Kirkjufell, Iceland


For a number of reasons, “Kirkjufell – Northern Lights” is one of the favourite Northern Lights Fine Art images I created in Iceland, in five years and a dozen visits to that truly spectacular country so far. In this article, I’ll tell you what the idea behind it was as well as what it took to create it, in terms of physical, artistic and technical challenges. In short, this article is about the passion driving me, the force that makes me go out day after day chasing that elusive, perfect image.

“It takes a lifetime to not get to know our own self. Time, the tyrant, is playing with the capricious waters commanding our inner tides to remove the mirror standing in front of our soul each time we find the courage to stare at it.

Elegant and classy, a pointed mountain is waiting for the light of the north to shed some light onto her inner thoughts and feelings. Trembling in the freezing night above the still waters, she doesn’t know whether what she is looking at is real, or just a trick of the mind.

It takes a lifetime long journey to not get to know our own self. Yet, it is a journey worth making.”

In late February 2019, I flew to Iceland for two weeks of work on the island’s spectacular winter landscapes, the first stop of a month-long tour that would bring me to Scotland and Dorset before going back home to Italy. One night, the weather conditions and solar activity looked right for the Northern Lights. I kept watch, and when it looked like the lights were going to happen, I decided to go photograph them at Kirkjufell. In late February / early March, the nights in Iceland can be brutally cold. The ground is covered with ice, temperatures are well below freezing, cold creeps up your shoes, wind chills your face. Getting out of the car, I attached my ice crampons to my boots, put my warm jacket & windproof shell on, wore my Heat Company’s liner gloves and shells fitted with handwarmers, got my camera bag and my tripod and headed out. A short walk took me to the vantage point I choose for the evening.

Northern Lights over Kirkjufells (Iceland, 2019)

Reflections are a philosophic topic for me, with the interplay between what we perceive as real and what is just a perception of that perception. Here at Kirkjufell, when the tide is right and the water is still, the iconic pointy shape of the mountain creates a perfect, elegant and classy reflection. My hopes for a calm, windless night have been fulfilled, and I could get both the mountain and the Northern Lights reflected in the water as well.

When photographing the Northern Lights composition depends both on the landscape in front of us, as well as, heavily, on the shape and position of the Northern Lights. You can arrange the most perfect composition, but you also need to be very responsive in adapting it to the shape of the lights above it. I set up my camera according to where the lights were most active and waited for the perfect combination of lights. During the night, I witnessed hundreds of different combinations; however, it took quite a while before the lights created a curve perfectly complementing that of the mountain and placed right to the left side of it. When that happened, I couldn’t miss it: being able to get such great light shapes in the reflection made this image particularly special for me.

Photographing the Northern Lights presents a few challenges. If you are using an autofocus lens with no infinity stop and no distance markings, focusing might be tricky. If you use a slow lens, keeping your shutter speed under 20 seconds to make sure that the stars won’t blur might require you to up your ISO to very noisy levels. Readjusting your composition might also be tricky, looking into a dark viewfinder.

Most of all, the cold might make working on northern lights hard. On that evening, I worked for a couple of hours, warmed up by the excitement of the show in front of me, before I had to go back to the car to get a little heat back into my system.

One of the interesting aspects of Northern Lights photography is the difference between what we see with our naked eye and what the camera perceives, in terms of colours. Processing Northern Lights images require some skill in keeping the image clean of noise without destroying details, keeping exposure under control and, most importantly, managing colours.

In conclusion, it takes some experience – as well as some physical endurance, and good preparation – to photograph the Northern Lights, but it’s definitely worth it.

For lovers of Fine Art Prints, “Kirkjufell, Northern Lights” is available in Collectors Edition of just ONE copy per size, 4 different sizes, following the link here: KIRKJUFELL, NORTHERN LIGHTS. Unlimited Open Edition are also available following the link above.

For NFT lovers, “Tales of Two Worlds #001 – Kirkjufell” is available as 1/1 edition NFT on Foundation, following the link here: TALES OF TWO WORLDS #001 – KIRKJUFELL.

Join us for one of my ICELAND PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS to create your own amazing photographs of Kirkjufell and many more Icelandic locations while learning all I know about Fine Art landscape photography. Attendance limited to just THREE people!

Iceland Photography Workshop

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