Northern Lights & Moon

This photo was taken during a very strong solar storm two weeks ago on an extremely cold night (-20c) in Hemsedal, Norway. It was the week of “vinterferie” (winter holiday) for the kiddos, so my son and I joined some friends at their cabin for a week of skiing. The flat snow area in the photo is a cross country ski area in winter, and is actually a frozen lake- currently under about two meters of snow.

The aurora that night filled the whole sky and was extremely active in movement and color. This was taken early in the evening, and it was a fully clear sky but also with about a quarter moon. Much of the ambient light off the snow is moon glow… it was bright enough to see shadows for sure.

Type of Critique Requested

  • Aesthetic: Feedback on the overall visual appeal of the image, including its color, lighting, cropping, and composition.
  • Conceptual: Feedback on the message and story conveyed by the image.
  • Emotional: Feedback on the emotional impact and artistic value of the image.
  • Technical: Feedback on the technical aspects of the image, such as exposure, color, focus and reproduction of colors and details, post-processing, and print quality.

Specific Feedback and Self-Critique

This was a challenging photo with the moon and contrast and movement of the aurora and everything going on at once. I am considering adding the photo to my collection of prints but want to make it as good as it can be before electing to do so.

Technical Details

Sony a7iii
Sigma 14mm Art Lens
ISO 6400
f / 1.8
1/4 second


It’s interesting to see how effective a moon such as this is when compared to the sharply defined round disk we usually use for a full moon. The image has an alien haunting look to it. It’s not your usual pretty aurora look and I like it for that reason. It looks ‘honest’. I would clone out that brighter area of the sky on the lower left edge.



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Yes, that.


I’m pretty much in alignment with Igor’s comments - including the clone suggestion. Minor, but it does pull the eye.

Additionally, and what really peaks my interest and elevates this scene and image - is the presence of the lights; the civilization. Looks like just a couple of out buildings, but regardless what that does for me is bring me there. In other words, it adds something to the image that makes me wonder what it might be like to stand there, live or visit there to experience the Northern Lights. It’s a small presence, but it has a big impact. At least for me.

thanks for sharing with us!



This moon helps set this apart from other aurora images. A possible alternative to the cloning suggestion is to crop in a bit from the left, although I’m not sure it that will unbalance things.

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Hi Amber :slight_smile:

I really like this, the moon certainly adds a nice touch that isn’t typical of aurora images.
The composition is great, the balance between the amount of sky and ground is just right IMO. The color of the snow is perfect because it shows good continuity with the color of the aurora.

It sounds like you and your son had a great time during the winter break! :slight_smile:
-20c?, that’s -4f and is very cold to me as well.
I haven’t done any snow skiing in the past 20+ years but I do have fond memories since there were no broken bones :smiley:

The image presented has a couple of things that I suggest dealing with:

  • One, is the digital noise from ISO 6400, I’m not sure if you have run it through any denoise software or not but it’s still pretty noisy and that noise will for sure show up in a print on acrylic or aluminum IMO.

  • The other is the glare from the moonlight hitting the lens (at least that seems to be the most likely cause to me).
    I would recommend making some adjustments in Lr Color Grading as shown below.
    Note: I used ACR but it’s very similar to Lr (but with less fine tuning features).

Ps layers:
Edit: I probably should point out that I added a Channel Mixer layer (using the red channel only) to slightly increase the red/magenta color in the sky.

Color Grading in ACR
Amber Anderson - Color Grading Adjustments - Hemsedal Aurora Image

In Ps I cloned out the suggested green area on the left, lower side of the frame as shown in the layers screenshot above, the other adjustments are also shown in the layers screenshot above.

I think it helps the image overall and of course you can use any or none of these suggestions but I would at least do some digital noise mitigation so that doesn’t show up in the print.

Here’s a screenshot showing the level of noise reduction I did, I used Topaz Denoise - Standard Mode with almost the bare minimum strength (I think it was +3 or +4).
That helped to make the stars shine a little more as well.
To me, the noise was acting as a mask that was hiding or covering some of the details as well as the colors.

I hope you’re doing well and I hope your photography venture ideas are paying off!! :slight_smile:

Try to stay warm!

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Hey Amber! I think many people have done a great job helping especially Mervin. I wanted to comment on the composition here. It’s well done! I think you did a great job with what you were given. The aurora is nicely visible with a couple of complimentary subjects too. NIce!


Wow! Thank you for the thoughtful feedback… I will definitely try those settings. :+1:

You’re welcome, Amber.

Feel free to ask for any clarifications if you want.

There’s always a few tweaks with sliders along the way that you may prefer over what I did. :slight_smile:

I’ve never seen/photographed the Northern Lights, and can’t comment too much on the processing. I do enjoy your composition though, and agree the touch of humanity really helps with perspective. I’m very impressed that the moonlight didn’t drown out the solar storm; it must have been a sight to see.

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