It is early April and the northern lights season is almost at its end here in Iceland. I have received the NUANCES Clearsky filter on the day they were forecasting strong solar winds activity and shortly after nightfall, the auroras started to dance in the dark. With a clear sky, the weather conditions were perfect to test the brand-new filter by capturing the magnificent performance of northern lights.
I packed my backpack with Canon 6D and a 35mm f/1.4 – my favourite lens for night photography thanks to its wide aperture - the EVO filter holder equipped with the Light Pollution NUANCES CLEARSKY XL Filter, a tripod and a headband lamp. Gear is only a part of the preparation and before I leave, I put on specialized clothes designed to keep me warm in the cold for a good few hours. Now, I am ready to shoot the mystical lights!
Cokin Clearsky filter (M size)
Cokin Clearsky filter (L size)
Cokin Clearsky filter (XL size)
You don't have to go far from Reykjavik to admire northern lights. It is actually possible to observe them from the city, and the luckiest people can watch them through their home! Although, to fully enjoy the show and avoid light pollution it is better to venture a bit further out of the city. This also lets you incorporate a myriad of natural environments when composing your shots.
I went south about twenty kilometres from Reykjavik in the Reykjanes peninsula and stopped at Kleifarvatn lake. While from this distance the city lights are still visible, they are much weaker, and the light pollution filter will be able to almost entirely remove them from my photos.
Around midnight the auroras create a breathtaking arch over the lake. I set the shutter speed to 6 seconds, aperture f/1.4, ISO 500 and 4000K temperature. With these settings, the exposure is short enough to avoid any unwanted star trails or blurry aspects while keeping the image sharp and preserving the original shapes of northern lights. The most common ones are long graceful curves, but sometimes they appear as filaments or streaks. This night, it is a mix of both.
Raphaelle Monvoisin, Kleifarvatn lake in the Reykjanes peninsula (Iceland), April 2019, photograph made without filter and no editing.
Raphaelle Monvoisin, Kleifarvatn lake in the Reykjanes peninsula (Iceland), April 2019, photograph made with Clearsky filter and no editing.
I take the first images without the filter. The result is pink with a little grey sky that turns orange on the lowest part of the horizon. The northern lights appear in green and yellow. I was hoping to get a nice reflection in the lake but the strong wind breaks the calm surface of the water.
Next, I put the NUANCES Clearsky filter. It doesn't darken the scenery too much, so there is no need to change the settings. This is definitely a good point because northern lights keep changing very rapidly and you want to be reacting quickly. With the filter, the results are very different: the pink colour of the sky has completely disappeared and was replaced with a strong indigo blue colour instead. The auroras have an intense gradient of greens, almost turquoise.
Even if the colour most often associated with the aurora borealis is green, on rare occasions, the top and bottom parts can be pink or red. More testing would be necessary to determine how the filter plays with that, but I had no opportunity to test it as the northern lights were only green that night.
The auroras started fading away from the night sky shortly after, marking the end of my shooting. It is time to put photos on my computer and check the result on a proper screen.
I have imported the photos to Lightroom, where I can use the 'Reference View' to compare photos during the editing. The raw pictures are already showing a huge colour difference in the sky: pink-grey versus dark indigo blue.
I apply the same editing to both shots and keep the white balance and color settings unchanged to preserve original colours. I increase the exposure to lighten the image a bit. Since it is common to underexpose the photos in the darkness, it is useful to display the histogram on the screen while shooting.
As a next step, I play with the values of the image by increasing the highlights and lowering the shadows. In addition, I adjust the curves in an S shape to sharpen the contrasts to my liking. Finally, I use clarity and dehaze to enhance the stars. It also affects the intensity of the northern lights and highlights them even more.
The result is interesting. Without the filter, the sky is much clearer, but the northern lights appear a bit weaker. With the NUANCES Clearsky filter, the auroras seem to be more contrasted with the sky.
Raphaelle Monvoisin, Kleifarvatn lake in the Reykjanes peninsula (Iceland), April 2019, photograph made without filter and after editing.
Raphaelle Monvoisin, Kleifarvatn lake in the Reykjanes peninsula (Iceland), April 2019, photograph made with Clearsky filter and after the same editing.
When I shoot the Icelandic night sky, I tend to use cold colours to reach my interpretation of how I perceive and feel about northern countries. In fact, I connect the nights and northern lights with the intense cold and the blue of the ice. I have developed some editing technics to reach these gradients of emerald green, turquoise and blue.
When I use the NUANCES Clearsky filter, the photos have this colour palette straight out of the camera. This lets me completely immerse myself in the moment and the surrounding atmosphere that inspires me when I shoot. I can also now save some time on the editing process! In this context, I find using the NUANCES Clearsky filter extremely useful and, frankly speaking, it has exceeded my expectations.
I cannot wait to test the filter to capture northern lights from the city and play with an urban environment. I am curious to see how it will affect both the city lights and the polar lights. But for that, I will have to wait until next autumn when the northern lights will return starting another season of awe-inspiring night sky performance.
To sum up, the NUANCES Clearsky filter is a great ally to lower the light pollution generated bu urban lights. If it affects the color of the sky, replacing the pink-orange tones by an intense deep blue, it also increases the contrasts of the northern lights in the arctic night sky, allowing you to create incredible pictures at the heart of winter.
Raphaelle Monvoisin, Cokin ambassador, April 2019.