How to Take Photos in Extreme Cold

March 16, 2010 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

On a bitterly cold evening, our Northern Lights tour was arranged. But what, exactly, are the Northern Lights ? The Northern Lights, Aurora Borealise, appear in a clear night sky as swirling rivers of greenish-blue light. They move and dance unpredictably; sometimes barely perceptible, then suddenly growing vivid. In simple terms, the auroras can be explained as an interaction of the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field. The phenomenon occurs when the particles collid with atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, transforming kinetic energy into visible light. The most intensive auroras occur at a height of about 100km and can be 10 to 30 km high.

Normally the Northern Lights can be seen virtually every clear night at high latitudes. We had to travel about 45kms on the snow mobiles from the hotel to be able to see the lights. The experience of driving a snow mobile through the wilderness was pretty incredible. I was wearing 4 layers of thermals and fleeces, a jacket and then a snow suit, 3 layers of socks with snow boots and I was still freezing!

Setting up and photographing in complete darkness with gloves on was not ideal. There is no way the autofocus will work on any camera as it is so dark, the focus has to be set on Manual mode and then you set the exposure from experience. I was able to set the shutter at around only 6-8 seconds (10,000 - 12,800 ISO) and capture some amazing shots of the lights. I was pretty lucky that I managed to see them first time around.

How to Take Photos in Extreme Cold

Speaking about the Nikon D3s, the camera handled perfectly in such extreme and cold conditions. I love the high ISO performanace and the 12.1 megapixel resolution is ideal for the kind of work I photograph. The 'D-Movie' feature adds a new dimension of creativity with HD quality video on demand. An external microphone can also be attached for stereo recording. Using shallow depth-of-field provides beautiful blur on the background. All in all, an incredible experience of a lifetime with in my opinion the best DSLR camera around at the moment.


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