In July 2021, Hotel Rangá put out the call for our first official Northern Lights catchers. We offered talented photographers from around the world the chance to win an epic trip to Iceland to stay at Hotel Rangá and photograph the Northern Lights. We were thrilled to receive so many applications – in total, 4829 different photographers applied from over 50 countries. Here, we interview one of the two winners of the competition, the talented photographer Stefan Liebermann.
Stefan is a professional photographer from Germany who specializes in shooting the night sky. He fell into photography as a fun hobby which soon turned into an incredible career. A true adventurer, Stefan has traveled all around the world as a photographer and has some incredible stories about his awe-inspiring experiences. Keep reading to learn more his background as a photographer and his top tips to capture the Northern Lights.
How did you first become interested in photography?
I was studying physics and writing my thesis on superconductors. In the work I was doing, I had to make some manipulations of the materials and needed to take a lot of photos over a small time scale. I would be looking at ten thousand images taken over less than one second. During this time, my love for photography was developing.
I had a lot of fun with the scientific work. But afterward, I had to write my master’s thesis. It was meant to be over 100 pages of writing about my experiments. And that was a problem for me because I loved doing the work, but I didn’t like writing. I like to live in the present, not in the past. And that was my problem. I thought, “What am I doing here?”
Then, I noticed the camera which my mother had given me. And I started taking pictures instead of writing my thesis. I went out into nature and captured photos of lightning and thunderstorms. After only one month, I took one of the most famous photos in the Sony World Photography Awards. There were 500,000 entries and my photo was in the top ten. I was given an award as the best German photographer after only one month of shooting photos. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do – it was just a feeling. Then, my photography really took off.
Where Did You Hear About The Northern Lights Catcher Competition?
My friend Maria found the Northern Lights Catcher Competition on instagram and thought of me. I looked at the post on social media and decided to submit an application.
Have You Visited Iceland before?
Yes, I have visited twice before. The first time was in March 2020 to visit the volcano. I was one of the first to visit the volcano when the second fissure started. It was a crazy experience. I was so close that I burned my face! I was shooting the volcano for Sony Europe and some German newspapers, so I was allowed special permits to get up close. The volcano had started erupting only 2 or 3 hours before I visited, and it was forbidden to visit unless you had these permits.
My friend and I were shooting together. We were really close to the volcano, not even 5 meters away. Some parts of my camera were even melting! It was just me, my friend and two other professional volcano photographers. These other guys were really well equipped, with gas masks and helmets. I didn’t have anything except a camera, backpack and drone. After we got home and slept, I woke up and my face was completely burned. At the volcano, I was so full of adrenaline that I didn’t even notice. My face was really hurting, with blisters all over. So it was crazy, but it was totally worth it.
Had You Ever Seen The Northern Lights Before Coming To Iceland?
Yes, in my work as a professional photographer, I organize tours with clients and teach them how to photograph the Northern Lights. I did this in Northern Norway, in Lofoten. I had also seen the Northern Lights in Iceland in April 2021.
What inspires you as a photographer?
I try to make my own style with my understanding and learning by myself. When you are interested in something, you can reach your goals. You have a problem and you find a solution. You have to get out there and think for yourself.
I love to travel – we only live once. I think we should try to see every place we can in this world. I thought about how I could travel for a job. Photography allows me to explore the world.
What equipment are you using?
I use Sony cameras, the a7 is good for shooting the Northern Lights. You need to make sure that you have a big sensor that can capture a lot of light.
Have you done any day adventures – what was the most memorable or interesting sight?
I shot a lot of photos of Icelandic landscapes. We stayed at the Highland Center Hrauneyjar for six days. We drove on some forbidden roads to get some crazy good shots. We visited the waterfall Háifoss and the mountain Vestrahorn. We also went inside the glacier caves and visited the glacier lagoon.
Do you have any advice about taking photos of the Northern Lights?
You can plan a lot, but those last seconds are always going to be improvised. You can plan to stay at a good accommodation – like Hotel Rangá – so that you don’t have to go so far. You need to check the aurora forecast and solar activity. You also need to check the weather forecast, that is important. But then all you can do is wait. A lot of people want to constantly move and change location when looking for the Northern Lights. Maybe it is raining, maybe there is nothing happening. But I tell them, “Just wait ten minutes and maybe the rain stops.” And then after waiting something changes and the sky explodes with color. My philosophy then, when taking photos, is wait.
But then when it happens, when the Northern Lights appear, I am one of the fastest guys. I am completely running around and trying to create new compositions. I have a tripod and I do use it for night photography. But I like to run around and try different things and different positions. I will even get in my car and drive to find new shots. At those moments I am completely inspired and can lose myself in the moment.