Capturing the aurora with Hurtigruten

Dennis Mammana shares tips for photographing the northern lights and invites you to join him on a Hurtigruten voyage for the experience of a lifetime

The northern lights in northern Norway.

Photo: Gaute Bruvik / Visitnorway.com
Northern lights in Skullsfjord, Kvaløya.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

There’s a wish that makes it onto almost everybody’s bucket list: experiencing the captivating magic of the northern lights. It’s on yours, right?

If you want to view the aurora borealis, Norway is an excellent option. The country’s location and lack of light pollution make it an ideal spot to check this experience off your list. And with 40 percent of the famed voyage within the prime-viewing region, a Hurtigruten cruise might be the perfect way for you to do so.

This well-known 125-year-old route stretches along the stunning Norwegian coastline from Bergen to Kirkenes. Voyagers can choose from seven-day northbound, six-day southbound, or 12-day roundtrip journeys. The perk of the roundtrip cruise is seeing the ports at daytime in one direction and nighttime in the other. Of course, more nights will also improve your chances of seeing the northern lights. According to Hurtigruten Regional Manager Josh Valdivia McDonald, you can typically expect to see the aurora five out of 12 nights during the prime season.

In fact, Hurtigruten is so confident that you’ll see the phenomenon that they offer a “Northern Lights Promise.” If you travel on a classical 12-day roundtrip voyage during between October and March and do not see the northern lights, the company will give you a free six- or seven-day voyage the following year.

Photographing the northern lights
Many who are fortunate enough to see the northern lights also desire to capture the magic through pictures. But getting great shots of the aurora can be quite tricky!

“Photographing the aurora is easy; photographing it well is very difficult,” says Dennis Mammana. With four decades’ experience photographing the cosmos, Mammana currently works as an astronomy writer, lecturer, and photographer. He has degrees in physics and astronomy, has held several planetarium positions, and is a member of The World at Night, a group of elite photographers who shoot the night sky. He has been shooting the northern lights for 18 years and has many tips on how to capture the aurora from a Hurtigruten ship.

A person on a ship watching the Northern Lights.

Photo: © Dennis Mammana / dennismammana.com
Mammana recommends including people and other features in your compositions for the human factor and for scale.

Mammana’s first tip is being alert. Look for featureless arcs in the northeastern sky in the early to mid evening—a good indicator that the aurora will be visible later that night. Then be sure to be outside each night; you don’t want to learn in the morning that your shipmates saw the northern lights while you were inside your cabin.

You’ll hope to see the curtains, which can be multiple colors and take up the entire sky as they move slowly overhead, stretching anywhere from 60 to 300 miles above the earth’s surface. The most dramatic of all, however, is the bright and colorful corona, when the curtains pass directly over you. “It’s like standing at the bottom of a lava lamp,” said Mammana.

What equipment do you need? Be sure to bring a camera with a complete manual mode, a tripod to keep your camera steady, and a very wide-angle lens to increase the amount of sky in your shot—it will make a significant difference! You should also bring the manual, as you will most likely be using parts of the camera you never even knew existed.

Naturally, one of the challenges of shooting from the ship is its movement. Mammana recommends using a very fast shutter speed and high ISO. Everything will depend on the conditions, however. Sometimes the aurora is so faint that it is not visible to the naked eye but can be picked up on camera; other times it is so bright it will cast shadows! Just start taking pictures and make adjustments accordingly. And you will need to experiment and take lots of pictures. Mammana admits that he takes dozens of pictures at each scene.

Mammana urges you to compose your image wisely. While the northern lights are spectacular, including the scenery can add a lot to your photo. As can including the surrounding people or parts of the ship—these components will contribute the human factor and provide scale. Lastly, remember to experiment with both landscape and portrait layouts.

Cruising with Mammana & Hurtigruten
Mammana is offering a Hurtigruten tour organized through Melitatrips with a focus on photographing the northern lights. He will give four lectures on board and will also be on deck each night to help you shoot the aurora—and of course take some pictures himself!

The tour will take place aboard the MS Nordnorge from November 28 to December 8 this year. The cruise travels from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Tromsø, where there will be an additional two-night northern lights hunt. To learn more about this opportunity, visit www.melitatrips.com/destinations/2017/norway/norway.html.

Hurtigruten is also currently offering a special “Hunt the Northern Lights” package, which includes air travel from Miami, New York, Chicago, D.C., or Boston, a 12-day round-trip voyage, transportation, and hotel stays. Reach out to Hurtigruten for more information about this special deal.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 22, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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