Friday, 27 December 2013

Sauðárkrókur Aurora - 31st October

During late october we visited Northern Iceland for the week, and naturally I was quite keen to photograph the aurora, especially as we are around solar maximum and any activity should be reasonably good.  On the 31st of October we stayed overnight in the small town of Sauðárkrókur on the North coast of Iceland.  With a population of only just over couple of thousand people this was a quiet town.  On sunset that evening I was watching the aurora and weather forecasts, and for once both seemed pretty good.  At nightfall I went for a walk around the town to try and find a dark corner free from lights, however for such a small town what it lacked in people it made up for in street lights - they were all over the place; big bright streetlights.  With the border of the town the mountains on one side and the Arctic ocean on the other there simply was nowhere to go.  I tried my usual dark sky tricks and went to the rocks at the top of the beach that formed sea defences (right hand side in the pictures above), however these rocks were there for a reason as big waves crashed over the top of them with an intimidating ferocity.  

I tried aiming the camera higher in the sky to cut out the foreground horizon, but this made no difference at all; the temperature was well below freezing and the crashing waves a hundred metres to the north of me were throwing mist up into the air at an annoying rate.  All the way through this imaging session I used my trusty Canon 350D at iso800, 30 second exposure with a Sigma 10-22mm lens, at 10mm f4 all mounted on my manfrotto tripod.  I tried reducing both the exposure and ISO, and while this reduced the brightness of the skyglow it also reduced the brightness of the aurora,  which is definitely not what we are trying to achieve.  
Turning the camera to the part of the town with the least number of streetlights had a marginal improvement on sky conditions, however the foreground was still too bright for my liking, and as was also pointing in a westerly direction it meant that auroral activity was also reduced.  Despite it being quite an active auroral display with curtains of green dancing all over the sky these just weren't happening where was needed for a good picture.  Taking the land rover out to a dark spot in the mountains wasn't an option either as we'd had a drink with our meal earlier on in the evening.  Then the answer came to me from the skies as I could see a huge auroral curtain was going to pass pretty much straight overhead - point the camera vertically upwards thus getting the darkest part of the sky with the least light pollution.  
It worked!  The above animation is made up from 24 30second exposures, spanning a time frame of just over 12 minutes in total.  The auroral curtain was moving across the sky from east to west at the zenith, and was shortly followed thereafter with clouds!  However to get this I was more than pleased as i'd pretty much written off any chances of recording anything that night.  Hopefully when we revisit in february there will be clear skies again and the aurora will put on a good show for us!