Don’t miss out on this expert advice from local photographer Vagn Hansen. Here he shares his top tips for getting the best shot of the midnight sun.
1. Plan Ahead
Planning is the key to successful landscape photography, especially when traveling to remote destinations. It’s easy to romanticize the idea of heading off into the great unknown and fortuitously finding the perfect shot, but the reality is it takes work to put yourself in the right place at the right time and get the shot. Prior to your trip, you should do extensive photo research to create a list of images you like, map out the locations, and note focal lengths of the various pictures to determine how best to optimize your lens selection when packing.
You can use a combination of 500px, Google maps, and Instagram for photo research. You should make a list of all of the images you like and cross-reference the locations on Google. Additionally, you can write down driving and hiking directions for the various locations. The final step is to use the PhotoPills app to figure out the best time to photograph the location based on the position of the sun and the direction of the light.
At the end of all of the planning, you will have a detailed list of potential images.
2. Follow the Light
When I shoot sunrise and sunset, it is rare that I’m able to shoot more than one location at a time. In areas with multiple spectacular photography locations, I usually have to pick the one that I think has the most potential for a given lighting scenario. In the north of Greenland where the sun never sets during the summer months, you have hours of potentially beautiful light. You will find that the golden hour light starts to get good when the sun is seven to eight degrees above the horizon, with the light becoming more desirable as the sun dips lower. In Ilulissat, this means that the hours between 10pm and 4am would be perfect for landscape photography, with the sun hitting its low point just above the horizon between 1 and 2am.
A lot of people own a drone these days, and this is a very good way to get another perspective of the sunset. But you must be aware of the drone rules which state that you are not allowed to fly a drone within 5 km of the nearest airport, and that you are not allowed to fly within city limits without a drone licence – you can only fly within the city limits if you are flying for business and not for pleasure. Whether you are flying for business or pleasure, make sure you get acquainted with the drone rules, which are explained fully in these two handy infographics:
Often when you photograph the sunset, you will have a bit of difference in light from the top of the photo to the bottom of the photo. This may create a challenge to finding the right exposure. To make this easier, you could use a graduated ND filter in front of your lens. The dark part of the filter should cover the sky and even out the exposure of the image.
For sunset photography, I recommend setting the ISO as low as possible, normally around ISO 100. Set the aperture to about f/7.1 to f/11 and then change the shutter time to find the right exposure. You have to find an exposure where you are able to see the foreground and the sun is not totally burned out – play around until you find the right shutter speed.
White Balance should be set to “Daylight”.
When you have hours of beautiful light, you have the gift of time. Spend it wisely but also use it to explore. Whether you fly your drone or hike up a mountain, it’s always rewarding to find some new vantage points and compositions.
5. Bonus tip!
A bonus tip I’d like to give you is to photograph the midnight sun with good company if you can. It’s a lot of fun sharing these once in a lifetime events with a good friend, and it makes the experience richer than if you had been on your own. Plus, if you’re with someone else it’s much easier to capture joyful midnight sun silhouettes!
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Vagn is a full-time freelance photographer living in Nuuk, specialising in nature and portrait photography. He crossed the Greenland ice cap in 2013 in an unsupported expedition. Vagn also works for local tour operator Nuuk Adventure, guiding tourists on their adventures and taking photos along the way.
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