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Iceland / Inspiration / Landscape / Photo Log / Photography


January 28, 2020, 10:48 p.m. — Jökulsárlón, South Coast, Iceland

When we returned from Vestrahorn, Óli, our Icelandic guide, checked the Kp index, which was heading toward three. He called a number of his contacts to see what things were like in other locations, and then announced at dinner that we were going to try for the Northern Lights.

We returned to Jökulsárlón at about 9 p.m., put on our crampons, and ventured into the night. She and I and a few others followed Gary to try a location right next to the lagoon but it turned out to be less than satisfactory. Don was on the hill above us and called down that the view was great, so we trudged up to find him with the rest of our group and about thirty others. A very quiet party.

We set up our tripods, worked out compositions — fun in the dark — tried some test exposures, and waited.

The sky was a tease. Was that a bit of green on the horizon? A bit of red? Nope, it’s gone. Green again. Bah! Faded. Too many clouds! And those #@%# headlights! Well, the Milky Way is nice…

We waited.

There’s some green…

(Nikon D850, Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. f/2.8, 10 sec, ISO 4000. Raw processing in DxO PhotoLab 3.1; Editing in Adobe Photoshop.)

The Author

California based fine-art photographer featuring abstract, impressionist, and minimalist seascapes — near and distant — and floral-based images. Fine-art photography can be seen at www.amagaphoto.com All original images on this blog are copyright 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Michael Scandling. All rights reserved. No images on this site may be copied, duplicated, reused, published, or re-purposed in any way without express permission from the copyright owner, Michael Scandling.


  1. Wow – just beautiful, Michael! I would not know how to photograph it if I ever encountered it. ..So many times we have been where the possibilities are – and I have never seen it. Not even in Greenland. Wonderful to see it through your lens – thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know there’s a scientific basis for “northern lights,” ionized particles and sunspot activity, and all that, but I’m content to just admire it as a magical sight, what an amazing color to see in the sky. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent shot, Michael. I guess you were in the right place at the right time but also you have the technical skill to pull off a difficult shot like this.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This looks different from other Northern lights photos I’ve seen, and I like it more. I like the barely-there landforms, and most of all, I like the way the clouds partially obscure the stars. And oh, of course, the lights themselves! Beautiful! It’s much more real than many Northern lights images look.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much. I really appreciate that. Óli gave very good advice both on exposure and post processing. Of course ultimately it’s my taste. It’s just that my taste happens to coincide with his quite a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That must really be helpful, being in synch with the person leading the workshop. Maybe when you catch your breath from the workshop you can describe what was particularly helpful, e.g. were there bits of advice that you would not have thought of or things you might have done differently, (and mistakenly) not being familiar with the environment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This was an interesting situation in that the workshop was really run by Gary Hart and Don Smith but Icelandic law required them to hire an Icelandic guide. Óli is, himself, a superb photographer. Here’s his website. https://www.olih.is
        Watch some of the videos, especially the 7 Things You Need to Know video. Gary and Don are obviously fantastic photographers in their own right but what Óli brought to the table was intimate knowledge of the territory. I found his advice on exposure and post production to be spot on, partly because it was so workable and partly because it aligned with my personal taste. He advised starting with ISO 3200 and then adjusting from there, and to try to keep shutter speeds at 10 seconds or faster. He doesn’t like starstreaks. Neither do I. I want my stars to be pinpoints, not lines or arcs. And post processing he prefers bringing the greens away from yellow green and a little bit closer to blue. So do I. And he advises lightening up the foreground but not being ham-fisted about it. I also bring the foreground a little closer to bluish, as does he. All of this results in a more subtle image. More broadly, he knew where to take us, and more importantly when to take us. We would always get to popular spots before the hordes of tourists arrived and made the shooting more difficult or impossible. One advice he gave at Vestrahorn was to put on my wellies, which I did not do, and which I regretted. I got a good shot anyway, but it would’ve been easier if I could’ve gone further out into the water. While you’re at his website, also take a look at his videos and photography basics. He has a very practical viewpoint which cuts through a lot of arbitrary nonsense.


  5. I would relish teasement to end up with this image. It’s excellent. Not that I have made anything like it or have expertise at the capture but presentation is where it’s at and this has it and plenty at that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Steve. This was close to the end of the trip. We were all getting antsy. The Kp index and the clouds had been teasing us the whole time. Technically, the shot is easy. Presentation: I like telling stories.

      Liked by 1 person

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