The Arctic and the Aurora

Ole Christian Salomonsen

For most people, the chance to see the Aurora Borealis - nature’s arguably most magical display of light - is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but as a child, growing up in the north of Norway, Ole almost took the phenomenon for granted. It was only as he grew older that he began to see its effect on other people witnessing it for the first time and he realised he’d been harbouring a subconscious fascination for the Northern Lights.

“I’ve seen grown up men coming here to see it for the first time and they cry and get very emotional and then you realise how lucky you are to have this phenomenon over your head. Not only that, it’s really beautiful – I mean the fascination for it has grown as I’ve grown older too.”

Ole C. Salomonsen

© Ole C. Salomonsen | Sony α7R II + 15mm f/2.8 | 5 sec, f/2.8

Ole C. Salomonsen

© Ole C. Salomonsen | Sony α7R II + 15mm f/2.8 | 2 sec, f/2.8

Ole C. Salomonsen

© Ole C. Salomonsen | Sony α7 II + 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM | 25 sec, f/2.8©

Over the last 10 years, Ole has amassed a wealth of Aurora images; shots that often incorporate strong landscape elements, and in some cases, even wildlife.

"I’ve lost count of how many displays I’ve seen but I never get tired of the Aurora and there’s no perfect display because it varies in intensity, colour and speed. There’s an other-world quality to it – a connection to space, to so many different things, that I think, as humans, it’s what holds our interest."

Even during periods of low Aurora activity, Ole’s home city of Tromsø is situated directly beneath the Aurora oval and is considered one of the best places in the world to see the spectacle. The stunning arctic landscape is a photographer’s dream with the midnight sun in summer and the spring and autumn equinoxes offering long, drawn out sunrises and sunsets, bursting with rich soft light.

Ole spends weeks meticulously planning his shots and scouting locations but, unlike conventional landscape photography, where certain predictions can be made regarding the position of the sun, etc., the fickle nature of the aurora can break the cool of the most patient photographer.

Ole C. Salomonsen

© Ole C. Salomonsen | Sony α7R II + 16-35mm f/2.8 GM |
0.8 sec, f/13

Ole C. Salomonsen

© Ole C. Salomonsen| Sony α7R II + 16-35mm f/2.8 GM |
1/1250 sec, f/10

Ole C. Salomonsen

© Ole C. Salomonsen | Sony α77 II + 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM II | 1/500 sec, f/6.3

"You can plan the perfect composition - find that river that leads into the plain, into the picture and then you stand there, waiting for the Aurora to appear, and after a while you realise it's not going to happen. And then the question is do you have the patience to wait or do you just forget about the composition and shoot the image another way?"

Although predominantly a stills photographer, Ole hit on the idea of capturing the movement of the aurora. His first attempts – shooting stills and creating a timelapse movie – resulted in a flash frame effect without the grace he imagined. It was then that he discovered the α7s, and its low-light capabilities meant that he could shoot live video with ease. Impressed with what the camera could do, Ole also tried the α7R and was immediately hooked.

Ole C. Salomonsen

© Ole C. Salomonsen | Sony α7 II + 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/1600 sec, f/4.5

"I ran some tests on the camera and was overwhelmed with the quality of images. It was lightweight with a fantastic resolution and the dynamic range was better than anything I’d previously used. I was able to lift details out of shadow areas in a way I hadn’t been able to before. Compared to what I’d been using, the α7R was a game-changer for me really."

Ole has since upgraded his gear and is now shooting with the α7R III along with a host of G & G Master lenses and he’s clearly impressed by the performance of the glass.

"For my landscape work I use the 16-35mm f/2.8 GM or the 12-24mm f/4 G – which is my favourite lens for Aurora work. I also shoot action and wildlife and wouldn’t be without my 70-200mm f/2.8 GM and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM. The lenses are bitingly sharp and better than anything I’ve previously used. I also carry a 24-70mm f/2.8 GM so I’m pretty much covered from 12mm to 400mm!"

Products featured in this article
α7R II with back-illuminated full-frame image sensor
α7 II E-mount Camera with Full Frame Sensor
ILCA-77M2 Body / Kit
α77 II A-mount Camera with APS-C sensor
Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm F2.8 ZA SSM II
FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM
70-200mm F2.8 G SSM II
Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS
Ole Christian Salomonsen
Alpha Universe

Ole Christian Salomonsen


For me photography is about hunting the arctic light.

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