Is that guy spraying chalk fixative onto that fly… or is it another Chalk Drawing Illusion? This could certainly be the best self portrait I have ever seen.Imagine how long it took the artist to figure out exactly how to do this in perspective. This is an amazing optical illusion picture of a woman swimming in the pool, sipping her coke.
Although the seal doesn’t look incredibly realistic, it sure looks like it is popping up out of the water handing the artist a fresh cola after days of hard work.
How would you like to be walking down the sidewalk and then suddenly fall into a hole like these guys? The last one is John Major and Paddy Ashdown falling down a hole, overlooked by Tony Blair.
I am trying to track down the owner of these photographs, specifically the photographer of the SEAL drawing. The impermanence and effervacent quality of the work makes it that much more special.When the rains come it will all be washed away. Particularly when the artists don’t see the comments, but rather some guy who posted them does. I’M A HUGE fan of him, my mom knows he is the best opticial illusion painters ever!!! Now since the winter is just around the corner it is a good time to post some tips & tricks about Aurora photography with focus on Iceland.
Typically you will be shooting at ISO 400-1600 depending on the strength of the Aurora and light on your foreground.
There are many wide angle lenses out there that can shoot sharp wide angle images at small apertures. Bring along the normal landscape photography hardware like remote trigger, spirit leveler, cleaning cloth, extra memory cards and extra batteries. Once you have decided to go to Iceland or another location to photograph the Aurora there are a few things you can do to prepare for you upcoming trip. Like in all night photography the phases of the Moon play an important role when photographing the Aurora. If you plan your trip in the fall with no snowy foregrounds then you should do it the other way around. Once you arrived in Iceland there are tools that can help you with strategy while hunting for Aurora. The basic technical principle behind Aurora photography is to capture as much light as your gear can without degrading your image quality too much.
To capture as much light as you reasonably can with your camera means high ISO settings, larger aperture and fairly long exposures.
The maximum exposure time I use is 30 seconds when shooting really wide (14-16mm) as longer exposures than that will start to create unwanted star-trails from the moving stars. I usually have my camera set on AV mode and I let the camera itself determine the exposure length.
In some cases you will have distant bright subjects visible from where you shoot such has distant farm house, the moon or some other artificial light.
If you want to include a object on the ground in your image you will need to have a very wide angled lens as the most interesting part of Aurora often happens far off the horizon. For further details about this technique I refer to Tony Prower article: Magic Cloth Technique. Many of the interesting photographic features in Iceland can also be included in an Aurora shot. One key feature of Aurora photography is that the Aurora might not always appear in the direction you would like to shoot. To increase you chances of a good Aurora shot I often choose a location that has more than one interesting shooting angle or where one can quickly relocate to a better angle. Thanks for the tips, I can only dream of going to Iceland to try to shoot the aurora one day. Marcel: No, both clouds and lack of activity will make it impossible to see the Aurora every night. And I understand this is sort of marketing of Iceland, BUT, Iceland is NOT directly under the auroral oval, you need a rather strong auroral outbreak to place Iceland directly under the donut. Also regarding wide-angle lenses, I mostly agree with you, but the 14mm 2.8 Mark II from Canon is not THAT bad in the corners, but it is very expensive compared to the Samyang, which is sharper yes, but vignettes and distorts a lot more than the Canon. Regarding different exposure times for sky and foreground, I don’t understand why people persistently fail to mention the obvious possibility of using two exposures, and blending them perfectly in post at home, rather than the hassle using an object to partly cover the lens during an exposure out in the cold. Since we are going into details I did say that Iceland is on the Aurora donut not directly under it. I have not tried the 14mm f2.8 from Canon myslef but I have the sharpness issues from others. As I read your tip here, I wonder if you know anything about using this wideangle lense for my Olympus E-620; more accurate the Zuiko Digital 7 – 14mm for photographing the Aurora Borealis?
Regarding lighting up the foreground, will you recommend “light painting” using a torch?


Thank ypu Orvar for your in depth explanation and for sharing your knowledge on the subject and your pictures. That’s pretty incredible, but I think you’ll find that some of the other artists captured the optical illusion even more realistic! I reckon it’s Charles Kennedy and John Major (the 2 guys Blair beat to become Prime Minister in 1997) falling down the hole.
Geographical luck has placed Iceland right on the Aurora donut that encircles the magnetic north pole so it is a convenient location for Aurora photography coming from either the east coast of USA or from Europe.  Photographing this magnificent natural display of light is not the most difficult thing in the world but there are some points you need to know to make the best of your time in the winter Arctic. The key issue here is corner sharpness and the wide angles from Canon do not live up to the requirement here. The Aurora happens all day throughout the year, it is just not visible when the sky is not dark. There are a few things you need to know when shooting in darkness and finding out how in the middle of the night during an Aurora storm is not the best time.
Obviously you want a fairly clear sky for your Aurora shooting as clouds will block your view of them. This is not yet an exact science but when the forecast says very low activity your are unlikely to see the Aurora and when it is at high activity your are very likely to see it. Even though you know where your basic shooting location is it can be difficult to find the right spots in full darkness. There are alot of Aurora images out there so to make your image stand out you will need to add interest to it by having something interesting in the foreground.
It brings out the details of the foreground, making the image much more appealing by darkening the upper part of the image. One key feature in Iceland in Icelandic Aurora photography are reflecting unfrozen water surfaces. You have set up your camera on the edge of a reflecting lake waiting for the Aurora when it appears behind you. This can be frustrating to some who pre-plan their shots in every detail but one needs to look at Aurora photography as something between normal landscape photography and action news photography.
The earlier shots, taken with an uncooled camera, are much noisier that shots taken half an hour later. I knew about the temperature effect on noise but I did not realize the importance on taking your camera out early. You will need a quiet static display to be able to do that as fast moving Aurora will make it impossible to stitch. Weak displays of Aurora are visible here when the weather allows as green arch near the horizon.
The Samyang does vignette and distort but distortion is not a problem at all in Aurora photography.
I`ve been following your website for a while, and I have also visited your gallery in Laugarvegur several times, looking at your pictures there! I know it might not illuminate distant subjects but at least the subject in the near foreground will not be too much under-exposed.
By the way I am seriously considering visiting Iceland during February-March 2013 (period that should correspond to the peak of the sun activity) with a couple of amateur photographers. It would be great to start our aurora hunting with precious tips and tricks of an experienced photographer!
Get helpPassword recoveryRecover your passwordyour email A password will be e-mailed to you. This means cameras with fairly good high ISO performance and lenses that open wide and can shoot fairly sharp images at large apertures. It does not need to be specially lightweight  (no need for carbon fiber) as it is unlikely that you will have to hike very far from your car. If the foreground is snowy you don’t want too much Moon light as it will make your foreground look like from a daytime shot. Having a large moon will help you in this case by lighting up your foreground even though it will still kill some contrast in the Aurora display.
For the techniques to practice check out the Aurora photography shooting techniques chapter of this article. Seeing the location in daylight will help you find the best spots and interesting subjects to include in your frame before you shoot it in full darkness. This works well for low intensity and static displays of Aurora, which are the most common ones.
Both my camera seems to under-evaluate the dark scene but also I want over exposure as it will create less noisy images but keep an eye on the highlights as you don’t want washed out areas in your frame. This can be done by either including silhouetted objects like stone structures or trees in your frame or by pointing your lens a little more towards the ground and include an interesting feature in the ground like a river or frozen lake. This is quite rare in other Aurora shooting locations like Canada and Alaska as all still water surfaces are frozen solid and often covered in snow. I like that part about choosing a polyvalent location, when the jolly northern lights decide to dance outside the frame. Therefore, if you know you’re going to be shooting long exposures outside, take your camera out 20 to 30 minutes early and let it cool down to the outside temperature.


Also if you are shooting alot of long exposure in a sequence you sensor will heat up from the usage. Even just a night city scape shooting at widest aperture at infinity focus and see hot the corner sharpness is plus vignetting. Now I have had some practise in Norway on a tour with Antony Spencer and David Clapp, and together with your explanation I feel confident to have another try at Iceland maybe next year.
All of these pictures were done by Julian Beever, so be sure to visit his website regullary for more of his wonderfull work! Wide angle lenses are also very useful as Aurora often covers the whole sky so getting as much of it in your frame requires wide angle lenses. When things start to heat up and the Aurora really lights up and starts dancing around the sky, I shorten my exposure time as much I can, going down to 3 to 5 seconds to avoid blurring the Aurora by its movement during the exposure. If you feel that your image is to bright when you over expose don’t worry, just reduce the exposure in post processing and you will have a correctly exposed and less noisy image. Since you main subject will be the very distant Aurora then you need to set your focus on infinity. Be careful not to touch your focus ring or to tilt your lens to much downwards as this can change the focus setting. The relatively warm temperatures in Iceland during winter often leaves water surfaces unfrozen and this is a feature that can render some stunning Aurora shots. Personally I do like to see a good image on my camera display and I do like to use a little hassle in the field and less hassle at home. I bet there are also some posts out there on the internet that have tried it shooting at night.
I found this guy a few years ago and always remember him every time I see an optical illusion.Good stuff, glad you guys like it! The remaining two seasons of winter and spring are the best seasons to photograph the Aurora. The full Moon light will also kill the contrast of the Aurora display and the fine fast moving Aurora stripes will be less visible. Large moon will however reduce the need for location scouting by lighting the location just enough for the human eye to see. This is done by either having an lens that has a really accurate focus scale or better to focus on infinity during daylight and mark that setting on your lens with f.x.
After you shoot your first shots after setting the focus check if it is accurate on your camera preview of the image. Also some photo competitions and publishing houses that require originals do not accept double exposures. Don’t be tempted to use global weather services as they are not as accurate and will not display local weather warnings.
It is worth noting that really active Aurora generates as much light as full moon and will help with shortening the exposure time.
Darkening the sky by 2 to 3 stops is not really and option with current equipment as it will require you to increase either the ISO or exposure time which beforehand are being stretched to the limit. But doesn’t go on color if you save your iPad life then your need full body protective case.
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