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All posts for the month April, 2012

Our trip to Norway to shoot the Northern Lights was quickly on its way to turn into a big, expensive disaster. We had one more chance, one more night.
And it was a clear night. A beautiful night. A cold night. So nothing could go wrong, right?
Or so we thought…

We arrived at our destination, Ersfjordbotn, well in time. Just before sunset. We set up, and I shot some pictures of the setting sun.

Ersfjordbotn, Norway

D700, ISO200, 6 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 50mm

Ersfjordbotn, Norway

D700, ISO200, 10 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 70-200mm

 

Ersfjordbotn, Norway

D700, ISO200, 30 sec @ f/16, Nikkor 70-200mm

And then the waiting started… In the end you of course never know. 80% is a good chance, but there’s still 20% chance to nothing. Slowly, with frustration, cold and a tickling bladder (not yet tRickling) creeping up on us it looked like we hit the jackpot with 20% of zilch. The arm and leg we paid for the trip to this country where everything seems to costs nothing short of fluid gold, was going to fly by with nothing to show for. At least not that what we set out for…

We shot a few pictures in the hours that passed (and hours they were, and stubborn WE were).

Ersfjordbotn, Norway

D700, ISO200, 1/6 sec @ f/16, Nikkor 14-24mm

Ersfjordbotn, Norway

D700, ISO800, 6 sec @ f/2,8, Nikkor 14-24mm

We got company from a few other photographers and it didn’t help our mood when one of them told us that the previous night had been spectacular over Tromsø. We had been sitting out in the cold for about seven hours waiting for the Lights to come, because it was supposed to have been overcast over Tromsø and clear where we are, and we went home empty-handed only to find out that we should’ve best stayed in Tromsø and we would’ve had a great show. But no…

In the end it doesn’t matter how stubborn you are, how eager you are, how patient you are… After sitting in the cold for another six or so hours we accepted our losses and packed up our gear and headed back home. Our newly acquired photographer-friend hitched a ride with us back towards town. And I’ll be damned… we were just over the hills when he shouts “Look there! It’s starting! Pull over!”
Sure as I’m sitting here writing this… the sky turned all green on us and it was dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Sure, you see it on pictures. And it’s beautiful on pictures. But when you see it for real, when you see it with your own eyes… It’s nothing short of breath-taking. Here’s a piece of nature phenomena which struck me silent on the spot. The first five-ten minutes we just stood there gaping at with mouths open. If it would’ve lasted for only that time, we still wouldn’t have had any pictures of it. But we at least saw it in its full beauty. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures. And I have pictures coming up. But I couldn’t possibly explain how it is to look at this in real life.

The only thing… Pictures are brighter. It doesn’t happen often that the pictures are more beautiful in terms of color, saturation and vibrance (unless of course you bump the sliders in post-processing), but the actual Northern Lights aren’t all that bright. They are very clear, and very visible, that’s not it, but the colors in the pictures, even in the unedited raw files, are so much deeper and saturated than what I saw with my own eyes…
Not that it takes away any of the awe that it gave me…

I’m planning another trip. I realize we pushed it in terms of time left before the climate changed too much for the chances to see the Northern Lights. Next year it’ll be early/mid February instead of end March.

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights

D700, ISO400, 6 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights

D700, ISO800, 4 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights

D700, ISO800, 4 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights

D700, ISO800, 6 sec @ f/2,8, Nikkor 14-24mm

(So yeah, the last one’s photoshopped, but that was because I was so frustrated and I so badly wanted to have a picture with the Northern Lights coming into that point where the mountains meet… I’ll get a real one of those next year ;) )

 

Sometimes you run into the funniest things in the funniest places… Right there on the rocks, at low tide, all exposed :D Wouldn’t want to keep it from you:

Nature against you

D700, ISO200, 1/180 sec @ f/6.7, Nikkor 50mm

So… That was a disappointment… Beautiful day the entire day, and everything down the drain because it turned overcast in a few hours.
Ok, maybe not everything down the drain, we did get some good pictures, but still. We didn’t get what we actually came for.
That called for another night on the town. We were back at the hotel around 23:30. And so it appears that IF anything happens in the city of Tromsø, it doesn’t happen before midnight. We went to the same place as yesterday, which was actually full with people. Not so different from Finland, I must add, since there were a good number of them well beyond there quota. It must’ve been an expensive night for them.

We didn’t make it a long night, since we had another long day ahead of us. Last chance, as we were homeward bound the next morning. The weather forecast was good according to several websites now. We woke up in our brightly sunlit walk-in closets and that set our moods in the right direction :)
Today’s route would lead us around Hella, Bakkejord (the area where the first boat pics are from), and Sommarøy back to Ersfjordbotn, which is a typical place where many people before us have shot the Northern Lights.

Hella, Norway

D700, ISO200, 1/500 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm

Near Sommarøy, Norway

D700, ISO200, 1/500 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

Bakkejord, Norway

D700, ISO200, 1/500 sec @ f/13, Nikkor 50mm. 180-degree panorama built from five images.

Near Sjøtun, Norway

D700, ISO200, 1/350 sec @ f/9.5, Nikkor 50mm. 180-degree panorama built from five images.

Near Sjøtun, Norway

D700, ISO200, 30 sec @ f/16, Nikkor 50mm, Singh-Ray VariND filter

Near Sjøtun, Norway

D700, ISO200, 20 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 50mm, Singh-Ray VariND filter

After our first day of scouting we were sent to different bar, a place which was THE place to be on a Tuesday (!). Well… The place was positively buzzing with about 5 people. So after a few drinks we headed back to the hotel, tired from a long day of driving in the rain. We did check up on the weather forecast, never giving up hope that the trip to this godforsaken country, which was called The Paris of the North, where a drink costs you an arm and a leg, would be a total miserable loss. And guess what? Out of the 5 websites forecasting the weather for the Troms area one actually mentioned a clearing up for the next day. Of course with all our hope we fully believed that one website and with sunshine in our hearts we withdrew in our walk-in closets and called it a night.

Lo and behold… We woke up to patches of blue in the sky. We couldn’t believe our eyes!
Another day of scouting ahead, and bring out the sunglasses!
Tourist information told us we would better be heading east for the night, where the sky would be the clearest. Near Tromsø things would be clouded over come evening, so no use to stick around there. So off we went, in the direction of the Lyngs Alps, a mountain range east of Tromsø, topping just under 2000 meters. We drove all the way to the east tip of the island, to Breivikeidet, there where the ferry leaves to Svensby.
It was there were we set up “camp”.

Breivikeidet

D700, ISO200, 1/500 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50mm. A 180-degree panorama put together from 10 images.

We had plenty of time to kill before sunset and darkness, so we got acquainted with the area a bit.

The beach in Breivikeidet

D700, ISO200, 1/180 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50mm

There was an actual beach there. I’m not quite sure how often per year you could actually lie on the beach this far north, but pretty it was. And the water… Shockingly clear…

The beach in Breivikeidet

D700, ISO200, 1/180 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50 mm

(I didn’t position them like that…)

Sea urchin on the beach in Breivikeidet

D700, ISO200, 1/250 sec @ f/8, Tamron 90mm macro

And some more landscapes:

Gletcher on the island of Svendby

D700, ISO200, 1/250 sec @ f/16, Nikkor 70-200mm

My buddy spotted a totally unexpected guest when he was standing here: a seal! Unfortunately he didn’t manage to get a good picture of it and it took off too soon. I managed to only get a glimpse of it from where I was standing :(

My buddy Alan

D700, ISO200, 1/125 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 70-200mm

And they had boats, too ;)

Breivikeidet

D700, ISO200, 1/250 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 50mm

Breivikeidet

D700, ISO200, 1/350 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 50mm

And while we were waiting for the darkness and the night to set in, which it finally did after us spending about six hours in the cold there, we saw happening what we were dreading already for a few hours. More and more clouds came in and what was supposed to be a clear night was about to go all wrong.

Breivikeidet / Svendby

D700, ISO200, 10 sec @ f/16, Nikkor 70-200mm

It ended up clouding over so much that we decided to get away from here and hoping we would drive towards some lighter skies.
On our way back, for just a brief moment, we thought we saw something over the mountain range, but we didn’t capture it on sensor. It might’ve just been our eagerness…

Somewhere along the way from Breivikeidet back to Tromsø

D700, ISO200, 15 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 14-24mm

So Norway… What a beautiful country…

The Troms area is supposed to be one of the best areas to view the Northern Lights. I’d never seen the Northern Lights in my life before, and it’s been on the top of my list for quite some time. Finally we made the decision and booked our trip. A 5-day stay in Tromsø was supposed to be opportunity enough to see the Northern Lights in an area where the chances to see the Lights are according to statistics, especially in this year and next year when the solar activity is at its highest in 7 years, close to 80%.

We kept an eye on the weather forecast and a week before departure things looked ok still. The closer we came to departure date, the bleaker things got. We checked several forecast websites and they pretty much all had a different forecast. Even the best forecast was still 5 days of overcast weather with rain, slush and snow.

We came in on Monday in the late afternoon. Needed to pick up the car and check into the hotel, so we didn’t have much time to do anything. Not that the weather would allow us much anyway, since it was raining cats and dogs.
We asked at the lobby of the hotel for a good place to go have a drink and got an address which was guaranteed buzzing on a Monday (!) night. With about 10-12 guys watching a football match, this place called Blå Rock Cafe, was absolutely thrilling *ahem* The food was good, though, gotta give ‘em that.

Tuesday we went scouting. Forecast for this day (and the coming days for that matter) were dramatic, with more overcast sky, more rain, more slush and more snow. We were set to leave on Friday morning and according to the forecast Friday night was going to be the first clear night (of course!). We were silently talking about extending our visit to Saturday, but with Norwegian prices (fuel @ €2,10 per liter, €115 for a walk-in closet with a too short bed, €14 for a pint of beer), I tell you: NOT funny!
Anyway… Even if this day wasn’t the beautiful clear day, we nevertheless took beautiful pictures. Overcast sky and some foggy clouds can make for a great landscape.

We drove from Tromsø almost to Tromvik, but didn’t get out of the car much after the first 40 mins. It started raining so bad that one step out of the car would mean getting soaked. We had to make do with what we shot on the first stretch of the scouting trip.

Norway landscape

D700, ISO1600, 1/1000 sec @ f/13, Nikkor 70-200mm

Norway landscape

D700, ISO1600, 1/1000 sec @ f/13, Nikkor 70-200mm

Norway landscape

D700, ISO1600, 1/1000 @ f/13, Nikkor 70-200mm

Norway landscape

D700, ISO1600, 1/500 sec @ f/13, Nikkor 70-200mm

 

Following the previous post about Norway I have a few more examples of the boat. Approach was the same as in the previous post.

Boat wreck originals

This image was combined out of three exposures.
Left, exposed for the foreground: D700, ISO200, 1/125 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.
Middle, exposed for the boat: D700, ISO200, 1/350 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.
Right, exposed for the sky: D700, ISO200, 1/750 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.

I’m sure I would’ve been fine with just two exposures for this one. There’s enough detail in the RAW file to bring out the foreground sufficiently from the middle exposure, but owwell… This worked out just fine, too.
And the end result:

Boat wreck end result

The end result after all the work is done.

And the same for a detail of the boat.

Boat wreck detail originals

Two exposures here.
Left exposed for the sky: D700, ISO200, 1/750 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50mm.
Right exposed for the wood: D700, ISO200, 1/250 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50mm.

And the end result:

Boat wreck detail

The end result

Something completely different from Norway. One of those impulse posts, I guess you could call it.
I’m not one of those groupies who’s scouring the net and the movies for any of those Photoshop bloopers that they haven’t been able to cover up properly, or one of those scenes where they do something physically impossible (duh?? :D ).
But this afternoon I was going through the local cinema’s offer of new movies. I wanted to go see a movie. I had a few possible ones that I’d like to see. I heard a lot about the Hunger Games, and so I checked a quick synopsis from the cinema’s home page. It was accompanied by this picture (of course the red circles and the enlargements weren’t there, I put them there to show where to look ;) ):

The Hunger Games

Still from the Hunger Games starring Jennifer Lawrence. Image courtesy Color Force / Larger Than Life Productions / Lionsgate / Ludas Productions

Pretty young lady, Jennifer Lawrence, isn’t she? Cool picture, too. But when you’re done looking at her, go ahead and follow the arrow along her left arm to her hand and her hand itself.
Now… I’m not an archer, I’ve done it a couple of times, but I don’t know anything about it. It could just be that this is some sort of Robin Hood technique that I’m not familiar with, but that arrow is resting on her wrist and in an angle like that it will swerve to the left and miss target, if the tail of the arrow doesn’t bump the hand and topple over. Or maybe the sixth finger on her hand is doing all the correcting there… Who knows…?

So is this one of those Photoshop bloopers? Or has she perfected the archery so much that you can actually shoot like this? Or is she hoping that that stretched out finger, and the extra finger, will force-point the arrow in the right direction?

Comments, suggestions and explanations welcome ;)

It’s been quiet for awhile. I’ve been on the road a lot, and busy with a whole bunch of things.
The past days mainly processing images from a trip with a good friend of mine to Norway to shoot the Northern Lights. This post is not about that, I haven’t finished processing the images, yet. In the next few days I will, and then I’ll make some posts about that.

I’ve been going on about HDR and cross-processing in the past, and the picture below is a bit of a cross between the two.
It was shot in Norway, near Hella in the Troms area, just south-west of Tromø. Beautiful area and very nice people. It required us to cross private land. When we drove past the property we ran into (not literally ;) ) a guy taking a walk and we inquired about it. He said “Oh, no problem. Just go. People here don’t mind so much. I haven’t spoken to the owner in awhile, I guess I can stop by and have a talk with him, tell him that you guys are good guys.”

And so we parked our car on the property and strolled around there for almost two hours.

It really IS nice to get out of a town where people are so private that they (really, this happened to me for real, in the elevator in Helsinki’s Stockmann) turn their back to you not to have to face you, look at you or -god, beware- nod a friendly good-day to you.

Anyway… A whole bunch of pictures, it’s not really a tutorial, but it kind of shows in a few steps what I did.

Boat wreck originals

The two images from which the end result is built up.
Left exposed for the boat and foreground: D700, ISO200, 1/60 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.
Right the image exposed for the sky: D700, ISO200, 1/500 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.

The screenshot of the canvas in Photoshop looks like this:

Screenshot of the Photoshop canvas

Screenshot of the Photoshop canvas with the layer palette showing all the adjustment layers with masks.

I’m very anal about my images, and I hate it when I see halos around my images when I produce HDRs. I’m sure there’s software that can do it quicker than I can do it by hand, but it took me just over an hour to mask out the boat perfectly. A small, hard brush to draw the perfect outline around the object and then filling it in with a big brush or the selection tool to make the perfect mask so you don’t see a halo in the sky or dark lines around the edges. The foreground with the sand and sea weed wasn’t as critical as the sky, luckily, otherwise it would’ve taken probably twice as long.
The basic mask, which I used for the rest of the masks, looks like this:

Mask used for the boat wreck

It may look like a simple shape, and it is, but with HDRs and different exposures the mask has to be very precise to prevent halos or dark edges to show up in the areas where the two exposures merge.

And the end result, after all the work is done:

Boat wreck

The end result, after all the tweaking, masking and color correcting