Tag: Photography

Tips for Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Tips for Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Aurora Borealis – An Elusive Beauty.

When we went to Iceland last month, I had only one goal: seeing the northern lights. It was my bucket list item, practically my whole reason for taking the trip! A friend of mine had been to Iceland twice and did not get to see them either time. That made me nervous. So I read up on how to see the Northern Lights in Iceland and decided to stack the odds in my favor. Here’s how I did it:

1. Go in the winter.

In the winter months, the northern half of the Earth is tilted slightly away from the sun, which is why you have shorter periods of daylight. In order to maximize your chance of seeing the northern lights in Iceland, you should plan your trip between October and March.

2. Go when there is a new moon.

Moonlight can be very bright, and the brighter the sky, the harder it will be to see the northern lights. Therefore, pick a travel date around the new moon, which is when the moon is not at all visible. Just Google “moon phases” and find a calendar that shows when the new moon will be.

3. Check the forecast. Then check again. And again.

Once you arrive in Iceland, keep an eye on the Aurora forecasts at the Icelandic Meteorology Office web site. You’ll be looking at two things.  First, the amount of cloud cover that will be over the part of Iceland you’re in – skies need to be somewhat clear in order to see the aurora. Second, the amount of solar activity, which is rated on a scale of 0 to 9.

If you hit anything above a 4 and you follow the other tips here, you’re golden. When we went it was a 2-3 and we still saw them, although they were faint:

how to see the northern lights in Iceland.
My picture of the northern lights. I didn’t quite get the camera settings correct, but it’s still proof that I saw them, so I’m happy.

You will want to check the forecast repeatedly throughout the day, as weather conditions in Iceland are apt to change drastically from hour to hour.

4.  Get your camera settings right before you head out.

Don’t even bother trying to photograph the northern lights with your smart phone. You will definitely need a camera, and you will definitely need to adjust the settings to get a good shot.  Read up on how to set your camera before you go, and set your camera accordingly. You do not want to be standing in the middle of a field at night, in the winter, fiddling with your camera. It’s just not a good use of your time.

5. Find a dark place.

Try to get as far away as you can from city lights, also called “light pollution.”  Many people say that Thingvellir National Park is a good place to look for the lights. We were in Eastern Iceland when our opportunity arose, so we went to the local airport in Egilsstadir. The airport was closed and the parking lot was empty, so it was pretty dark.

6. Remember, you’re looking for the northern lights.

There is no point facing south when you’re looking for the northern lights. Directionally challenged? No problem!  Most smart phones have a compass app that will let you figure out which way is north.


7. Be patient.

The Northern lights may not be immediately visible, and your eyes may need a few moments to adjust to the darkness. They may not be as vividly colored as you see in photographs, and therefore not as noticeable.  But take heart, if there is no cloud cover and solar activity is present, you will see them.


Header and Pinterest images created with photo via Flickr by Giuseppe Milo.

Travel Photography Hacks for Awesome Pictures

Travel Photography Hacks for Awesome Pictures

When traveling, it can sometimes be difficult to capture the essence of a place. Witness my 300+ photos of the Grand Canyon, none of which accurately portray just how vast and colorful a place it is. That experience led me to take my photos to the next level by using simple travel photography hacks. Here are the best travel photography hacks I’ve found. The first seven of them can be used regarless of what tyoe of camera you have –  they will work just as well with a phone camera as they will with a high-end DSLR.

Travel Photography Hack #1

The Rule of Thirds

This one is the easiest to use, provided you can remember to do it. Imagine that your photo will be divided into three rows and three columns. The subject of your photo – the thing that you want to capture – should be along one of those lines rather than dead center. Like the example below:

travel photography hacks rule of thirds

This image of a solitary tree in a field would have been uninteresting if it was the only thing in the photo. By placing it along the right vertical line, we get an infinitely more intriguing image of the tree in its environment.  We see that the landscape is mountainous, that the air is foggy, and that there are no other trees in the immediate vicinity.  This photo invites us to step in and look around for more details. Without the rule of thirds, we would just say, “Oh, look.  A tree.”

Travel Photography Hack #2

Use a Different Approach

I would guess that 90% of photos are taken from eye level.  It’s natural to shoot from that angle because that is the angle from which we see our subjects. By shooting from above or below, or even from the side, we can get much more dramatic photos.  Some examples:

Travel photography hacks photograph from below
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO, photographed from below


Travel Photography Hacks Photgraphing from Above
A plate of food is almost always better photographed from above to show off its colors and textures.

As you can see above, using a different angle can make the subject of your photo look very different than it would if photographed at eye level!

Travel Photography Hack #3


Play with the perspective of your photo. Zoom in or zoom out. To zoom in, if you are photographing something that is close to you, you can utilize a macro feature for an up close and personal look.  (The macro lens is particularly good for photos of flowers, insects, etc.)  Or just zoom in. Either way, you can make things look closer than they actually are, and capture details that in many cases are not seen by the eye alone. In this photo, I zoomed in for a closer look at the water droplets:

Travel Photography Hacks Macro Lens
A recently watered autumn crocus in Alnwick Garden‘s Poison Garden. 

And in this one, I zoomed in for a closer look at a lion at the National Zoo:

Travel Photography Hacks zoom in macro telephoto
Lion at the National Zoo in Washington DC

It looks like I was only a few feet away from him, doesn’t it?


Travel Photography Hack #4

Check the Background

The background of your photo may seem inconsequential, but it can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. Before pressing the button, make sure your background is free from any distracting elements such as photo bombers (intentional or accidental) and clutter.  Here are some examples of photos that were taken while the photographer was too focused on the subject to notice what was in the background.


Travel Photography Hacks - Clean Up the Background
How many parents DON’T have a photo like this?


Travel Photography Hacks - Check the Background
Animals can be the worst photobombers.

Travel Photography Hack #5

Look for Symmetry and Patterns

Some of the most striking travel photos are those that feature symmetry and repeated patterns.  A reflection on still water is a wonderful way to acquire symmetry in your photo, and it adds more depth to the subject.

Travel Photography Hacks - Symmetry
The sunset’s reflection on the water at the Crusty Crab in Greenbackville, Virginia.

Patterns are all around us.  The weathered wood siding of an old barn, a series of arches/doorways, masonry in walls and pavements. etc.

Travel Photography Hacks framing your subject
A series of arched doorways in the Morocco pavilion at Disney World’s Epcot Center.

Travel Photography Hack #6

Pay Attention to Your Lighting

For the best travel photos, don’t be so quick to turn on your flash.  Use natural light whenever possible, and if you’re using a DSLR camera, try increasing your ISO instead. On an iPhone, you can touch one of the darker areas of your picture to adjust the brightness before taking the photo. I could have taken a flash picture of this stained glass window, but the results would have been much less dramatic than using the natural light outside to capture its beauty:

Travel Photography Hacks Using Natural Light
Light coming through a stained glass window at the chapel of St Micheal’s Mount in Cornwall, England.

While a flash will illuminate the subjects of a photograph, it’s important to remember that it is still providing artificial light.  Colors may be slightly off, and there may be shadows in the photo that you aren’t seeing with your eyes.  Natural light can add mood and texture that might not be conveyed in a flash photo.

Travel Photography Hacks - Natural Light
Details like the fuzziness of the stem would likely be lost in a flash photo.

Also, flashes can highlight the negative aspects of an object just as much as the positive ones. Imagine my surprise when I took this picture of a pretty chest in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC:

Travel Photography Hacks - Don't Use Flash Every Time
Look at all that dust under the chest!

Somebody needs to get a Swiffer under there!

Additionally, there are two ways to alter your photographs by the way you position and use your lighting. The first is to use a low light behind your subject to create a silhouette.

Travel Photography Hacks - Silhouettes and Lighting
The setting sun transforms these two dogs into silhouettes.

The second is to take advantage of the golden tone that the sun casts on objects as it sets in the evening. This effect was really beautiful at the Grand Canyon, where they even run special sunset tours. The colors of the canyon became brighter and more vibrant as the sun dipped lower in the sky.

Travel Photography Hacks - Sunset

Travel Photography Hack #7

Frame the Subject

When you frame a subject, you use natural lines within the photo to draw attention to it.  The best examples of items that frame a subject are doorways and windows. Those lines also serve to add depth to your photo, making it seem more three dimensional and real. Here are two of my favorites:

Travel Photography Hacks Framing Your Subject
A glimpse of the water through an open doorway at Ft Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan.


Travel Photoraphy Hacks Framing Your Subject
Two gorillas at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium in Ohio.

Travel Photography Hack #8

DIY Equipment for DSLR Cameras

There are gadgets for almost every photography effect and purpose.  But before you rush out and buy that gizmo, consider whether you will use it enough to justify the expense.  There is no need to drop your hard-earned cash on an item that will have very limited use. here are some DIY alternatives.  Try them first and if you like the effect, then consider buying the real thing.

  • Macro Lens – an old binocular lens held up to the camera will magnify the subject in much the same way as a macro setting would.
  • Bokeh Filter – to get the sort of fuzzy light effect in the background known as bokeh, you can cut a small shape in a piece of cardboard and then attache it to your camera lens as shown below.
Travel Photography Hacks - DIY Equipment
You can experiment with all different shapes of bokeh
  • Soft Focus Filter – stretch some pantyhose over the camera lens and hold it in place with a rubber band
  • Fisheye Lens – the lens from an apartment door’s peephole will provide the same effect as a fisheye lens (You can buy a peephole kit at a home improvement store for much less than a DSLR fisheye lens would cost)
  • Tripod – many times we can use stationary objects to stabilize our camera without a tripod.  For instance, if you are standing near a pole, lean your camera against it. You can further stabilize it by wrapping your camera strap around the pole and gripping it tightly.
  • Glare Reduction – use a cardboard coffee sleeve around the camera lens to reduce glare
  • Blurry Edges – some say smearing Vaseline on the lens will create this effect.  I prefer to wrap a plastic bag around lens (just the outer perimeter, not completely covering the whole lens)

I hope you have enjoyed these tips and that you will be able to use them when you travel.  Do you have any to add?

Travel Photography Hacks for Better Pictures
Panoramic Photo Prints

Panoramic Photo Prints

On our recent trip to the UK, I often found myself blown away by the vast beauty laid out before me.  On those occasions, I took a panoramic photo with my phone, even though I have never been able to get panoramic photo prints.  Every time I’ve tried, the prints I got back were either wildly distorted or severely cropped. So eventually, I just stopped trying to use that feature on my phone’s camera.

HOWEVER, this time I figured even if all I could do was look at it on my computer monitor, it was still better than trying to capture the scene before me in a 4×6 print. I’m sure you can see why:

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
Staithes Harbor, Yorkshire
North York Moors National Park
Flamborough Lighthouse & Cliffs, Yorkshire

Once I was home, I Googled panoramic photo prints in order to find a vendor who could print them correctly.  The first few that popped up were cost-prohibitive.  Then I found AdoramaPix, which only charges $1.19 for each 4″ x 12″ panoramic photo print.  I was so pleased with their service!  I ordered my prints on October 11, received notification of shipment on October 13, and received them on October 17.  The prints were exactly as I ordered, including the custom cropping I requested.  I’m happy to say that in the future, I will take more panoramic photos now that I know I can trust AdoramaPix to print them.

This is NOT a sponsored review.  I have received NOTHING from AdoramaPix other than the prints, which I bought and paid for.  I am just a happy customer.  🙂