Friday 2nd – Aurora Borealis

Every placement has a ‘nothing’ day, and today the Iceland trip finally drew the card. We woke up around 10:00am, and nothing really needed doing. Everyone agreed to be having weird dreams at this point – more due to the fact that the magnetism of the Earth is ‘weirder’ here than it was in Reykjavik, and may have started taking it’s toll. Me and Martyn went out in the car to get more shots within the vehicle using the tripod, but the gravel roads were mostly too unstable to get anything decent. The wind picked up greatly also, making all variants of camerawork difficult. I did find that it was easier to create the ‘steady-cam’ effect if I just let my hand rest on the straps of the Canon, rather than holding the camera in place. This way, the shaking was no so definite on the lens.

I’d finally caught a cold out here, and although today I was going to rest, it was only a matter of minutes before all students descended upon me wanting to use the Canon 5D for their Experimental Narrative projects – projects that had more or less been written overnight. I had my fears about CCM students crossing the line into M-Pro territory, and my fears were confirmed. They did not know how to describe shots (for example, tracking or panning shots), which made my job quite difficult. At one point I was trying to do a steady-cam shot in the severely-undulating marshes (using a 5D don’t forget). The student director thought he could do it better himself, so I let him have a go – he failed. Because they can’t talk to me in camera terms, I’m getting shots wrong. Martyn was quick to stand by his CCM students though and encourage the film making – a little bit cheeky I thought, since this meant his students were able to take turns in putting their feet up on the last night, whereas I was having my work cut out with people who weren’t 100% sure what they were doing!

I managed to take some more stop-motions, and also take a walk up a nearby hill just to get some breathing room. I think people are ready to go back to Coventry now – we have only one more day and then we can see our friends again and tell them our stories (though in my case, they’ve probably read my stories here already!)

I ended up shooting a stop-motion as the night rolled in for one project that wasn’t even being marked as university work, but the wind got so strong it blew my tripod over with my Nikon camera on it. Luckily, nothing was damaged, and I was able to upload the images successfully. For me though, that was the final straw – with the exception of dinner, I was now actively keeping myself to myself in the male cottage, and only venturing out to ‘babysit’ the wannabe film makers to make sure they didn’t break the camera trying to find the focus ring or whatnot (and it sounds like I’m making a dry sarcastic remark here, but:

  1. They literally couldn’t find the manual focus ring on the lens, and:
  2. If they broke it, I would be the one with the fine)

It was not worth my while letting them play about with such an expensive camera just because we’d finished Martyn’s project early. But then, to add to the sorrows, my computer’s import settings started to play up with the final stop-motion – something that had happened before when I stop-motioned the sunrise in Tenerife. I was called away for dinner, and also to help film a small campfire that the receptionist / cottage owner had been kind enough to light for one director.

At this point, all the big talk of the final night together and the ‘wrap party’ had me ready for some proper relaxation with the CMM crew for the final time, but believe it or not, there was hardly any alcohol in sight. Instead, I was called to another shoot near the hot pool after dinner, and then (perhaps sensing I was not in the best of moods) Martyn asked to borrow the camera to do a few shots inside the female cottage for his own film.

I was sat at my laptop playing chess when I heard my name getting called from outside. Martyn wanted to borrow the paglight as well, but also wanted to tell me that a small aurora similar to the one we’d seen before had been sighted in the sky. Eduard, Ruth and Becky were in the hot pool, and our photographer Anastasya was setting up her camera right next to them. Unfortunately, I was aware Martyn currently had my tripod, meaning my photos would not turn out so well if the auroras actually happened.

Waiting – At two seconds to take each photo, it takes an exceptionally steady hand to take a photo that isn’t blurry!

About fifteen minutes passed with not a lot happening, and the wind picked up. But then we realised our view was being blocked by a load of interspersing clouds. When the wind started to blow them away, they revealed bright clouds behind them – much brighter than the ones we’d seen before. I took a photo of the white clouds anyway (why not), but was shocked and amazed when I saw the photo I’d taken – the cloud was actively bright green, the colours were just not visible to the naked eye. I sat tight, getting excited with fellow photographer Anastasya, and one by one the bright clouds started to appear more frequently. They were at first in long lines across the entire sky, but then huge flashing clouds appeared, looking like giant glitter balls of shooting stars across the sky. I put my shutter speed down to ‘two seconds’ and implemented every steady-hand trick I knew. Some photos turned out okay:

The Lights Appear – Becky points to the Northern Lights from the hot pool. Local tradition states that if you do this, the lights capture part of your soul. I did warn them!

I then at one point lay on back on the ground looking directly up at the bright clouds above, and whispered ‘thank you’ to them. Anastasya had her own way of encouraging good luck – she turned the classic cheesy track ‘Macarena’ into an aurora equivalent of the rain dance. Surprisingly this seemed to work!

Eventually, I cut my losses and ran inside the female cottage to find Martyn and Cristina, who were still shooting for the film and were missing everything outside. Even with the alert, they continued filming for another five minutes, and then it was Anastasya who got my tripod to me. I had to go back in for the release plate still attached to the video camera, and found Martyn and Cristina were still in the cottage even though they had finished filming. I shot back out and set up the camera quickly, just in time to get the best shot of the night:

Photoshop? – YOU WISH!

Tinges of purple started to appear on the edges of the lights, and me and Anastasya were jumping around with joy – it is quite something to have successfully photographed what we had just witnessed. Becky kept pointing out the lights, and we kept shooting them. Cristina finally joined them in the hot pool, but true to form, the lights began to pack away as a giant storm cloud rolled in. Martyn was now in the male cottage importing files and editing – not in any great rush either. It was something I did not query, but am still unsure about even now.

Anastasya and myself sat out with our tripods until the giant cloud was on top of us, and the green faded into the grey clouds and retreated back into space. I would have happily sat out all night with her, but it was not to be.

Everyone went to bed, I assume very happy to have finally seen them. We had seen Aurora Borealis, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Come to think about it, had I taken photos on the first night, that cloud we saw would have probably been green also. It’s not something anybody ever tells you – you can only see ‘white lights’ in the sky (visibly bright in the dark night sky). I thought you’d be able to see greens and purples and reds, but unless you’re at the north pole, I wouldn’t bet on it. The colours are a trick of shutter speed and light manipulation – something our own eyes cannot do. But with this in mind, I guess I can also say that I sat in a hot pool smoking a Cuban cigar under the Northern Lights as well – nice! 🙂


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