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How to capture the northern lights in Iceland

Northern Lights (Iceland)

What you need to photo the Northern Lights

  • An SLR (single lens reflex) or DSLR (digital single length reflex) camera
  • A sturdy tripod with a hook for weight and a 360 rotating head
  • A camera remote control
  • A infrared light head torch
  • Warm gloves and clothing

How to do it

Before your shot

In the days before you travel, check the northern lights activity. You want the KP Index, which ranges from 0-9, to be the highest possible. There are many apps you can download for your smartphone or android.

On the day, focus your camera on a point in infinity and switch the focus setting to ‘manual’ to stop your camera hunting for a point to focus on.

Try using a small piece of tape or a non-permanent marker to mark the focus point on your lens, in case you knock it.

Get ready by wrapping up warm with plenty of thermals! Think about wearing a liner under your mittens so that you can change the settings of your camera without feeling the cold. If you want to invest in something more serious try some gloves that allow your fingers to be free to move the controls

Always take a fully-charged battery or carry a spare in a warm place, the cold temperatures will drain battery life.

Setting up

When on location, set your camera on its tripod, use the hook to hang a weight to make it more stable. The infrared head torch will preserve your night vision and help you compose your shots in the dark. Using a remote control to make the pictures sharper by removing camera shakes.

Take a few trial shots, experiment with exposure; think about how fast the lights are moving. A shorter exposure will capture fast moving lights but long exposures can be creative and provide better image quality when you use the tripod.

Try and aim to open your aperture at f/2.8, if your kit lens has a smaller aperture than this you may want to consider upgrading your lens. ISO should be between 400 and 1600 to let more light in during the dark conditions, anything above this and there will be too much noise (the film grain effect).

First attempts

Northern lights iceland

Start off with a long shutter speed of around 20-30 seconds, try not to touch the camera during the exposure and use the remote if you have one.

Try to use the surrounding landscape in your composition to make your shots more interesting. Elements such as trees, lakes and cabins will add a story to your image.

Finally, do not focus too much on getting the perfect photo. You may be the best photographer in the world but sometimes all it takes is being in the right place at the right moment. Take time to enjoy the scenes around you as well.

Recommended kit

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New camera from GoPro – Hero 3

For those adventures who love to record their adventures then they must have heard of GoPro. The US based company set about to make a great small camera that would be able to withstand pretty much any outdoor elements. Skip a few years and they are now onto the third generation, the HERO3. The cameras are 30% smaller, 25% lighter, can record better quality video and now have wifi so you can control and view video from the camera on your iPhone.

To promote the release the team made a rather cool video showing the camera in action. The major benefit with the camera is the ability to attach to pretty much anything.

Prices for this range start at £279.99 for the silver edition and £359.99 for the Black edition.

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External Hard Drives For Travellers

If your going to backpacking or travelling for a long time one worry has to be backing up your data. External hard drives are a great way to ensure any photos and videos are keep separate from your camera and you free up space on your memory cards. However your average external hard drive from PC World might not withstand all the bumps and scraps travelling comes with.

First of all, a few points in what your looking for when buying a travel friendly external hard drive.

  • Drop proof
  • Protective casing
  • Waterproof
  • Single USB power, no need for a power lead
  • 2.5 size rather than the larger desktop size
  • Compatibly with a wide range of operating systems
  • You want a decent size, anything above 500GB should be fine.
  • Check how big your file sizes are from your camera to calculate the number of photos you can store

We’ve investigated the current market and here’s three options.

LaCie Rugged

The LaCie Rugged is a 2.5 drive with a protective rubber like sleeve. Single cable too and it can be dropped from a hight of around 2.2 meters. Also there is USB 3.0 which supports faster transfer of files on newer computers, so less time in computer cafes waiting for files to transfer.

Sizes range from 160 gb all the way up to 2 TB which is more than enough space. It is on the pricer side and a one missing feature is a USB lead that’s integrated into drive. A friend of mine left the lead plugged into the drive, placed it in their bag and this caused the lead to break the connector. The drive is ok and needed a new housing but not ideal on travel. It’s also bright orange so less chance of losing it! Weights in at 241 g the heaviest of our selection.

You can pick up a LaCie Rugged from Play.com or Amazon prices start at around £80 all the way to £164 for the 2 TB.

Freecom ToughDrive

The Freecom ToughDrive is a cheaper option and comes in three ranges TOUGH DRIVE, TOUGH DRIVE SPORT and TOUGH DRIVE LEATHER. The leather version is just for the buinsess traveler , the sport version features a toughened USB lead and a hole to clip the drive to your bag. It weights in at 200g making it the lightest of our selection. All of the ranges have anti drop up to 2 meters, similar to the LaCie it’s powered by a single USB lead.

However the Freecom ToughDrive has an intergrated USB lead which flicks out of the drive. Thats great as it avoids any probelems with it being snapped off like the LaCie, but it’s a short lead which can leave your drive hanging out of the PC. A few reviews on Amazon have sighted this as a problem.

Prices are cheaper and sizes are similar. Head over to Amazon or Play.com.

A-Data SH93

A-Data SH93 hard drives look tough! Most importantly they are the first-ever waterproof HDD. The device proved water-tight after being submerged in meter-deep water for up to 30 minutes. It’s also has a shock-absorbing structure, and it passed the U.S. military-class MIL-STD-810F 516.5 drop test2.

Like the Freecom ToughDrive the A-Data SH93 has a wrap around USB wire so it stays with your hard drive. It comes in sizes 320GB , 500GB , 640GB , 750GB and colours red, black and yellow. It’s slightly heavier than the Freecom ToughDrive at 240g.

Its competativly priced to at £58.48 for the 500 GB version. You can pick one up from Amazon. The black version seems to be slightly cheaper

 

Overall we have to recommend the A-Data SH93 due to the built in USB, shock proof and being waterproof. The pick of the bunch the Adata SH93 2.5 inch 750GB External Shockproof Hard Drive in Black for £72.

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Take Ten to the Greater Outdoors iPhone App from Columbia

Columbia are the latest outdoor manufacturer to create an iPhone app. Columbia have come up with a useful app called Take Ten which is their second offering on the iPhone.

The app has a few different modes, to start there are Ten Essential Groups of gear and kit listed with details about each. It’s great if your planning a trip and need a base list of equipment needed.

From the essential groups list you can then create a Custom Gear list, adding extra times on to the existing gear list.

Leave a Trip Plan Behind section allows you to email or send via Facebook details of your planned trip, start and end dates, trail info and rout description. Thats great to inform people of your whereabouts just in case.

Finally a Safety Tips and How-to Articles contains a collection of safety tips and articles all about the outdoors.

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iPhone Apps for the Outdoors!

If you love the Outdoors and you love iPhones then you’ll love a list of 12 outdoor apps for iPhone. Compiled by Mashable the list has some great apps that can help you find your way, track animals and identity edible mushrooms. Here’s the 12!

1. AccuTerra
2. Star Walk
3. Scats and Tracks
4. Elevation Pro
5. Park Maps
6. Army Survival
7. Coleman Lantern
8. iBird
9. Audubon Trees
10. Butterfly Collection
11. Wild Mushrooms of North America and Europe
12. Chirp! USA Lite

Head over to the article for images and reviews of each app!

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Take a laptop backpacking?

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Image by dasnake via Flickr

There seems to be an increasing trend for people taking laptops with on backpacking holidays. It seems a bizarre thing to do, after a little investigation here’s some point about why you should and shouldn’t take a laptop backpacking.

Advantages

  • It could be cheaper in the long run as you won’t need to pay for internet cafe usage, that’s providing you can get free wifi.
  • Staying in touch with people back home is easier. If your suffering from home sickness a call or Skype home can really help. Skype also works out cheaper than paying for phone cars and pay phones.
  • Work, you don’t want to be working while on holiday but you can keep earning from article writing or other online schemes.  Having your laptop means you can keep bringing in cash as you travel which can extend your travels.
  • Back up, it’s another pace to backup your data from your camera or video camera. As well as having the files on the laptop you can then send back home or upload to sites such as Flickr or Facebook.
  • Preparation, you can surf the net easily to find our about your next destination for places to stay or things to do in the local area.
  • Entertainment, you can fit a lot more songs on a hard dive than a laptop. It’s also better for watching TV or films than using a iPod. You can even play solitaire!

Disadvantages

  • It’s heavy, you’ll have to carry it about, including the power lead. Even if you take a small notebook laptop it’s still going to be heavy to carry, you may need a bigger bag too.
  • Breaking, your bag will get bashed about when traveling so without protection a laptop going to get smashed into bits. Adding protection does the trick but adds weight to your pack
  • If you lose it or have the laptop stolen your going to have to foot a bill to buy a new one, or pay the excess to claim on your travel insurance. Check your travel insurance covers it, some only cover a couple of hundred of pounds for theft of items which won’t buy you a new laptop.
  • Travelling for some is about getting away from technology and not being connected 24/7, so taking your laptop isn’t really getting away from it all.

Overall there does seem more advantages to taking a laptop, for me getting into the outdoors and travelling is about getting away from TV, laptops and computer games, so best to leave the laptop at home!

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The North Face Release Trailhead iPhone App

The North Face are the latest to release an iPhone app, called the Trailhead the app uses your location to find hikes, bike routs and trails. There’s over 300,000 routes to search for and you can pick by the type of activity, length and location.

Once you start the route the app tracks you, thus gaining information about pace, distance traveled and elevation, all in real time. Once you have finished you then have the ability to send back to your EveryTrail.com account or share on twitter or Facebook.

There’s some branded information in there too, you can read news on the The North Face athlete team and find a local North Face dealer.

There’s plan to expand the app too with weather information, gear list (according to the trail) and challenged to unlock.

So far out of 14 reviews it’s bagged a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. Best of all it’s free to download.

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Solar Power Camera Strap

Here’s a cool idea from designer Weng Jie. It’s a camera strap with built in solar panels to generate charge for your camera. We’ve already seen many back packs include solar panels to charge phones. The strap is a concept at the moment but with the right wire could plug straight into your camera charges as you walk along.

Solar Powered Camera Strap

It’s certainly a product that could work, it would save you having to carry around spare batteries and you’ll be more willing to take more pictures, not having to be concerned with battery life.

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National Trust release iPhone app

Following on from mainly outdoors retailers the National Trust have released a new iPhone app.

The main idea of the app is to inform users of National Trust locations in the vicinity. The app uses the gps function of the phone to determine the users location, local trust sites then are listed by location. Each location details opening times and facilities.

More detail can then be pulled and a map from your current location to the Trust site can be displayed.

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Google adds US cycling routes to Google Maps

Google Street View Bilbao 2
Image by artberri via Flickr

Internet giant Google has today launched a cycling option in Google Maps. The feature, called “Bicycling”, is currently only available in the US but will likely be rolled out to other countries in due course.

As with the existing car and walking options, the Bicycling option provides the best route for cyclists to get from A to B by identifying bike trails, quieter roads and where possible, routes which have a minimum incline. The routes were submitted by a number of cycle campaign groups. Cyclists also have the opportunity to submit new bike routes and to comment on which routes to avoid.

StreetView is also available through the cycling option with some of the bike route images being taken by the Google StreetView trike.

According to various sources, Google has not yet requested cycle route information from any UK cycling campaign groups. Hopefully, Google will launch this service in the UK as it would save a significant amount of time planning cycling routes in, for example, the Peak District or the Lake District. Having said that, I am not too sure how the Google StreetView trike will cope with the rocky grounds and the hills at these parks…