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Lights, Camera, Magic! Aids Tecson’s Photographic Expedition to Shoot the Northern Lights

Words and photos by Aids Tecson

When was the last time you saw something that truly took your breath away? 

We’ve all been there — physically tired, mentally exhausted and emotionally drained. Our industry has been undergoing so many big changes at a velocity that very few people can keep up with, and it really takes its toll on your being. 


The last year was probably the most challenging year for me in my entire professional life. I needed some time to think and recalibrate my life compass. I needed to reboot, restart and go back to doing something that I loved — telling a story and creating beautiful imagery. Every year for the last four years, my good friend and landscape photography mentor, Edwin Martinez, had been asking me to go with him on a photo expedition. It’s life changing, an adventure that’s truly one for the books, he’d say. And always, I wanted to go but work would get in the way. 

Well, that needed to change. So I signed up for the expedition, booked a flight, and prepared myself to mentally detach, focus on creating and just take in all the beauty that I was about to experience. 

Together with nine other light chasers, I saw and photographed the Northern Lights for the first time last February. We went on an eight-day journey, shooting sunrises and sunsets, the aurora borealis in the evening. The weather was consistently freezing. I was wet from the sea spray, and couldn’t feel my fingers and toes most of the time, but it was perfect. I missed shooting landscapes so much. 

How Small Are We. I took this photo during the civil twilight, something none of us expected during this trip. It’s rare to see the Northern Lights in this intensity, and even rarer to see it with the sun still up. To be able to photograph it and still see colors and the foreground is such a rare treat.

Some of my friends have asked me to describe the Northern Lights experience. When fully illuminated, it’s overwhelming, amazing, awe-inspiring, marvelous— the list just goes on. Think of all the things on your bucket list and add “under the northern lights” after that — drink the best whisky, drive the fastest car, run the longest mile, surf the biggest wave, hold the hand of the ones you love the most — this phenomenon is simply indescribable. It’s much bigger than you or me, and shows how grand the power of God, or any other higher being you believe in, all wrapped in an ethereal visual treat. Inspiring. Humbling. Beautiful. 

In the end, my body was tired but my heart was full. I was ready to go back to work. 

During ideal conditions, a reddish glow is often seen on the summits of mountains just before sunrise. This is called the Alpen Glow. It doesn’t last very long so it was important to be prepared and find a suitable photo composition while waiting for the beautiful light to bathe the mountains. I chose to do some dynamic wave painting shots, which I think provided a nice contrast to the serene and peaceful mountain vista. The lone Icelandic gull on the tiny rock island was a pleasant added bonus 

One of the challenges in shooting the aurora borealis is not being able to use the LCD to compose a shot. You’d have to go old school and look through the viewfinder, and even with that, you barely see anything in near total darkness. So aside from manually finding the correct exposure, keeping focus and timing the shutter with the bursts of light, there’s the added challenge of combining foreground elements, composing for a reflection and avoiding other photographers who are in their own zone as well. 

This photo was exceptionally challenging as I was knee deep into the -2° water with strong waves crashing on my legs and the winds and sand battering my face at 40kp/h. 

But when it all comes together, it’s PRICELESS. 

My winter landscape photography essentials – a balaclava, fingerless gloves, winter hiking shoes, and crampons/ice spikes. Of course, it goes without saying that you need to warm up with multiple layers of clothing. The weather can be harsh when shooting by the coastline, which is the best place to view the northern lights. It’s not so much the cold, but the occasional bone chilling 40kph winds and the sand blowing on your face.

The Choir of Valkyries. A stitched panorama of two vertical photos fully capture the majestic Northern Lights. Taken at Skagsanden Beach in Lofoten, Norway during a level 3 aurora borealis KP index.


About the Author:

Aids Tecson is the Technical Consultant and Founding Partner of TVCXpress, a fully digital video content delivery and management service.

This article was published in the adobo magazine Trends 2018 issue.

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