As I was planning my fourth wedding anniversary to nearby Palm Springs, a place I have been to more times than I can track, a thought came to my mind, “I wonder if there are any cheap flights anywhere else that weekend?”
This isn’t a travel blog by any means, but let me recommend the travel booking site, kiwi.com. That beautiful little travel site showed me a flight to Iceland that was cheaper than any LAX to JFK flight that entire month. I had to book it.
So, our lazy weekend trip to Palm Springs turned into four crazy nights in Iceland in mid-October.
As we hastily unpacked our board shorts and shook the dust of our rarely used sweaters, two words came to my mind; Northern Lights. I had never seen the Aurora Borealis, and even as a child, I daydreamed about what they might look like in person. They represented, for me, some exotic world to explore, and the thought of seeing them sparked excitement in me. With the stray arrival of those two innocent words and verification via google that they were active, I knew, as a photographer, I wanted not only to see the Northern Lights in Iceland but to photograph them as well.
In my opinion, it’s not the equipment that makes a photographer; it’s that drive to want to capture something. The truth is, I can capture amazing photos with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II or an old iPhone that has this weird halo effect in its lens, but most of the time, I get crappy photos from both.
So I’m sharing my favorite photos from my trip here, and I want you to guess what equipment I used. Here’s a hint, I have favorites from all my cameras (including my phone), but you’d be surprised to learn which came from my GoPro Hero5.
However, before I get to the photos, here is the equipment I was able to cram in my carry-on only baggage:
- GoPro Hero 5
- Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Autofocus Telephoto Zoom Lens
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens
- iPhone X
- Tons of cards (because they are small)
- 1 Portable Battery Charger
- Various cables
What I didn’t bring:
- Any lights
- Any of my drones (I struggled with this)
- Any of my mics
- No large lens (except my 700-200mm)
Now, I’m not a travel photographer professionally…yet, and I’m not an uber well paid National Geographic photographer … yet, so shooting travel photography can be daunting. So, the best advice I can give any photographer, no matter the level, is not to be afraid to venture out of what you usually photograph. The beauty of this profession is a universal mission to document this world. Your voice is not any less than any other photographers, no matter their distinction. Push your boundaries. Take as many photos of everything as you can. Let what excites you, drive you, and keep getting better. Have no fear.
Our trip to Iceland was fantastic. Every part of it, documented and not, was memorable. Every night we looked for Northern Lights, and every night they did not appear … until the last day. We were in Reykjavik, packing up in our Airbnb when we noticed them. In a stroke of genius, we called the front desk of the most expensive hotel in the city and asked the concierge the best place to see the lights (pretending to be guests.) They guided us to a darkened lighthouse, full of people sitting in the pitch black, but the sky was slowly lighting up. It was amazing. If I hadn’t got a single good photo that trip, I would have been content to see those lights. Almost every person in that field had a camera; but today, I don’t care what those photos look like compared to mine.
I cherish the photos I got, and maybe they won’t be in National Geographic (though if you are listening NatGeo, feel free to buy them from me), yet those photos are there to remind me that I decided to pull up a travel website before going to Palm Springs and ended up in a field around a dark lighthouse seeing the Northern Lights for the first time. These photos froze that moment, that decision, that adventure, and now they are priceless and unreproducible. That is what photography is about.