Greinasafni: Icelandic Times
Tales from a Northern Lights’ Hunter.Olgeir Andrésson, photographer
Olgeir Andrésson, photographer                 
 Wild tales from a Northern Lights Hunter


Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in Iceland in the little fishing village of Sandgerði on the Reykjanes Peninsula. As a boy, I spent many summers driving around the whole country with my grandparents. It was my grandmother who first taught me the basics of photography with the little camera that she always carried with her on these trips. I soon became the main photographer for the family because I seemed to have developed an eye for photos! Then when I was 14 years old, I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 100. A couple of years later, I switched to a Canon EOS 5d mark 2 and have used this same brand ever since.

What are your first memories of the Northern Lights?

When we were young, my friends and I used to lie in the snow, making snow angels and looking up at the Northern Lights. We lived far from any city centre and so going even just a hundred metres from the house gave us optimal viewing. I was completely fascinated with the Northern Lights from an early age and to this day, the fascination has never left me. I started photographing them about 4 or 5 years ago on a full-time basis.

Do you only photograph the Northern Lights?
For the most part, yes, and for two reasons. One is that I love going out in our beautiful natural surroundings when it is cold and fresh to watch this stunning phenomena. It’s an amazing thought that our ancestors were witnessing the same thing hundreds or thousands of years ago. Number two is because I love to share my talent with others. Just another reason to come to Iceland in the winter!

In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of people who are eager to learn the technique of capturing the Northern Lights. Do you have any tips that you can share with us?
The advent of the digital camera has made it a lot easier nowadays, because you have more control over the exposure time and aperture and you can see right away what you have done and make the necessary changes. The second piece of equipment you need is a tripod. The smaller tour companies that do Northern Lights tours often offer tripods, but it is good to check this before you come. Also make sure you are warmly dressed, because you are sometimes spending up to 4 or 5 hours out there watching the lights. Get away from the city lights and check the websites listed below for the forecast before you go. From Reykjavik, you only need to go about 10 minutes outside the city to be able to see them without interference from city lights.
What have been the most unusual reactions you have had from people who see the Northern Lights for the first time?
One time, I had a small group with me and a woman in the group got so excited she was jumping up and down holding on to my arm, her nails digging into my skin. It was a phenomenal occasion and the forecast rating was a ‘10’.  She was shouting, “Oh my God! Is that real? Is this for real? I just can’t believe this is real!!!” and she was going on like that.

Have you had any unusual experiences on your ‘hunting’ trips?
In April of 2010, I was coming back from a night of photography in the highlands at about 2:30 in the morning.  This was in the spring and the ground was just starting to thaw. On the way back to my car I stepped on an icy patch. My foot broke through the ice and I fell in up to my knees. As I fell, I let out a yelp and immediately an arctic fox somewhere in the distance answered my cry with another yelp! My foot was stuck, but I eventually dislodged it and had to use my tripod as a crutch to walk the remaining fifteen metres to my car. My leg is healed now but it was a good lesson in watching where you step in Iceland!

What about the colours?  
The Northern Lights are most frequently a greenish colour but as they start moving faster, other colours appear - often pink, violet and sometimes red. Red is quite rare but I think in the next couple of years we will start seeing more of these totally red Northern Lights. If the activity is at a ‘10’ they are so bright it is almost like daytime. This is very difficult to capture and this is where I have to put down my camera and just enjoy the moment.

Any awards or publications?
Kodak displayed one of my photos on the big screen in New York’s Times Square in 2007 and I was chosen ‘Photographer of the Year’ in Denmark in 2008 by Zoom Magazine. I won this competition with the same photo that was in Times Square. My work has also appeared in many different magazines, adverts and books around the world.
This summer my new book, “Northern Lights in Iceland” came out in English & German, showcasing the best of my last 3 years of work. Its available in bookstores throughout Iceland and you can also pick up a copy at the Keflavik Airport bookstore before you catch your flight home.
If you have questions about Northern Light photography, Olgeir would be happy to help.
You can contact him at: olgeir56@simnet.is
See video here
Olgeir’s portfolio can be viewed here: http://olgeir.zenfolio.com/

The following websites publish regular updates of auroral activity:
www.swpc.noaa.gov/pmap/pmapN.html
www.raunvis.hi.is/~halo/leirvogur.html
www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/ShortTerm.asp
www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/

Olgeir does all the preparations for his Northern Lights photos
beforehand, and rarely relies on optimization to perfect his work.

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