Creative vacatons

Creative vacatons

Friday, January 29, 2016

34 things you need to know about dressing for the cold (or 8 if you're in a hurry)

Short Version

  1. Dress in layers - many layers - 3 or more.
  2. Wool closest to your body.
  3. All the layers have to be loose.
  4. Change your woolen socks frequently. 
  5. Warm hat and warm boots.
  6. Mittens, not gloves.
  7. Use hand and feet warmers if you need. 
  8. Be nice to the planet and the animals on it. 

Full version

Three layers is the basic for dressing in the cold.
The three layers are:

  1. a thin layer next to your skin, called underwear. 
  2. an insulating layer, thicker than the first layer.
  3. an outside layer that protects against wind, rain and snow.
Three layers are not always enough. When it is cold and we are standing still we need more insulation. So we add one or more layers. 

No layer should be tight. It will stop your bloodstream and make you cold.

First Layer 

Next to your skin: wool, wool and wool. I swear by wool next to my skin. 
Wool is the warmest. 

It stays warm even when it is a little damp, or even wet.

Wool does not stink. Unlike the synthetic underwear, wool does not get that famous smell the next day. If you get a wool quality that has not been treated very much you can use it days (some says weeks, I don’t know I’ve never tried) without any smell. For a traveller that is important. And for the people sitting next to you in the van when we go Aurora chasing it is also important.

Merino wool underwear is the best. It does not itch. It is the most comfortable thing you can wear. 

Unfortunately some people are cruel to the sheep in the process. 
Mulesing is a very painful method to keep flies out of the skin of the sheep. It involves cutting off the skin of the sheep without any kind of anaesthetise.  

Luckily there are more and more sheep farmers that are going away from this practice. And there are several brands that are banning the process. 

Second Layer

The second layer is thicker and warmer than the first. If you don’t have a Norwegian nitted woolen sweater made from mulesing free wool, you can use fleece (wool or synthetic) or a down jacket or a quilted jacket. 

If it is very cold it is a good idea to put on an extra pair of insulated pants (trousers/tights). 

Many brands have fleece products made of recycled plastic bottles. Among them are The North Face, Patagonia, Norrøna, Merrell, Paramo, Vaude and Quechua.

Wool is more environmental friendly than polyester fleece, even the recycled type. Tiny clothing fibers is a large source of plastic in our oceans. When we wash our clothes tiny fibres go out with the water and end up in the sea. Natural fibers such as wool and cotton are broken down, plastic is not. 

Down is lightweight and very very warm. It is a natural fiber and a very eco-friendly insulator.  According to the International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory (PDF), down has the lowest carbon footprint of any fill material and is biodegradable

Some people are cruel to the birds when they get the down. Some birds are live-plucked. Needless to say it is very painful for the bird.

Not all people are cruel, and more and more companies are making an effort to do the right thing.
Good choices:
Fjällräven, Patagonia, Mountain Equipment, Mammut, The North Face, L.L.Bean

Third Layer

We use well insulated one piece suits. Little heat escapes, little snow enters when you sit in the snow and they make you feel like a kid again. 


You should be able to feel your toes at all time. If you can’t feel your toes, please tell your guide. 

Of course nothing else than wool next to your skin. 

Change sock frequently. 
I always sweat on my feet. Damp socks are not as warm as dry sock. So I put an extra pair of socks in a plastic bag to keep them dry.  Then I change socks after a few hours.

Double boots are best.
Sorel, Kamik and Baffin are good choices.

Overboots are second best. You just put your normal hiking boots inside insulated overboots and you have double boots. 

It is super important to dry the boots every day. Winter boots get damp due to sweat and condensation. Humidity makes them cold. Dry your boots on the heated bathroom floor, or wherever you can. 

Mittens are best, gloves are third best. You cannot operate the camera any better with thick gloves than with mittens, but you can freeze better. You end up taking them off to operate the camera anyways. 

Finger glove mittens. The best of two worlds. And, the best ones are also wind proof. 

If it is really cold, insulated mittens with an opening in the front are preferred.

You can also wear thin gloves inside your mittens so that you never have to touch anything with your bare hands.


A warm hat that keeps your head and ears warm is essential. 

Warm hat, hi vis vest and headlamp. 
29) If it is extra cold I go with a BF or «Russian style» hat. One that insulates and keep the wind out. If not, a good beanie will do. 

30) Nothing says «tourist» as loud as big fuzzy ear warmers. 

Cold, colder, coldest…

31) Staying still, staring at the sky during the arctic night is a cold, eh… activity. The problem is that it is not very active. The best way to get your warmth back again is to move. Walk uphill, do some squats or dance the Aurora dance.

32) Lack of sleep is a very effective way to get cold, being dehydrated and hungry are also good options if you want to experience that deep freeze. 

Hands (and feet) can be warmed on the stomach of a person close to you. If he or she does not want your ice cold hands there, it means that the person does not love you. 

Not really warm clothing but: We always wear some reflective material. Either on the one piece suits or the hi vis vests. That way car drivers can see us, and I can find you if you wander off to take a better picture. Stay warm and safe!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Creativity on a Cloudy Night

Tonight was very very cloudy. Luckily for me it was my night off. My good colleagues drove far far away and found the Aurora behind the clouds. We did a little Christmas shopping, and a little Christmas cleaning and it was when I was outside doing a little Christmas snow shovelling that I saw the motiv of tonight.

 The wind had stopped, the rain had stopped. Everything was quiet. And monochrome.
I could not resist being a little creative. Aurora is not the only motiv that exist at night. Beauty is everywhere.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

One Night, Four Photographs, Four Settings: White Balance and Aurora Borealis Photography

What is the correct white balance for Aurora photography?

Like almost all answers to questions about photography it starts with "It depends."
First of all there is hardly any such thing as "correct white balance" in any photograph. It is an esthetic choice. What do you want to communicate? What kind of mood do you want? and, what feels right to you? Two photographers may very well interpret the same situation and scene differently. To learn more about white balance visit this article on how to get it right.

2 things I go for 

1 - I want the photograph to look close to what I saw in the nature.
2 - I want the photograph to feel as how I felt it. In the winter that mostly means "cold."

The night it got complicated

Saturday March 7, things got more complicated than usual. 
My normal standards are  4000 Kelvin in moonlight, and 3200 Kelvin on nights without moonlight. Or tungsten/incandescent setting for no moon, and fluorescent setting for moonlight.  

Now that we have reached March the days are much longer than January and February. That means that in the beginning of the night there is still a lot of daylight. The sun sat at 17:08 that night. But, here in the north the sun sets at such an angle that it takes a long time from it sets until it gets really dark. Astro twilight lasted until 20:37 that night. So when we got out of the studio at 19:00 it was still twilight. There was also another type of light: Northern Light. The photo below is shot from the field across the road from the studio on Håkøya.
Aurora showing up early at night, late in the season. Photo taken at 19:05.
The white balance settings are very different from twilight to night. The twilight is also called "The blue hour." The time right after sunset can be seen as if we are entering the shadow side of the earth. The sun is still lighting up the sky making it very strong in the color blue. Because I shoot in RAW, I can always change the white balance in the computer afterwards. For the above image I set it to 7417 Kelvin, which is close to the shadow setting in the camera. Notice how the sky looks natural but, the street light lit clouds look very orange. (other settings: Tint: -44, Saturation: -6)

We moved down to the beach to get some better shots.
A little later at night: 19:32
A half an hour later the sun had set a little more. It was still twilight yet, darker and, I changed the WB setting. Notice how the clouds are slightly less orange on the photograph above. Yet the sky is almost the same as the previous photo. The setting here were 4288 Kelvin, Tint: -25, Saturation -6. Thus the white balance on this photo is set close to fluorescent setting in the camera. 

The clouds moved in and we started driving, after an hour we saw this:

Later yet, but before the moon was really up: 20:50.
The moon came above the horizon at 19:56 according to That does not mean it's above the high mountains around Tromsø. On the above photo I'm almost back to my old standard for Aurora photos without moonshine: 3400 Kelvin, Tint: +7, Saturation -6. Notice that the clouds only have a slight tint of orange. That is caused both by the white balance setting and that the street lights are further away.

We kept on driving in search of a cloud free sky and ended up in Finland. At the time the photo below was shot the moon was shining bright and I hid it behind the trunk of a tree to avoid lens flare.

Late at night, or shall we say early morning: 00:33.

Here the almost full moon (98,7%). was shining bright. The settings had to be changed again: 4551 Kelvin, Tint: +10, Saturation: -6. That means that I'm almost back to the standard for moon lit nights. Notice that the clouds are just white, no orange tint. That is because there are no street lights that can compete in brightness with the moon. 

One night, four photographs, four different WB setting. 

This shows how there is no one right setting for Aurora photography. The changing light can sneak up on you. the human eye adjusts without you noticing it. It also shows the importance of shooting in RAW so that it is possible to change the settings in Lightroom, Photoshop or any other application afterwards. Even if you do tests and think it looks good on the screen on the camera, the safest thing is always to shoot RAW. 

The two first photos could have been worked more in Lightroom. I could have brushed the clouds and the mountains less orange/more blue. That would have looked better and more natural. I could also have taken out some saturation in the orange parts. I think that I wouldn't have taken out all the orange tint, but some, just to make it less distracting. Other photographers and viewers of the photographs that I've put here would maybe disagree with the setting I've chosen. That's OK. There is no absolute when it comes to white balance.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Full moon or no moon. What is best?

One of the most common questions that I get is about the moon.

Normally it goes like this:

"It's best to avoid the moon to se the Aurora. Right?"
"I read on the Internet that it's best to avoid the full moon."
"We booked our plane tickets so that we avoided the moon. At least we got that right. Right?"

Not right! To ask what is best, no moon or full moon is like asking what is best, coffee or tea. 

Full moon and Aurora.

The moon makes everything brighter, thus changes the exposure. The exposure10 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 800. If you are shooting with a crop camera or a lens that has a maximum aperture of less than 2.8. That means a higher number than 2.8, for example 3.5 or 4. If you have a bridge camera, or a compact camera, or and old camera that you know has a lot of noise in the high ISO numbers. Then a night with full moon may be the best thing for you.  

If you want to try to make a timelapse or a video of the Northern lights you will want as much light as possible. The timelapse under is made on November 11, five nights after full moon. It would not have been possible for me and my 5D mkII to make it without the moonlight.

These two photos are taken on November 22nd and 23rd. The moon was at its darkest on the night of the 22nd.  Note how well the stars are visible on the top photo. This is something that would not be possible on a full moon night. 

The exposure on these two photos were 10 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 2500 and 6 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200. That is much higher ISO than the full moon pictures. There is 4 times more light when there is full moon. 

The biggest difference is how well you can see the landscape in the photos and how well you see the stars. The Moon hides the stars and shows the landscape. 

Lots of stars, no moon.

Fewer stars, lots of landscape, almost full moon. 

Clouds are troublemakers

The times when the moonlight causes problems is when it's cloudy. It can sometimes be impossible to see with human eyes what the lightly bright thing on the sky is. Then we have to take a photo of it. If it's white, it's a moonlit cloud, if it's yellow, it's a street light lit cloud, if it's green it's the Aurora. That does not make it impossible to see or take photos of the Aurora in these conditions. Just different.

I find that this full moon cloudy image has a dynamic that few of my other photos has.
The picture above was shot on November 9, at 12:30 am. Full moon was on November 6.

Cloudy, no moon pictures work well too.
It all comes down to a question of taste. What do you prefer, stars or landscape? Then it's a little bit about your equipment. How well does your camera support darkness. 

What is best? Coffee or tea?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Lighthouse

There is a lighthouse just south of the island of Tromsø.
I've been thinking of it and wanting to take a picture of it for a long time. I've driven by it, seen it, imagined it , for a year. The problem is that most of the time when I go out to take Aurora photos, I'm not alone, I'm with a group of people. The places I choose are chosen because there can be a bunch of us together and we can take photos without us actually being in each other's photos.

So last Friday I had the chance. The weather in Tromsø was good and we had some cancelations. I only had one client. Creative Vacations's rules says that there is a minimum of two participants to do the tour. In 99% of the cases we still run the tour with one client. What can I say? I like to be outside. I love my job. I love to take photos. Now I had the possibility to visit my lighthouse. 

In my head when I imagined the photo, the northern lights was more to the north. The Tromsø bridge and the Arctic Cathedral would be visible. As it turned out there was high solar activity with a lot of Aurora Borealis right over our heads, and not over the city as I had imagined. 

I ended up using the 14mm for most of my shots, and a few with the 28mm. To make the cathedral and bridge come out I would have needed at least 50mm or better a 85mm. The longer the lens, the more the background is compressed or closer. A wide angle makes the background appear further away. It turned out that I hadn't really thought about that when I headed out. I just brought my standard kit: 14mm and 28mm with a full frame camera. 

I'm really happy with the photos. Maybe I'll be back to do it again but,  I probably won't be back very often though. It's a place that does not give many types of different shots. There are not many mountains or other interesting stuff around, so photos get somewhat repetitive after a while. There are street lights in all directions so they will most likely get into the photo.  If you are in Tromsø for a few days taking Aurora photos you most likely want to take a type of "pure" nature photos, where you see untouched nature. Don't worry; those type of is still my primary goal. We will go back to This place.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Update! two new versions. New Music! Epic night and timelapse video

Sometimes it is nice to be flexible. Actually most of the time it's nice to be flexible. The weather turned out pretty bad on Monday and on top of that the newspaper called me to shoot video of the prime minister of Norway who was meeting local heroes from World War 2. After e-mailing the clients we decided to go on Tuesday instead. I got my time with the prime minister.

Tuesday night turned out to be the best night so far this season, one of the best shows that I've ever seen.

I'm first and foremost a photographer. I'm definitely not a musician. After having the video out there for a few days I've gotten some feedback about the music. Some like it others don't, and I've had some suggestions about what to put instead. Please tell me what you think.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The season has started!!!!!!

Finally the Aurora season is here! I'm stoked! 
Just outside our door, in our garden we witnessed the first Aurora show this season. I believe this season is going to be a great one. 
All the photos were taken between 22:45 and 23:00 the night of August 28, 2014. The nights are not completely dark yet, but dark enough to see the Aurora for a few hours.
  I was wearing T-shirt when I shot these photos. A bit strange, and a lot of fun.

Please share the good news!