65 | The Greatest Light Show On Earth
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I've posted few hours ago the episode 2 of the travel series in Northern Europe. I have to say that this is one of the videos I rewatched multiple times and I genuinely enjoyed making it. It's about the Northern Lights but loaded with personal stories and some interesting cinematography. You can see a short trailer on your phone here. What do you think?
Shooting the Northern Lights was such an incredible moment. Some lessons I learned:
Latitude: best places to see the aurora are those with latitude 65° N. So I was at 67.8558° N in Kiruna, Sweden and it was fantastic. Other optimal places seem to be: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia. Surely it's also possible in the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand, Tasmania and Antarctica for instance).
Best time: September to April in the Northern Hemisphere. March to September in the Southern Hemisphere.
Check before: it's key that before spending every night searching, you check the forecast in websites such as SpaceWeatherLive. You'll see they refer to the Kp index. This is really the disturbance of the Earth's magnetic field caused by the solar wind. The faster the solar wind blows, the greater the turbulence. The index ranges from 0, for low activity, to 9, which means that an intense geomagnetic storm is under way. In other words, the higher the more chances to see the greatest light show on planet Earth!
Darkness is king: it's really important to go somewhere very dark with a clear sky. When I captured the Northern Lights on that night the Kp index was at 3-4. This is when you typically see the lights but Kp 5+ is when things get wild, like a dance. If you go beyond 7 then you're the luckiest person on Earth: you'll see the biggest lighting show in your life.
Be careful with the full moon: this can make the sky too bright and you'll miss the show. Getting ready at 6pm is good practice. I captured the aurora from 7 to 10 pm. Although I heard the wildest activity is from midnight to 4 am.
You need a camera: for some reason this is not widely mentioned and it can lead to a huge disappointment. Potentially what happened to me in Iceland. Using a camera to view the aurora enhances your colour vision. Our eye is amazing in daylight but a camera at night can absorb so much more light in one image that they become the absolute real deal. You can try looking at the sky but most likely at a Kp index 3-4 you'll see grey. This is a good sign that it's a potential aurora and using your camera will change the game. Your camera will show a clear aurora. There's a long theory about why this happened but bottom line is that our eyes are not really designed to “see” at night. However, if the Kp index is 5+ you might see green and other colours if you really pay attention.
Go big or go home: you can capture this with your phone too but a professional camera will give you a different experience. You need to play with the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. In my case the lights were very active, moving super fast and for a very short period of time so I decided to shoot a 1” exposure to capture the “dance”. For the aperture, I generally like to shoot wide and at night I go as far as f/1.4 or f/1.8. These lenses are insanely good. And finally the ISO, if it's really dark I start with 800 (assuming f/1.4 aperture) and increase it to adjust the exposure. This is a tricky game as the darker the night, the higher ISO you need and this will introduce noise to the video/photo. So it's extremely important to have a very low f number to get the ISO as low as possible and keep a correct exposure.
Be proud of yourself: this is not easy, it requires some practice and some “luck” on that night. If you make it on your first night or not, it doesn't matter. Congratulations, you left your comfort zone and the next night is going to be better.
Have a great week!
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In Episode two of our first travel series The NORTH Call -Greatest Light Show, we travel from Stockholm to Kiruna to explore Jukkasjärvi, the Swedish forests, winter traditions and more importantly... we'll try to find and capture the Greatest Lights: The Northern Lights. Here's the video.
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