Working with northern light

For many here in the northern hemisphere, the summer is a challenging time photographically. With the sun almost directly overhead throughout these longest days of the year it becomes necessary to adjust the body clock significantly – early starts and late finishes to work with the best the light has to offer become the norm in a search to avoid harshness.

Head further north and the sun barely sets (if ever once you get deep inside the arctic circle) and then that magical light lasts for much longer and it becomes necessary to switch the body clock around completely and work through the night while resting in the day.

After a brief hint of this (known locally as the ‘simmer din’) when in the Shetlands in late June, I headed to northern Finland earlier this month to work with some of their resident predators, among the hardest mammals to find in Europe. While it is wrong to call wolves, wolverine or bears strictly nocturnal the fact is that the night-time hours are when they are at their most active, especially at this time of the year when it still offers enough light for them.


Blog-2Wind the clock back just a few years and both these images would have been unthinkable in terms of their clarity.  They are both shot on ISO 3200 and in the case of the wolf image (photographed at approaching 1am) it still only generated a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second!  The wonder of modern digital SLR’s really does allow good quality images to be produced even in these twilight hours.

In days gone by these sorts of low level light conditions would have meant experimenting with slow shutter speeds in a search for creativity, and this is an approach that I have to say I do still enjoy accepting that these images of a wolf gliding through the boreal forest or wolverine scampering along a log are not everyones cup of tea.



The Wolverine captured in the rich warm light of earlier in the evening is probably much more to peoples taste but the motion blurred effect still appeals to me more.


When given the chance though, on the very last evening of the Natures Images trip I was running, to work in a site I know well and throughout the evening given a much earlier arrival time of the bears there that night, the chance to really experiment with the late evening and night-time light was one that I really enjoyed.

First of all there was the classic rich warm almost red glow to the light that comes in the last half an hour before it finally sets.


The low light also gives a opportunity to play with under-exposure to emphasise the highlights it creates as well.


When the sun has literally just set there often remains a hint of residual pink on the elements at the top of a scene as well, such as these trees.


When a couple of young bears came around the side of the hide then the opportunity for even more classic back-lighting and silhouettes was presented.



Once the sun had finally set and the Finnish equivalent of the aforementioned simmer dim took over, it was back to the 3200 ISO as subtle whips of night-time mist curled around the edges of the pool.


An amazing night, a highlight of the summer so far, and a reminder that when it comes down to it in this game it is always all about light – and, of course, just how you work with it.

3 thoughts on “Working with northern light”

  1. What a night! You played out the light the best way imaginable. It’s nice to see all those options played out in the same post. I probably still like the rich warm light the most but some of the others are looking pretty good to me as well. What an eye feast.

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