Chasing Aurora Borealis in Greenland

With its long nights, winter is arguably the best time of the year to shoot Northern Lights, although it is not the season with the highest number of clear sky days.


NORTHERN LIGHTS ON THE CANADA GOOSE STORE IN KANGERLUSSUAQ
Sony Alpha 77ii + Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art
26mm, 8s, F/1.8, ISO 400

Personally, I decided to go to Greenland in February mainly to experience it at its coldest. Also, it is easier for me to travel before the start of the Whale Watching season in the Azores.


HOUSES AND ICEBERGS OF ILULISSAT
Sony Alpha 77ii + Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di USD
300mm, 1/320s, F/5.6, ISO 1600

I spent eight nights in Greenland, six of which in Ilulissat and two in Kangerlussuaq.
Overall, I was not very lucky with the weather in Ilulissat and I only got one chance to see Aurora Borealis there.
Unfortunately, the organisation I booked my Northern Lights tour with turned out to choose a relatively poor location to stop their van out of town. Basically, as soon as Northern Lights were visible, the guide pulled out with no much thought to conditions and composition for the photographers who joined the tour.

The wind was strong and the spot was totally unsheltered from it, so that snow was constantly blowing onto our faces and cameras. That made -20°C feel a lot colder and it did not take me long to realise that it was only possible to shoot downwind, thus limiting my composition to whatever happened to be in that direction.

I was struggling so much that I quickly chose my settings based on what I believed it was reasonable to capture a weak aurora and pressed the shutter (self-timer set to a 2-second delay, to avoid camera shake).
I know it sounds funny, or even stupid, but it is true that I realised what I got in the shot only after I checked the image on the LCD screen at the back of my camera.


GRAVEYARD AND A HINT OF AURORA
Sony Alpha 77ii + Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art
20mm, 10s, F/1.8, ISO 800

Yes, it is a cemetery. Overall, I was moved by the sight of the graveyard. My thoughts went immediately to the dear ones I lost and I wished peace to the people who are resting there.

That being said, I still believe this is not the type of place tourists should be taken for a northern lights tour. Furthermore, as a tour leader, I would never want my guest to think that I am stopping the vehicle at the very first opportunity just to secure the excursion, which is the feeling I had. 

Back to my shot, if you are wondering why I included so little of the Northern Lights in the frame, it is because I wanted to shoot something with the aurora in the background, not just the aurora.
That night the northern lights were very high in the sky and that did not help either. Also, it looks like conditions were smooth, while in fact they were very harsh!

REMEMBER: what you see and feel is one thing, what your camera captures can be a completely different thing, especially with long exposures!

No other nights in Ilulissat were suitable to shoot Aurora Borealis, so that I had to bet on my very last night in Greenland, which I was going to spend in Kangerlussuaq, where the international airport is.


FIVE MINUTES IN ONE SHOT
12 exposures blended together, it is the same aircraft everywhere in the shot
Sony Alpha 77ii + Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di USD
70mm, 8s, F/7.1, ISO 50

While Kangerlussuaq is known for its amazingly high number of fine weather days per year, I still needed a lot of luck to get clear skies that particular night. In fact, at the beginning it did not look promising at all, as the afternoon was still very cloudy and only at dusk some patches of blue appeared in the sky.
Finally, around 7:30pm all clouds disappeared and the miracle happened.


NORTHERN LIGHTS IN KANGERLUSSUAQ
Sony Alpha 77ii + Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art
20mm, 6s, F/1.8, ISO 800

Thinking about it now, it is easy to say I should have probably contacted a local operator to move out of town and find some nice compositions in the wilderness. However, after the negative experience I had in Ilulissat, I preferred to go out on my own, so that I could only blame myself in case things went wrong.

As for the town - Kangerlussuaq - I heard quite a few people saying it is as ugly as sin. Well, as a former military base, entirely revolving around its airport, I see why they said that. However, there is such Grandeur in the skies of Kangerlussuaq that I could never say it is an ugly place and, if I ever go back to Greenland, I will most definitely spend more time there and explore its surroundings, which I did not have a chance to do this time.

When shooting Northern Lights, you do not really choose your composition like you do when shooting the Milky Way (whose position can be predicted very accurately). It is more about following the activity of Aurora Borealis and trying to combine it with a suitable foreground and middle ground to get your composition.
All in all, I am very pleased with the image below, which I reckon is the best Northern Lights shot I got during my trip to Greenland.
Click it to see it on my Portfolio website. 

Northern Lights over a Canada Goose store in GreenlandNORTHERN LIGHTS ON THE CANADA GOOSE STORE IN KANGERLUSSUAQ
Sony Alpha 77ii + Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art
26mm, 8s, F/1.8, ISO 400 

I think there are about 500 people living in Kangerlussuaq and, because of that, I was quite surprised to find a Canada Goose shop there. 
On the other hand, the place is so... ARCTIC (!) that, thinking again, it makes complete sense to be a presence there for them and their Arctic Program.
I feel the shop plus the Northern Lights and the smoking chimney made my picture rather strong and interesting.

What do you Canada Goose guys think about it? Any picture-for-parka trade opportunity here? ;-)

Cheers,
Enrico

My night in fairytale Rifugio Nambino

Luckily, there are still places you are only allowed to reach by walking and Rifugio Nambino is one of them.
Located in the Adamello-Brenta National Park (Trentino, Italy), the mountain refuge sits right by Lake Nambino, which is frozen and covered in snow in winter.

The easiest way to reach Rifugio Nambino is from Madonna di Campiglio. You first drive to where the refuge's cableway is located (which is also where the road ends) and then hike up from there.
We found the cableway very handy as we could load our luggage on it, rather than carrying it all the way up. People cannot use the cableway, it is just for stuff!

The hike is supposed to be about 25-minute long, but it actually took us 45 min to reach Rifugio Nambino, as I was carrying a crate with our cat Alya in it (8kg overall) and we were also happy to stop from time to time to enjoy the snow and let our Newfoundland dog Coda discover new smells in the woods.
By the way, a big thank you to the owners and the staff of Rifugio Nambino for being pet friendly

After relaxing a little bit in our room, I started to wonder around the frozen lake to scout for compositions. Looking at the photo below, you can imagine it only took me about 10 seconds to realise that, if they persisted, the low clouds would prevent me to get the shot I wanted. 

While it is true that I had a single night to get my image, I was sensible enough to book a room up there, so that at least I had the ENTIRE night to fulfill my goal.
Remember the landscape photographer's motto: Never Give Up Until it's Over!
Indeed, I did not lose hope at all when, at first, the low clouds seemed to be willing to hang around the refuge forever.

In the end, I did not have to wait too long. Around 9h50pm the clouds cleared up, leaving just a translucent curtain of snow, that was invisible in the foreground and middle ground (due to the small aperture I used) and just created a little mist in the background, which I believe even adds something to my image.

Did the mist still make me pay a toll? Yes, it did! From the other side of Lake Nambino, looking at the back of the refuge, on a clear night you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Dolomites. Due to the weather, that view was entirely precluded to me.
Am I disappointed about it? Not at all! The night shot of Rifugio Nambino I got is more than I could have hoped for. As I write this, I am even considering to add it to my Portfolio and, more importantly, I had a great time there with my wife Dania, Coda and Alya.

As a final note, I would have actually felt more stressed if I had known the entire night was NOT there for me to capture a night shot of Rifugio Nambino. Starting from 11pm it started to snow pretty heavily and later on they even turned off the lights!

To learn more about Rifugio Nambino, please visit their website: www.nambino.com

Click my image below to access my Portfolio Website, where prints and wall art can be purchased, along with digital versions: 

Rifugio Nambino in the Dolomites

Cheers,
Enrico

Tallest building in Italy

Thanks to its spire, the UniCredit Tower is the tallest building in Italy (231 metres). It is located in Milan - my hometown - and it was completed in 2011.


Sunset shot of the UniCredit Tower, Milano, Italy
Sony Alpha 77 Mark 2, Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di USD
300mm, 2.5s, f/7.1, ISO 100 (6-stop ND filter)

More than by the building itself, I was impressed by how well I could see the mountains in the background.
I must admit that I impatiently waited for sunset to warm up the scene, keeping my fingers crossed for visibility not to get any worse. Luckily, it did not.

Call me lazy, it is sort of a tradition for me to try to find a composition from whatever apartment, house or hotel I happen to spend at least one night. In this particular case, I took the shot from the balcony of an apartment I rented when visiting Milano last week.
 
As soon as it got dark and the tower was lit up, I took a second, long exposure.
While I am not at all a fan of black skies, I do still like the cold mood of the scene.
 

Night shot of the UniCredit Tower, Milano, Italy
Sony Alpha 77 Mark 2, Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di USD
300mm, 15s, f/10, ISO 100

I am not saying the two photos above are particularly good. What I am saying is that my habit not to snob compositions that can be captured from very accessible places helped me understand how photography is for everybody.
Sometimes we assume no good pictures can be taken without hiking like crazy or going somewhere very remote. Well, it is simply not true.

As a second reason, I find it challenging to try to find some beauty in things or scenes that most people view as dull, or even ugly.
I will give you two examples:

1) Another cityscape I captured in Milan last year (many people find the buildings in there ugly).

2) My most successful picture so far of the Brenta Dolomites (in terms of print sales and editor's picks, which was lazily taken from the balcony of a hotel).

All this being said, I am planning to go to a couple of outstandingly beautiful places in January and February 2018. Let's see what happens! ;-)

Cheers,
Enrico