Camera Phone Adapter Wins a Trip to Northern Lights

Recently we have shared a few iPhone adapters lenses etc for enhancing your iPhone photography. On one of those post we got a comment that sparked our interest and we though we could share with you the story of Jaco Hoffmann and how his cellphone camera adapter won him a trip to see the Northern Lights. Here is his story.

I entered a competition that was advertised in PIX magazine where you had to tell Nokia South Africa what you would create with the Nokia N8 using its 12mp camera, the prize up for grabs was a trip to see one of the natural wonders, the Northern Lights. Since a small boy I have wanted to see the northern lights, but to get to the North Pole is just so expensive and one would rather spend that sort of money to go to places where the temperature is not –15 to -45 degrees LOL.

Well I told them that I would take a photo of the moon and its craters, and went on explaining exactly how I would do it. A month later I received a call from Nokia to say that I was one of the 9 lucky finalist who won a phone and that the pressure was on to create the photograph I said I would. During the month of December I had to take a photo of the moon. It was overcast most of December and all attempts had not been very successful because there was just to much moisture in the air. I phoned the planetarium and they put me in contact with Gerhard from the “Telescope Shop”. I phoned him and asked for some assistance and found he was eager to help me and invited me to his house where I took a photo of the full moon. I was not totally happy with the result but it was better than all 300 prior attempts or images and I made peace with that photo deciding that it would be the one that I would enter. Two days before the deadline I opened the curtains in my TV room at the sliding door and saw the most amassing moon, it was clear skies. I got my telescope out to setup everything and to try take another photo. I took one photo that night and it was perfect.

Nokia confirmed that you are allowed to edit the photo and use any of the futures on the phone to enhance the photo, the only rule is that you may not download it to a computer and edit it, all editing must be done with the capabilities of the phone. The plane on the photo was pure accident, I tried to insert my name on the photo and then out of no where a star appeared on the photo. I had no idea how I got it there. I started to look at all the clipart that you can insert and found the plane. I phoned Nokia again and ask if I can use it and they confirmed again that its within the rules and I may use it. Finally I finished the photo and sent it to Nokia.

Nokia SA posted all the entries onto the web, and opened the voting poles. My word, was my photo taken apart by Jo Public. I was accused of plagiarism, fraught, cheating and someone even posted a link from Google where he accused me of copying the photo of the moon.

This competition was so much fun, to see all the comments positive and negative. After a very stressful week the voting pole was closed. The following week I received a call from Nokia SA and they told me that I was the grand prize winner and that I received more that 48% of all the votes.

You can just imagine how exited i was, I was constantly in contact with Nokia SA to arrange the trip, and found out that I would travel with Evan Hauseman, lead photographer of Getaway magazine and he would document everything. I met up with Evan at OR Tambo airport on the 28th of Feb 2011, it was a long flight, 23 hours later we arrived in Saariselka and booked into a log cabin at Kakslautenan Igloo village. It was pitch black outside and you could hardly see a thing. It was about 23h00 when we arrived and we were exhausted. The next morning we woke up jumped into our thermal clothes and went out, the views was absolutely stunning, snow everywhere, it was freezing cold but the beauty made up for the cold temperatures.

My trip was packed with activities, dog sledding, snow mobile, spend a night in a snow igloo and cross country skiing. It was so much fun, the first few days was spent in the log cabin, then our accommodation was changed to a glass igloo, i kid you not it looks like an igloo but made out of glass, it was awesome you could see the stars from your bed. The last night was spent in a Snow igloo with the option to sleep elsewhere in warmer conditions. I spent 15 min in that igloo and then moved to the warmer place… did I mention that I am a South African!

At this stage you would probably want to know if I saw the Northern lights. Well I was very lucky, I saw it 3 nights in a row. The locals say that some people spend weeks and don’t see it at all. Photographing the Northern Lights is no easy task, its freezing cold outside, you have to know your camera and where all the buttons are because its so dark outside that i could hardly see where to walk. I used the Sony Alpha 900 with a 24-70 mm Carl Zeiss lens. Very important is a very sturdy tripod, because you are going to do long exposures, I used a light weight yet sturdy Manfrotto and will recommend this tripod to anyone. I also used remote triggers and external flash for the foreground.

At first I was not successful, but soon got the hang of it. I used a 30sec exposure at 200 ISO and an aperture of f/8. I found that this setting was the best because the light burst was never the same, it constantly changed and over exposed some of my photos when it would be dim and all of a sudden the entire sky lights up. It’s like someone is switching the lights on and off.

Tips for anyone who are planning to go and photograph the Northern Lights
1. Invest in good clothes that can handle –20 degrees
2. Get yourself a pair of fingerless thermal cloves that have the extra part that can cover your fingers, you are going to operate your camera and with thick gloves its impossible
3. Take a Maglite with
4. Have enough charged batteries as they run down in extreme cold very quickly
5. Do not take a heavy tripod, the lighter the better because you will walk a lot and have to carry all your gear, and believe me walking in snow is a challenge on its own.
6. Remote trigger
7. A wide angle lens with an aperture of f/2.8 starting at least at 16 mm if you do not use a full frame camera.
8. Take a small camera bag with, you will walk very far and carrying a big bag is not fun
10. Stop for about 30 min and just enjoy Gods Art without looking through your lens.

When i came back to SA everyone asked me how it was, but it is so difficult to explain to someone, all i can say is it looks like God is painting in the sky.

Below is a link were you can see all the comments

Jaco Hoffmann