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Photo Book Inspiration: The Northern Lights

Northern Lights Travel Photo Book
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In a recent feature, we caught up with Martin Kulhavy, the photographer behind some of the most incredible shots of The Northern Lights that we’ve ever seen. After first meeting Martin at The Photography Show in Birmingham, he was eager to show us the impressive CEWE PHOTOBOOK he made with the resulting images. It’s definitely become a firm favourite here at our UK offices, and we’re excited to share it with you all.

Northern Lights Photo Book- M Kulhavy

“Lofoten Archipelago is an amazing place, and not just because of the lights,” explains Martin when discussing the first page of his book, which includes a short but emotive introduction to Lofoten as well as an explanation of the physics that cause the famous natural light show. These two themes are revisited throughout the book; scientific explanation detailing the varying visual effects of the Aurora Borealis, and a genuine appreciation for the location where they were photographed.

The majority of the photo book is comprised of impressive panoramic photographs of The Northern Lights, spread across double pages.

“Like most panoramic photographs, I make my images by taking multiple photos from the same spot, and then merging them together. As long as you have similar lighting conditions and a consistent exposure time, the JPEGs straight out of the camera will be very similar. But if you start processing your images further, manipulating the colours, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure that every area of the finished picture is consistent. You end up with darker and brighter patches.”

It’s incredible to think that images with such bright colours aren’t the result of post-processing.

“I don’t do any other processing with my photographs, just stitching together, crop and zoom” Martin explains, “in real life, the colours aren’t that vivid. That’s not because I’m cheating or editing them in Photoshop or Lightroom, it’s because the human eye is less sensitive to colour when it’s darker. Just like when you’re driving in the dark, you can see the shape of the grass and the individual leaves on a tree, but you can’t see that they’re green. That’s the same with the Northern Lights; the camera isn’t limited by biology in the way that our eyes are. That’s why the colours look brighter in photographs than they do with the naked eye.”

The Northern Lights Photo Book

Having high resolution images to experiment with is key to Martin’s photography style. After initially merging the images together to create one enormous, high resolution view, he uses the freedom to zoom in and out, finding the best crop and frame for each photograph.

“The only parameter for me when taking a photo is where to put my tripod. The rest I can work on at home from the comfort of my chair.

‘I find a detail I like, change perspective and crop the image. I don’t really think about focal points or framing while I’m taking the image. I just place the tripod in an ideal location and compose the image at home later.

‘It’s possible because the resolution is so high. Each original photo is about 200 megapixels, so I can easily zoom into a detail and the image resolution is still there. So I can create many different photographs from just one position in one location.”

When it comes to arranging his photo book, Martin chose to tell a linear story.

“The book has two parts; the first part is the photographs I took from February to March, and the second half is from September to October.”

The Northern Lights Photo Book example

Most of the pages feature a small amount of text, subtly placed in the bottom right corner. Martin chose to keep the amount of text light, in a small but legible font. It gives context to the photograph, without detracting from the image. The text sometimes details the location, tells a little bit of the story behind the photo, or explains technicalities of the physics behind the Northern Lights, but it’s always the photography that remains centre stage.

“Photographs are the easy part! The difficult part for me is to put the words together, to convey all my impressions and feelings.”

For the creation of his photo book, Martin made use of our popular PDF to Book functionality. Like many of our CEWE Professional customers, Martin prefers to get creative in Adobe® InDesign®. Our clever PDF to Book tool generates a template that you can use to design your book within your preferred software.

“I like that everything I can do in Photoshop can be directly transported to the book. I save my template, then create the PDF file and upload that to the online photo book builder. It’s a nice thing to do, because I can use the software I’m most familiar with.”

To really show off his panoramic shots, Martin opted for our XXL Landscape Photo Book with Matte Photographic Paper.

“The landscape layout works perfectly. All panoramic shots are wide and narrow, by definition. That’s the benefit of the Layflat binding. I can put a panoramic shot across a double page, and the seam isn’t visible. It couldn’t be any better.

Photo Book with Layflat Binding

‘So I really like the Layflat binding, and I like the Matte Photographic Paper. I prefer the matte finish on my landscape photographs, it’s my favourite. I wouldn’t change a single thing.”

Turning through his photo book, you can see how well these choices suit his photography. Although small, the text remains legible due to the absence of glare and reflections, while the fine colour gradients our photographic papers are known for beautifully illustrate the subtle green and blue hues at the tail of the auroras.

“I remember the day that I got the message that my book was ready for collection from the post office. I always expect there will be some small degree of disappointment when I order something like this… I never expect it to live up to the vision I have in my head. I thought, ‘okay, if I could get 90% satisfaction that would be magic.’ And I got 100%.

‘You preserve so much of the detail… you can even see individual stars, which is very difficult to do in print.”

Northern Lights Photo Book Detail

For Martin, the primary purpose of creating his impressive travel photo book was to be able to share his incredible photographs of the Northern Lights with the people he cares about.

“If a friend asks me to show them my photos from Norway, this is the best way to bring it to them. I don’t like sending JPEGs because then you have it on a smaller screen, and of course there’s glare from lights. They don’t see the detail the same. But I don’t want to carry around a huge folder of 30 x 80 cm panoramic prints either!

‘That’s the benefit of the CEWE PHOTOBOOK, I can take my pictures anywhere, even to work, to show my colleagues… it’s so easy. That’s the reward for me; when I see my photos and I share them with my friends and family. It couldn’t be any better.”

The Northern Lights by Martin Kulhavy

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Replies to “Photo Book Inspiration: The Northern Lights”

  • Kirsten Jane Ainsworth-Tebb says:

    Martin, this is so inspiring, thank you very much! I couldn’t believe what I was reading and seeing, such perfect timing, I am going on the 1st March.
    You’ve given me ideas and tips on creativity. I’ll only be taking my tabletop tripod, but I am extremely excited now! Most of my landscapes and sunsets are shot on 35mm colour and slide film, (from 15-20 years ago- before having children) so to have a go with digital will be interesting.Your book looks fantastic!

  • Andy Parrett says:

    This looks super, Martin. I’m interested to read that your photos are up to 200 mp in size. Can you tell me what equipment you’re using to produce such massive files? Is it related at all to the stitching together of a number of individual frames?

    • Martin says:

      I use Canon 5DSr (50 MPix) and 14mm Samyang XP f/2.4. Shooting in 6 direction (by 60 degrees) in 2 rows. So 12 photos all together. There is some overlap, but the final resolution is slightly below 22k by 11k. I use Lightroom for the initial development (no big adjustments, just for white balance) and PTGui fort the stitching.

  • Martin says:

    This is my latest project: virtual tour of Lofoten: https://kuula.co/post/7PwYM/collection/7frtS

  • Anne barrett says:

    This is a special book with photos shining out of every page. Thank you so much.

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