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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 our first Northern Lights catcher, the talented photographer Paige Deasley.
Paige is a university student who grew up, fittingly, in a town called Aurora. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, she is currently studying Creative Industries with a minor in Environment and Urban Sustainability. After her school moved to online classes due to Covid-19, she took advantage of the change in her routine to spend more time on her craft. She credits this time of focus as integral to her growth as a photographer.
How did you first become interested in photography?
I picked up a camera and never really put it down when I was a kid. Then, in my last year of high school, I started to spend more time outdoors and photograph my adventures. Even though I had been shooting pictures for years, this when I really began to fall in love with photography. I found that I really loved adventure-style photography that is immersed in and inspired by the outdoors.
Where did you hear about the Northern Lights catcher competition?
My sister traveled to Iceland in August 2021 and started following a lot of social media accounts related to Iceland. She found the job posting on Hotel Rangá’s Instagram and sent it to me. I looked through the application and thought it sounded amazing! I added it to my to do list to send in an application but waited three weeks to actually apply. There were so many photographers applying. What were the odds that I would be chosen? I didn’t know if I had a chance to get the position, but I decided to put my work out there and apply.
How did you feel after being selected as Hotel Rangá’s Northern Lights catcher?
I was over the moon happy. I pretty much called everyone in my family that day!
Had you ever seen the Northern Lights before coming to Iceland?
No, I had never seen them before. They are not visible where I live in Canada.
Have you seen the Northern Lights during your stay at Hotel Rangá? What was the experience like?
This was my first time seeing the Northern Lights. I had always wanted to see them and knew I would someday. But they were far from what I expected, in the best way possible. I was waiting with the hope that they would appear when I finally got the aurora wakeup call on the phone in my room. Then, I rushed to get all my things together – my snowsuit, camera gear, batteries and extra memory cards. I ran outside with all my gear, and as soon as I saw the Northern Lights, I froze. My jaw dropped to the floor as I looked up in awe. The longer I spent outside, the more visible they became. Finally, there was a longer period where the Northern Lights shimmered and moved, ranging in color from green to pink and purple.
Since that first night, I have seen them several times. Some nights they have been barely visible to the naked eye, yet able to be captured on camera. Other nights, I have seen them extend overhead, panning all the way across the night sky. Then, there have been a few nights of very strong activity, where the Northern Lights built up into full intensity.
What were you most excited about on your trip to Iceland?
This is my first time visiting Iceland, but it always been my dream place to shoot. In high school, I actually was so interested in the country that I did a project on Iceland. As I became more interested in backpacking, camping and hiking, my desire to visit Iceland grew. I think it was also the rugged, otherworldly landscape that appealed to me. Iceland feels untouched – its natural beauty is so well preserved. It is a place that is truly authentic. From the outdoor adventures to the landscape and of course the Northern Lights, it has been so inspiring to photograph this trip and these experiences.
How has your stay been in Iceland so far? Have you done any day adventures – what was the most memorable or interesting sight?
Driving through Landmannalaugar has been one of the highlights of my trip. It had just snowed, and seeing the snow capped mountains was totally unlike anything I had seen. I also really enjoyed soaking in the Landmannalaugar hot springs with cold drinks and good company.
Another day, we went horseback riding which was very fun. It was windy but the views were majestic, and the horses were beautiful. We also visited the Caves of Hella – that experience focused on the mystery of Iceland’s history. We were shown three or four caves, each one very different. Our tour guide talked about potential theories about why the caves had been built.
Apart from the Northern Lights, what have you been most inspired by when photographing?
The outdoor adventures are my favorite things to shoot. I brought my camera on a buggy tour, and that was such a fun photography challenge. On the tour, we were basically chasing a rainbow. We drove through all kinds of weather and huge puddles of mud. I had a waterproof bag to protect my camera, but I had to strategically think about when to tuck my camera into my bag and when to take photos. When I had the camera in my hands, I could barely look through the viewfinder because my hands were shaking from the buggy’s movement. I had no time to compose a shot and no idea how my photos would turn out. But I got some really amazing shots.
Did you use the Northern Lights wake up call?
Yes, and it was really great. I have been hitting the button on my phone every night. It is so exciting when you get that phone call! Even if I am already awake when the phone rings, I love getting that call.
Did you visit Hotel Rangá’s Stargazing Observatory?
Yes, I spoke with one of the astronomers at the Hotel Rangá Observatory. He was really knowledgeable, and it was cool to get more insight about what I was seeing. The astronomer’s scientific knowledge about the sky and the constellations was really interesting.
What equipment are you using?
I have been using a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. I really love that base, it has been everything I need to shoot the Northern Lights. The lens that I have been using is the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. If you want to capture the Northern Lights, I would recommend going with a wider lens with a low aperture. The wider lens can capture more of the night sky. Also, you will definitely need a tripod.
Can you take photos of the Northern Lights with your phone camera?
You can take a photo of the Northern Lights with many phone cameras, but you will lose the ability to get as much detail as you would with a DSLR camera. I would recommend bringing a DSLR camera if you really want to get a detailed shot of the Northern Lights.
Any tips for how to get the best shot of the Northern Lights?
Be open to experimentation. The Northern Lights are very unpredictable, so you cannot be stubborn with both your camera settings and general expectations of the shoot. You need to be open to playing around with your shutter speed and ISO. The lights will change in speed and intensity, so you need to be flexible. This actually makes the Northern Lights so fun to photograph. You always have to be on your toes thinking about new compositions and new ways to capture the Northern Lights.