“Say cheese!” or “come on- get a bit closer together” – you are bound to hear a few of these at a family gathering, especially a Christmas one. Nothing is safe from the flash of the camera. Year-in, year-out, the Christmas tree or the presents underneath it are subjected to a horrendous flash, making the pictures come out as white and blinding as the ghost of Christmas past. Sadly, every family photo album (or should I say memory card?), has a fair few photos like these. What they often don’t have is that rare thing: images that diverge from the usual clichés, but still have that festive feel.
And the recipe for perfect pictures? A superior digital camera, warm clothes and a plane ticket to Scandinavia. And no – we’re not talking about reindeer and snow-dusted firs, we are talking about the almost eerie beauty of the northern lights, which can be seen in winter in the northern hemisphere above 60 degrees longitude.
This natural phenomenon has been known for some 2000 years, but only about a century ago did we begin to unravel the mystery of why it occurs. It was Kristian Birkeland from Norway who first produced a valid theory in 1896. He suggested that these lights appear when electrons which have been charged by the earth’s magnetic field or parts of protons collide with the outermost layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. This natural spectacle usually happens every winter, but it is closely connected to the eleven-year sunspot cycle, meaning it can also occur at other times.
Imagine seeing the night sky lit up by streaks of green, red or purple. The lights cover the sky like colourful curtains which can be easily captured by an amateur photographer. However, it is useful to learn a bit about photography first.
Another good reason to travel to the far north is that this spectacle can be seen in its full glory there- with all the colours. In Germany for example, you can only see it in red – if you can see it at all.
So if you want to fill up your gallery with something more than just the usual Christmas clichés, then a trip north might not be a bad idea – and remember to bring your wide-angle lens!
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