After several years teaching in Iceland in July, we scheduled a September workshop, hoping to photograph fall color and the northern lights. The odds of photographing an aurora at all in a particular week are low, but figured we could give it a shot and if no auroras, then the fall color and Iceland in general would be great. 

Incredibly, the auroras went on for the entire week and we had largely clear nights to photograph them. We were very, very lucky. It took a while to learn to see an aurora, as there is little or no color, just quickly darting spikes and swiftly moving (what appears to be) clouds. The color can be seen on back of the camera and is fine tuned and further interpreted during processing. Everyone was pretty stoked, including me, that we got quite a bit of raw material, and we were all looking forward to processing the files.

After getting home I began the process of bringing color back into my aurora images. They looked really good, and pretty much like everyone else. I processed a few, posted a few, and that was pretty much it. I noticed an emotional dip when realizing that the processed color image paled by comparison to what I was feeling at the time.

Fast forward to almost a year later.

I was processing aurora images to help promote our upcoming workshop in Iceland. All of my aurora images just looked like everyone else’s, but I figured that was just how they look, and we are saturated with aurora images (unfortunately) and maybe I was a bit jaded. 

Then I had a “what if…” moment. “What if I ignored the color and processed as black and white, stripping the color from the scene?” In other words, just recording the graphics.

Immediately upon seeing the conversion, I got the feeling of the light dancing across the sky. The image became ethereal, mysterious, and graphic. It became clear that the color was eye candy, but the essence for me was monochromatic. I also discovered that all auroras aren’t created equal. Hard graphics, spikes, and curvy lines are what I’ll be looking for in a few weeks.

Here’s a short slide show (w/ music by Moby).

Before I let you go, please check out our 2017/ 2018 workshop schedule on my HomePage.

Thanks for taking the time and we’ll see ya online.