Behind the Lens Series – Northern Lights Self Portrait

One of my favourite things to photograph is the northern lights. I was lucky enough to photograph them the weekend of Sept 29th, while I was at the cottage.

I knew there was a chance for the northern lights to be active, so I kept my phone on. I get email notifications from NOAA ( that tell me when the lights are going to be active. I had gotten up to use the washroom and had trouble falling back asleep. I heard my phone buzz so I decided to check it. I saw that the lights were active, so I decided to check out the patio doors. I saw the lights so I decided to grab my gear and head down to the beach. I also woke my Aunt up as she had wanted to join me.

There was a south wind again which was pushing the water off shore to reveal some amazing textures in the sand and sandbars. The sandbars protected the water close to the shore from the wind. Which allows for beautiful reflections to be captured.

I had an idea of a self portrait. The idea was me on a sandbar with the reflections of the northern lights in the water. Since the pier had been taken down the only way to get to the sandbar was to walk in the water. Since it is fall time in Manitoba I would need to get my rubber boots. I went back and forth about whether or not I should go to my car to get my rubber boots. Luckily I ended up deciding to go and get my rubber boots.

In order for this shot to happen a couple of things needed to come together. Due to the fact that I had to walk out to the sandbar, an intervalometer is a must. This allows me to get take multiple shots without have to go back to the camera. The next thing that I needed was a flashlight to be able to see where I am walking. The last thing I wanted to do was for me to trip while walking in the lake. I had to make sure that I placed myself in the correct spot on the sandbar to get the nice reflection in the water. I knew I had to place myself on the thinnest part of the sandbar, this placement helps give the illusion that I am sort of walking on water.

Before I headed out to the sandbar I needed to make sure that my focus and exposure were correct. Focusing in the dark is always tricky. You want to have your focus set to infinity. This will make the stars in the shot nice and sharp. I have used my lens a lot for night shooting, so I know where the infinity focus is. Once I have set the focus I always zoom in on a star to make sure it looks like a pinpoint. If you haven’t done a lot of night shooting the best to focus in the dark is to use your live view and zoom in on a star and focus. For night photography you also have to use manual exposure. I did a couple of test shots before I headed out to the sandbar. My final exposure that I used for this shot was aperture – F/2.8 shutter speed – 10 seconds and ISO 2000. I made sure to set my intervalometer to shoot 10 shots. I would have to make sure that I stood still for at least 10 seconds. What I always do is count to myself. I ended up counting up to 20 to make sure that I had a least one shot that was nice and sharp.



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