This is a 185 megapixel version of the massive 1.3 gigapixel image of the aurora over Vesturhorn Mountain in Iceland, that I created for Chris MacAskill. This photo is hanging as a 7.5 ft x 15 ft panorama at the SmugMug Headquarters in Mountain View, California. It was printed on four 48" x 96" exhibition mount MetalPrint panels and then hung next to each other.
I love visiting National Parks, snapping waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, and exploring the great Southwest, but one of my favorite places to photograph is Iceland. I've visited twice now: once in the summer and again in the winter for ice-caves and Northern Lights
Photographing the northern lights can be tricky: they're created when radiation from the sun impacts our atmosphere and gives off its energy in the form of light. A solar storm must be directed at Earth during a cloudless night and one must be far enough north, where they impact our atmosphere. On our 3rd night in Iceland we witnessed the sky dance with green, red and purple lights.
The next day we drove to Vesturhorn Mountain in Iceland's southeastern coast and prayed the clouds predicted would stay away. They did not. We parked our camper vans on the side of the road and went to bed hoping for clear skies. Every hour I would wake up and check the skies. Finally at 2:30 the clouds parted and I raced out. A frozen lagoon provided a perfect foreground and also meant that the aurora would reflect into the ice. The photographs didn't disappoint.
A year ago I left my aerospace job to become a Product Manager at SmugMug, an online photo hosting service. Our founder, Chris, loves to put photos on every available surface at our headquarters. The bigger the better. An aurora filled mountain scene would be perfect but taking the photo would be harder than one would imagine.
Typical high resolution photos are created by taking multiple photos, slightly overlapping, with a telephoto lens, zoomed way in for detail, and then stitching them together. This would work great for the mountains but the aurora was moving too fast to capture with a telephoto lens. First, I took 2 cameras, a Nikon D800 and a D700, both with 14mm lenses and composed them with a slight overlap. I then took 3 photos with each, moving to the right each time. This allowed me to take 6 photos in the time I would have only taken 3, which was important as the aurora danced quite quickly. I repeated twice more, to capture another 2 rows of images for the mountains and frozen lagoon. Using software (a program called AutoPano Giga), I stitched this wide angle version into a high resolution panorama and saved it for later.