Beautiful ampersands are lovely, like this & in Lato, a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by Łukasz Dziedzic. Lato is Polish for "summer". It is a free SIL Open Font, used by Google, like on this site.
(Yes, I should not have used & for this page's name ... and I suppose + could have worked , but oy )
Northern Lights FAQs ... FOMO or just on your Bucket List?
When can are they visible?
Only when it's dark enough to see the stars … and space weather conditions are right.
Aurora Season is from the end of August until the first week of April.
Auroras dance all year, but Arctic nights are too light from mid April to mid August.
Auroras frequently appear after dinner, from 9~24.
Auroras are unpredictable and may come earlier, or later. As in honey, it's going to be a great night. And you wait. And wait. But maybe not. Or maybe AMAZING!
I monitor the situation, looking at local weather forecasts, space weather sites and apps, and use online US military satellite data, updated hourly.
Iceland is directly below the Aurora annulus, so based on cloud coverage, I drive to places where there is no light pollution nearby. Or stay in bed and shoot them from my center center window. for real! Check out Emma watching them & Tinna's post.
They often rise from the north, expand overhead, moving east to west.
Solar winds collide with earth’s magnetosphere, creating light.
Aurora science has just begun: learn more on wikipedia.
The best short term forecast is here @ The Icelandic Meteorological Office.
It’s the only aurora forecast site that shows local cloud coverage.
For technical aurora forecasts click .
Long Term Forecasts?
Good news! 2021+ should be good! And increasingly better for the next 4-5 years.
The solar magnetic activity cycle is about 11 years — we have passed its minimum.
The sun rotates circa every 27 earth days. Because it’s fluid, it’s variable: 24 days at the equator, 38 days at the poles, averaging 27 ~ 28 days. Yes, Aurorae are feminine.
If auroras are nice today, then chances are very good chances that auroras will dance again in circa 4 weeks.
Cameras and smart phones keep getting better: use whatever you have in hand.
Brace yourself to steady your camera, or use a tripod.
iPhone Pros handheld do an amazing job.
Science fiction becomes reality!
Yes, there are many aurora and forecast and specific photo apps.
I try them all: for forecasts, the free links above are most suitable.
Forecasting Apps are repackaging the same data, some very nicely.
Dedicated photo apps with ai make smartphone photography of auroras possible, but again, the neural engine of the iphone Pro is hard to beat.
Want to know more?
MORE FOR GEEKS
NOAA SPACE WEATHER PREDICTION CENTER'S EXPLANATION
"The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) are the result of electrons colliding with the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. (Protons cause faint and diffuse aurora, usually not easily visible to the human eye.)
The electrons are energized through acceleration processes in the downwind tail (night side) of the magnetosphere and at lower altitudes along auroral field lines.
The accelerated electrons follow the magnetic field of Earth down to the Polar Regions where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
In these collisions, the electrons transfer their energy to the atmosphere thus exciting the atoms and molecules to higher energy states. When they relax back down to lower energy states, they release their energy in the form of light. This is similar to how a neon light works."
The aurora typically forms 80 to 500 km above Earth’s surface.
Earth’s magnetic field guides the electrons such that the aurora forms two ovals approximately centered at the magnetic poles. During major geomagnetic storms these ovals expand away from the poles such that aurora can be seen ... halfway to the equator, and on rare occasions, as far south as Hawaii.
Aurorae come in several different shapes.
Often the auroral forms are made of many tall rays that look much like a curtain made of folds of cloth. During the evening, these rays can form arcs that stretch from horizon to horizon. Late in the evening, near midnight, the arcs often begin to twist and sway, just as if a wind were blowing on the curtains of light. At some point, the arcs may expand to fill the whole sky, moving rapidly and becoming very bright.
This is the peak of what is called an auroral substorm. Then in the early morning the auroral forms can take on a more cloud-like appearance. These diffuse patches often blink on and off repeatedly for hours, then they disappear as the sun rises in the east.
BEST OBSERVED WHERE
The best place to observe the aurora is under an oval shaped region between the north and south latitudes of about 60 and 75 degrees. At these polar latitudes, the aurora can be observed more than half of the nights of a given year. When space weather activity increases and more frequent and larger storms and substorms occur, the aurora extends equatorward.
During large events, the aurora can be observed as far south as the US, Europe, and Asia. During very large events, the aurora can be observed even farther from the poles.
Of course, to observe the aurora, the skies must be clear and free of clouds. It must also be dark so during the summer months at auroral latitudes, the midnight sun prevents auroral observations.
SPEED & ENERGY
Solar winds carrying charged plasma particles-free electrons and protons traveling between 400-1,000 km/sec (1,4M ~3,6M Kmh, 900K ~2,2M mph) and has been recorded at 10,000 km/sec.
It take about one day to reach earth, collides with the magnetosphere, and upon a magnetic reconnection of the solar wind's passing tails, the energy snaps back and charges gas atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere concentrated in the geomagnetic fields.
The energy is released by quantum leaps which generate light: oxygen produces mostly green light, and nitrogen red light. Other solar wind streams are milder and slower, taking 7-10 days to reach the earth.
The Aurora Borealis generates up to an estimated one million megawatts of magnetic energy. [How did they calculate that?]
IS THE AURORA OVAL THE SAME AS THE ARCTIC CIRCLE?
No. The Aurora is not parallel or directly related to the Arctic Circle, but their paths do cross.
The aurora annulus and space weather phenomena are significantly offset from the polar axis — wiki.
ALL HARD DRIVES WILL FAIL AXIOM
There are 2 kinds of computer users.
Those who have lost their data, and those who are going to lose their data.
Something like this:
Computer >> Time Machine + Bootable Backup SSD + Cloud
Content >> Stored on a RAID 10 (OWC with Softraid) + BackBlaze Cloud.
Are you transferring massive files from card to mirrored external storage drives daily?
Then you need fast, reliable, checksum software.
My time machine drive is attached to wireless Airport Extreme, base station of my home's network, so I never have to think about connecting my computer - it just backs up in the background whenever my computer is working. Nice.
Carbon Copy Cloner >> Bootable Backup on a portable SSD.
Easy, reliable, and portable.
Because deadlines are always looming when things go wrong, your bootable drive can save the day because it can be attached to almost any MAC and you can start up from there, as if it were your own computer.
When traveling, the SSD is never stored together with my computer. It is always in another bag and preferably with another person. It has saved me. Thank you CCC!
When is you laptop, with all you work on it, most in danger? Traveling. Drops, bumps, or theft. A bootable backup, will get you up and running in the least amount of time, and not only keep you working but also keep they stress of it all to a minimum. Breathe deeply, and have an up-to-date bootable backup .
This has been a logistical problem in the past, but now thanks to BackBlaze, I am always backed up securely in the cloud.
No data limit, so my computer, primary RAID and other drives are all backed up.
The cost is much less than I used to spend on hard drives backing up. And much less of a hassle. And they can ship you a hard drive with your backup files overnight.
A friend had his backup drive next to his iMac. Thieves stole both. Everything was lost.
Have an offsite backup please.
ALL HARD DRIVES ARE GUARANTEED TO FAIL.
Every drive manufacturer publishes MTTF numbers.
Meat Time To Failure.
What? Yes - they promise you that your drive will fail one day.
Most reliable drives?
See a current Backblaze HD report.
A RAID IS NOT A BACKUP.
It is just a safer singular storage system. Hard and soft options.
Too many colleagues by expensive RAIDS, but don't bother to back them up.
The raid structure itself can fail, so all those drives become a brick.
Good Smart People. Nice company, great value for money.
BACK UP. BACK UP. And BACK UP. Please.
MOBILE BACKUP OF BIG FILES
BACKBLAZE for iOS. Yes!
COPY THAT Free software from OWC to download files from your iphone.
it "lets you easily copy photos and videos from your iPhone / iPad directly to external storage devices. It gives you the ability to select what you want to copy, where you want to copy, and how you want to copy your data and is available now for iOS and iPadOS."
Cameras, Lenses & not
It's not about the camera.
Being in a seeing frame of mind is the best camera and your eye it's lens.
It's never the camera or lens making an interesting picture, only what and how you see and share.
Your mind can create images via many devices, so be in picture mood ... and then whatever you like shooting with, or might have with you, is the right camera to make your images.
What you leave out of you image is as essential to what your image frames.
Of much greater importance than the camera is the lens, your camera's eyes.
When asked what camera to buy, I ask what lenses do you want to work with?
Cameras are fascinating, some just oddities, others practical, some frustrating and others a joy to work with. Some allow you to work with great lenses. None take pictures.
Cameras are just tools, but well made tools are a pleasure to work with and liberate creatives energies. Like a good knife for a chef, the blade doesn't shouldn't make the food taste good or bad, just help the chef slice and dice.
That being clarified, here are some thoughts on camera and lenses...
I have shot with most formats and media, so I'm not a disciple of any system or media. Professionally, I use whatever camera system I feel is right for the job, subject to availability and affordability. Used professionally: Contax, Hasselblad, Sinar, Mamiya 6x6 & 6x7, Fuji 6x7& 6x9s, Plaubel Makina 6x7, Leica, Canon, Nikon, iPhone.
I am very particular about the cameras, lenses and gear I use, and their working feel. Today, for most professional jobs, I work with a Nikon D850 using Zeiss, Irix and Nikkor, and Voigtländer lenses. The D850 is a good compromise of many important factors, which includes image quality, combined optics handling, size, weight hardware, firmware, software, reliability, weatherproofing, accessibility, convenience, portability, discrete street visibility, simplicity, durability, feel, and costs. But even if I had an unlimited budget, the D850 would be a very valid option, prime value for money.
A plethora of new cameras have come on the market since the D850, but how many with a better optical viewfinder? (Remember this discussion is about seeing...) I have never owned a TV, do not enjoy looking into a micro TV screen, – now sold as a viewfinder – and holding my arms out to look at the screen on the back of a box is a very bad way to shoot in most circumstances. Like in windy Iceland. Or crowded space. Or low light, or being discrete, or or or etc.
Dear camera manufacturers, please do not abandon optical viewfinders, and if you have the capacity, kindly make a clean simple menu pro digital camera body with a stunning optical viewfinder, that can also manual focus screen? (Like Contax RTSIII.)
I haven't found a perfect camera yet, but will keep looking and trying.
The extraordinary costs of high end digital cameras can rarely be amortized today. For me, they are all too limited for the wide range of subject matters and I shoot and conditions I work in. And with optical viewfinders? What? Spend easily 50K on a system that has no visual pleasure?
I do not connect with my subject and image letting AF focus for me, and much prefer the vitality of smooth manual lenses. What and how you focus should be a human impulse and decision, not a robotic reaction driven by an algorithm. Even with today's AI, I have yet to experience an AF lens that works like my eye creatively does when looking through an luminous optical viewfinder.
Last century's zeiss/contax and leica lenses were compact, fast and superb optics. When AF came along, lenses became unnecessarily enormous with very bad UX, as if the merits of miniaturization and real world use had become irrelevant (yes, smartphones are pushing tiny lenses to their limits, extracting amazing results with neural engines leaving traditional cameras way behind, but there is no viewfinder!)
New lenses are coming on the market all the time, and some really great 3rd party manual focus specialty lenses with prices offering great value for money. Like IRIX and Voigtländer and a few others.
Auto or not, that is the question ...
In the past decades of auto everything, how many iconic images have been created that could not have happened without the automation? I can't think of one. Please let me know if you can.
& & &
Notes on digital / analog
Professionally film is history, and there is not point in discussing its virtues as it is not a working reality. I loved working with film, enjoyed all my film cameras, but I do not have the luxury to even consider shooting one roll today.
When the film process was disappearing from the workflow, around the time digital divide, year 2000, I was already working in parallel digitally, even though I pushed on with film until it almost bankrupted me.
Accepting, learning, benefiting and teaching the reality of digital imaging continues.
my film fanatic friends choke when I propose the idea that a digital image is very possibly a much purer form of photography. What? Why?
A digital image is not captured in color, but pure energy. In EV, electron volts, a measure pure light energy generated from the sensor's chip, every pixel recording a unique value.
It is the human mind that transforms that raw light energy data into a viewable image. Amazing!
As a photographer, I can be closer, control more directly my captured light than i actually could with film, because film is the amalgam of collective human energy, chemists, lab technicians, etc. pre-processing the light for me. They did an extraordinary job of it too!
Example: Shooting Fuji color slide film, I benefited from all of Fuji's talented peoples skills preparing delicious emulsions for the world. On my way back from an assignment, I would drop the film off at a lab, manned by more extraordinary talents, and bingo, I would have a finished luminous image, ready to use. Simple and easy!
Today, from beginning to end, it is my responsibility, my creativity. Of course thousands of talents are working behind the scene to make this possible, from camera to computer, but how much value and emphasis I give to each pixel of recorded light is entirely my doing. It's both an enormous burden and equally liberating.
Sidebar: I am always amused by analog idealogues who lecture dogmatically about film's superiority, yet ironically scan their images, use computers to process, project, and communicate the digitized files, and rant on about "analog". Oh well.
Maybe I will live again somewhere that film is a reality and I can use – let me see, what was my favorite film camera – and shoot analog again. But then again I would have to scan, clean, the scan etc etc.
OK Apple, when is the next iPhone Pro coming out?
I work with Macs professionally and have since 1987.
Life is much too short — especially too short to put up with operating systems not designed for creative imaging.
The M1 chip has set the new standard, so if you are buying a computer, get only and M chipped one that suits your needs and budget. The M1 Mac mini is the best value for money in computing today.
If you can wait until later in 2021 when the 2nd generation M1X chip Macbook Pro's are released, then it will be worth the wait, or even the M2s.
Be sure to max out the RAM when you order anything because it can't be done later.
A really good screen is essential. Professionally do your eyes a favor and get an Eizo if possible. Other decent monitors are now available for all budgets.
Why spend all the money on gear, shooting in great locations, if you come home to view your images in a compromised and tiring way?
A good monitor will last a long time, and you will never regret it.
HARD DRIVES / SSD
Solid State Drives are best for speed and traveling.
Hard Drives are fine if you are not moving them around very much.
Start at OWC which frequently has the best value for money.
Backup. Backup, and Backup. Scroll backup to BACKUP for more backup info.
Just in case, BACK UP.
Photographic software is a dilemma: we have to use it, but couldn't it be more fun?
Software satisfaction depends on one's needs and purposes: do you need a non destructive importer, library catalog database, image processor, exporter, printer, web maker, map linker, color space manager and more?
I begrudgingly use Lightroom because it does most of this decently, but it is not a pleasure to work with. I haven't found a better alternative to my very specific workflow needs and keep trying and finding.
Fascinating superior alternatives to specific processing steps exist, but nothing that integrates all the features I need and want in one place. Many shooters wish that Apple had not abandoned Aperture when some fool of a marketing manager trashed it for some greedy reason. But Amen.
Good Pro alternatives are X6 , Capture One, Affinity, and amazing free options like RAW Therapy.
For personal imaging, Apple's Photo keeps getting better, but not enough to use professionally.
Photoshop is ironically not for photographers. Yes, you read that correctly.
'Photoshopped" has never been used as a compliment.
Photoshop will not help you become a better photographer, nor speed up your workflow, as it was designed in a pre-digital camera age, and has never caught up.
Adobe used to be part of the good guys who cared about their users, but since the acquisition of macromedia, it crossed the line and became driven by greed.
After decades of using their Creative applications, I have moved on, and work with software created by people with better hearts guiding their development.
What? Yes, to have meaningful purposeful software, honesty of heart counts.
ADDITIONAL SOFTWARE TO CHECK OUT
Film Makers: DaVinci Resolve by Black Magic. And the core version is free!
Designers: Affinity Publisher by Serif. It has replaced InDesign for me. I hope all the features on InDesign will be incorporated and improved on... almost there.
Photographers: if you learn how to use either of the above, it will help you shoot professionally. Design your own brochure, magazine or book, and you experience the issues a graphic designer encounters with photographs. And how to shoot better for layout.
Mac Users: Daisy Disk
Quintessential things ... like an &. &
What's on your list?
Never needing a tripod would be my prefered way of shooting always, and technological advances make it now possible to shoot the Aurora Borealis with one hand! Thank you iPhone Pro...
But there are still times when a tripod is essential.
I have used many brands of all sizes and weight in extreme conditions.
Tripods need to be very stable, really fast to set up (even though they are needed to shoot slowly), weather proof, adn immune to harsh elements.
My go to tripod, for Icelandic situations, value for money, is now a FEISOL.
A light weight low center of gravity head that can survive lava dust, saltwater, and freezing conditions is hard to find. Gitzo ball head GH2780 is the best I have found, now hard to find, but look at it and you will see the intelligent design.
Most ball heads do not hold the exact position you need, Beware. It is critical that without force, you can lick the exact camera position you want.
For precision framing work like food, art and architecture, I use a Manfrotto 410.
Quick release plates are essential in the Arctic.
I use an inexpensive, very light SLIK DQ. Slik plates are affordable, rounded, very secure without tools when attached. The base plate has a couple of weak points, but for lack of a better alternative, it's what I use. Sachler used to make the perfect one, but it's no longer available - not even on ebay, and Arca Swiss plate types I don't like because of the sharp corners, the screw down is not quick in the cold and not precise for repositioning, and the fliplocks are too exposed to elements.
The ArcaSwiss Quicklink is the best breach lock quick release for tripod heads. Compact, elegant, smooth, secure, nothing else quite like it.
Recently this iFootage Seastar came on the market; I look forward to testing it. In advance, I don't like pointy things, and I am concerned about the spring locking mechanism not liking icelandic conditions. But it might be really good, at the fraction of the price, and certainly for video head changes, maybe better with the snap-lock.
Does this all sound nerdy fussy?
Time is of the essence in photography and fast gear give you time to be more creative.
If gear takes your time, get rid of it, if it saves you valuable time, invest in it..
Smooth workflow happens if all the wrinkles and details are ironed out ahead of time by trial and error, polished by years of experience.
Real Situation: late at night, tired, driving along a white knuckle black ice Icelandic road, all of a sudden a spectacular aurora appears. Being able to stop safely, get a tripod ready, steady and camera solidly attached AS FAST AS POSSIBLE meant having the time to get the shot.
A personal short list of books about or from Iceland you will enjoy:
Museum of Whales You Will Never See, by Kendra Greene.
How often do you read something that moves you with a smile and tears, that the author really gets it? And the audible version is superb too.
A german edition is coming soon.
ARCTIC HEROES, recently published by Rax @ Querndu.
Monumental photography, of an order that perhaps you thought no longer existed.
Rax is the Cartier-Bresson of the North Atlantic.
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent.
COMING TO ICELAND FAQs
When is the best time to come?
Photographically, I recommend March or September.
March because the light has winter's extraordinary clarity, but plenty of it, snow is usually on the ground adding luminosity to the lava landscape, the moss is happy green, and the weeks before and after Spring Equinox have more Aurorae than usual (for an as yet unknown reason). This year it's Saturday, March 20.
September, because summer tourism is over, fall colors come, and northern lights possibilities increase the weeks before and after equinox, Wednesday, September 22.
June 21st is summer solstice with almost 24hours of endless daylight, and the only problem is nice light begins after 22:00. But sometimes great all night. Shooting days can be Very Long. "Nighttime" in the summer means not having to shoot with a tripod.
Winter shooting is great because you can get up late and still have to wait for sunrise, the arctic horizontal rays are spectacular when they come, and magic hour comes early afternoon and lasts long hours.
Arctic light hast be experienced to understand it. It's different in many ways: color temperature, position on the horizon, angle, and arc.
Only 2 days of the year does the sun rise in the east and set in the west up here.
Every other day it is moving north or south.
Any edits and suggestions are appreciated.
What part of "Iceland" didn't you understand?
No other weather page in the world has tabs like this.
Before you drive, check the road conditions. You life may depend on it.
Integrates many Icelandic weather and road data sets, made by a super glacier guide.
Shoot with an iPhone > sync everything in the cloud across all your devices > use Apple's Photo > enjoy taking pictures without it being a job.
or BASIC IMPORT FROM CARD TO COMPUTER / IMAGING SOFTWARE
SHOOT RAW > CONVERT TO DNG ON IMPORT
>Back up native raws simultaneously to a separate drive w LR.
LR and X6 via Adobe's free DNG converter are the only image processors / catalogs that convert to DNG on import.
I use a my custom LR import preset thad adds my basic copyright info, changes the dng file name to: country[or job]-YYYYMODD-bw-file n. suffix.
The country or job and date by ISO standard year-month-date help me organize, and the file number is very helpful when finding an image again, especially when the file name has changed. Don't change the suffix number.
File & Folder Name Safety Issues
Dashes, not underscores. Underscores can merge with link underlines.
All lowercase because some popular platforms like SquareSpace prefer it for files names.
No illegal characters like these / | \ * ? " < > ¥ = + : ; , ^ [ ] .
Used in coding language, so strictly avoid them., and more HTML Entities.
Not too long. Legacy systems have issues, and data fields limit views.
No accents, diacritics or other linguistic notations.
I now import all images to one folder per year.
I Use Collections to organize right away.
Collections do not change the physical folder or place your image lives; it just points to it. So a picture can be in many collections, but only in one folder.
Then later, anytime, only as needed, separate into folders.
EXPORTING AN IMAGE:
Again I use presets, so that if I have to export an image again, I don't have to redo all the parameters specific to the use and destination
Before exporting, after adding Caption, Title, Keywords, copyright preset info, I give the image a simplified Copy Name.
LR Library mode > metadata panel ? COPY NAME
For example, the simple copy name of iceland-20210218-bw-1234.dng might become: iceland aurora
Upon export it gets cleaned up and becomes iceland-aurora-bw-1234.jpg
Why this traffic?
Because each client, and destination has specific parameters for file names, and if I changed my import file name for every client I would be lost. Using the copy name, I can easily modify the information included in the export file name as needed.
GOLDEN RULE: IF USING A CATALOG SOFTWARE LIKE LR, EVERYTHING - EVERYTHING MUST BE DONE FROM WITHIN THE SOFTWARE. If you do it outside, the Library Catalog will lose it. Think of a book on a shelf in a library, nicely organized in the right place, noted on its library catalog card. Someone comes along and moves the book to another place without changing the catalog card. How would you find it?
The catalog card system is Lightroom, and every change you make to an image of any kind, any metadata added, is written to the catalog card. And if a DNG file, you can choose in catalog preferences to have the essential info written automatically into the dng file/package.
Otherwise it is written to XMP sidecar files which are invisible files that should always travel with a raw image, but can easily become divorced from its image file.
X-6 is an interesting hybrid system, testing now...
Why RAW > DNG?
DNGs stills save space, up to 25% smaller than native camera raw files.
Metadata applied to the the image can be embedded in the DNG file automatically in LR, without altering pixel data. Nice.
The embedded jpg preview can be updated.
Cross platform standard.
I wish more cameras would shoot directly to DNG.
Only Leica, Hasselblad and Pentax/Ricoh do (as of this 2021-02-18 edit).
If Leica and Hasselblad do, why don't the rest?
OK, pictures imported now what?