

Photo Anatomy: photographing the aurora borealis in stunning detail

Quality kit
Ole used a Canon EOS 5D Mk II with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens and an adaptor ring. “The 5D Mk II is the best camera for taking such shots, due to it’s high resolution and good noise performance at high ISOs,” explains Ole.

“The Nikon 14-24mm is a fantastic wide-angle zoom lens, with low vignetting and low distortion. It’s considered by many to be the reference wide-angle zoom lens on full-frame bodies. I set it to 20mm to achieve the best overall photo composition, while capturing as much of the aurora as possible.”

Great location
“I chose this spot on the Norwegian island of Sommarøy because it offered a clear view to the horizon,” Ole says. “I also wanted the foreground rock pool reflections to give a
sense of scale.”

Firm support
It was a windy night, and solid camera support was vital. Ole used a Benro A-458M8 tripod with an Arca Swiss Z1 Monoball head, plus a remote release to prevent vibrations.

Fast worker
“This burst of northern lights lasted for around two to three minutes,” says Ole. “I shot four or five images in that time; I exposed this one for 12 seconds at f/2.8 using ISO2500.”

Spectacular sight
Vivid colours and shifting shapes make the aurora borealis a beautiful subject in itself, but here it contrasts effectively with a dark, forbidding and almost otherworldly landscape.

We say
“To shoot great aurora images you have to be in the right place at the right time, with the right kit. One way to do it is by going on a photo holiday trip. See www.theaurorazone.com/holidays. Ole’s image was a runner-up in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2011 competition.”
Chris Rutter, technique editor

READ MORE

Famous Photographers: 100 things we wish we knew starting out
How to see photos like famous photographers… every time you shoot
The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)
The Decisive Moment: how nature photographers can make the most of it