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Arctic Norway Part 2

If you haven’t seen part one click here, if you have please read on.

The day before departing for the second Norway trip in February there was a huge earth directed M class solar flare. Also on the day of departure there was an even bigger X class flare the first of the new solar cycle to boot! So the conditions could not have been any better with clear sky’s forecast for the duration of the trip. I have to say I was very excited indeed! One of the things I always remembered at the end of January Norway trip was don’t worry you’re coming back in 2 weeks so you can get your epic Aurora photographs then. It really looked like this was going to happen.

Active Sunspots 1158 the source of the X class solar flare (Credit: SDO/HMI)

X ray image of the X class solar flare (Credit: NASAGoddardSDO AIA Team)

You can also view an excellent video here

The night before we arrived in Tromsø there had been some truly breathtaking displays of Aurora, probably the effect of the M Class flare slamming into Earths magnetic field. We arrived in Tromsø in the early hours of the 16th February we saw some very light low power Aurora on the flight from Gatwick we all had our fingers crossed the X class wasn’t going to hit until we arrived and were in the right place to photograph it.

A very technically bad photograph taken from the Aircraft about 1 hour before landing in Tromsø

We drove straight to the cabin at Sommarøy and got some sleep and awoke early for sunrise. One thing that was very noticeable was the very high fast wind and with temperature  around -5 /-10, when the wind hit your face it really took your breath away! The clear sky produced some harsh lighting conditions but looking back on the images I wish I had made more effort because the gradients in the clear blue sky were stunning. Photography feels like very hard work when getting battered by the wind so technically and physically I found it very challenging.

Mountain Shadows 1 Taken from Sommarøy

EXIF: Canon 5d ii |  Nikon 70-200mm | ISO:100 |  1/15s @ ƒ/8ish | heliopan CP

Mountain Shadows 2 Taken from Sommarøy

EXIF: Canon 5d ii |  Nikon 70-200mm | ISO:100 |  1/20s @ ƒ/8ish | heliopan CP



A small Lighthouse being dwarfed by mountains at Sommarøy

EXIF: Canon 5d ii |  Nikon 70-200mm | ISO:100 |  0.3s @ ƒ/8ish | Lee ND 0.9 + Heliopan CP

Hillesøya Observatory

EXIF: Canon 5d ii |  Nikon 70-200mm | ISO:100 | 1/20’s @ ƒ/8ish |  Heliopan CP

After the windswept harsh sunrise we explored possible locations to photograph the Aurora with some shelter from the extreme wind! Antony AKA Captain Aurora / Mr Epic found a great location near Kattfjordvatnet and we planned to go back that evening. The charts and graphs showed little or no activity but we all knew this could change and go off the scale if the X class hit. We went out that evening with some high hopes. The news of the CME had even made it onto the BBC website and news channel, I was receiving texts and emails from back home with people speculating that it might be able to be viewed all the way from the North of England. That evening we sat in the car, waited and waited and saw very little of the Aurora Borealis. Pretty much the same thing happened the following night with the levels remaining at nearly zero. I was starting to think someone had made up this whole story about the X flare or it has missed us completely.

Tromsø Graph showing little or minimal activity on the 17/02/11  click on the image for a better view Credit: Tromsø Geophysical Observatory

A small & very weak band of Aurora over Kattfjordvatnet Sean is looking in the right direction but I think Andy is slightly lost.

Finally on the 18/02/11, our last day, the Flare hit Earths  magnetic field and sparked a G1-class geomagnetic storm, not as strong as all the hype suggested but at least it was something. As the flare hit so did the thick cloud and our view was covered up once more. There were small breaks in the cloud that prompted some short bursts of photography but nothing like we imagined it would be.

A gap in the sky

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Zeiss 50mm | ISO:1600 |  4s @ ƒ/2

After the short display we had to get to the airport and catch our flight back to the UK. The trip had been a real emotional roller coster with such high expectations, it almost felt like it was going to be a sure thing, but the fact of the matter is when chasing the Northern Lights it never is. I found that when you stop looking for something it comes and finds you. My Irish Aurora experience goes to prove that. I will leave the best until last with an image made near a little place called Bakkejord.

Bakkejord View

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Zeiss 35mm | ISO:50 |  1s @ ƒ/11 | ND 0.6ND + Heliopan CP

Thanks for taking the time to look at my Blog. If you missed Arctic Norway Part one you can see it here. Please feel free to leave a comment or forward this link to a friend.

If you would like to find out more about my work or are interested in prints or licensing please see my website or get in contact. You can also follow me on twitter @reedingram

Thanks again,

Reed Ingram Weir



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Arctic Norway Part 1

In the first 2 months of 2011 I headed out to Tromsø Arctic Norway each time with great expectations visions and dreams of viewing and photographing the Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis in all their glory and using the short amount of day light to photograph the beautiful landscapes in this stunning area of the world. However sometimes / most of the time the elements don’t come together as you would hope. It is a frustrating thing when you are handed all the ingredients for the vision you have for a photograph in a landscape that is so beautiful but it requires that final garnish of light to make it work. For me I would rather not take a photograph than take something I know I will not be happy with later on at the viewing stage. Of course most of the time I end up taking the photograph anyway but I do try and hold back most of the time.

The View Towards Trømvik

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Zeiss 18mm | ISO:100 |  1/6s @ ƒ/8 | 0.75s

Grøtfjord Marbles

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Zeiss 35mm | ISO:100 |  3.2s @ ƒ/8 | 0.75h


The first couple of days on the first trip the light was excellent but I was still getting settled looking for possible compositions and just generally adjusting the the climate and sleeping patterns so not many photographs were taken, The Aurora levels were also low / non existent with a quiet sun or solar wind that had not arrived yet, When the Aurora’s did finally arrive they were covered up by the blanket of snow cloud that had followed us to Norway. Nearly 1 meter of snow must have fallen in 24 hours making photography almost impossible so a lot of sleep was had and Irish whisky was drunk. When the snow finally did decide to clear it left flat grey sky behind and then more snow came at the cycle repeated itself for a day or so.

We all decided it was time to get the hell out of Norway and travel south to Finland to try and beat the cloud.

It sounded like a good idea when it was suggested but it was a hell of a drive and with temperatures ranging from + 1° at the coast  to – 17° inland it sure was an interesting one.

The drive really was beautiful and eventful we drove past frozen Fjord’s and were followed by sea eagle’s and I even managed to get the car stuck in a ditch! When we did finally cross the Finnish border I was ready for bed and it was only 4pm, soon after the border we pulled into a large service station, the first thing I noticed was that there were only a couple of cars parked up everyone else had snowmobiles so I was instantly jealous / concerned. The great thing about Finland is that it is much cheaper than Norway so when I ordered a cup of tea and a jam doughnut I didn’t have to sell my camera equipment to pay for it.

Frozen Fjord Kattfjordvatnet

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Zeiss 18mm | ISO:100 |  1/250s @ ƒ/11

 

After the tea and doughnut it was time to go and find a decent location to photograph the lights. We ended up on top of this very open dark hill with a 360° view. The Aurora started to glow but I wasn’t happy with the location so I decided to go further down the road and try and find a better  vantage point. I think the best action of the action actually happened when I was driving and when I did find a place to shoot it was slightly disappointing and with only a couple of average photographs taken it was time to start the long drive back to the cabin at Ersfjordbotn Norway.

Aurora Borealis over the snow covered hills of Finland

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Zeiss 35mm | ISO:1600 |  15s @ ƒ/2

The next day (back in Norway) the grey cloud was still the trend and time was now ticking with our flight back to England fast approaching! I think I had only made a couple of photographs I was happy with so I was feeling pretty frustrated at this stage. I was putting lots of pressure on myself to make some decent images and I think this probably made things worse. Now when I look back over the RAW files I feel I could have done things so much better with stupid compositions and sometimes bad technique but I suppose  you only learn by making your own mistakes.

On the last day we had some good light and drove around the Island and made some images at different locations but always missing the best of the light. I did however get a nice shot of the hire car near Rekvik.

VW Golf Blue Motion with studded snow tires

Sommarøy ? Seascape

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Zeiss 18mm | ISO:100 |4s @ ƒ/8 | 0.75h

On the final evening we finally had broken cloud, not clear sky but at least we could see the stars sometimes which is a real treat after solid snow cloud for 5 days! We decided to stay local and visit a great location only 5 minites drive from the cabin called Kattfjordvatnet, We had a pretty epic display of Aurora but it was slightly ruined with the constant attack of cloud from all directions. It was still fantastic to watch the Aurora dance for us, The display lasted about 1 hour before the cloud beat us.

Aurora over Kattfjordvatnet

EXIF: Canon 5d ii | Canon 24mm | ISO:1600 |  15s @ ƒ/2.8

Even with all the frustration and cloud dodging, this trip to Norway was still a great experience.  I learnt a lot about how to cope with disappointment and how you need to use the small moments of perfection as best you can. Stay tuned for Arctic Norway part 2 where I will describe my experiences of the February Trip. Until then please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog for further information about my work please see my website.

Reed Ingram Weir