Check the weather : Unless you are a fan of cloud observation, a low ceiling or overcast sky are, along with light pollution, the astronomer's number one enemies. Start by asking about local weather conditions or contact an astronomy association.
Let yourself be carried along by the poetry of the stars
“I will never forget my first Aurora Borealis,” recalls Theo Giacometti. I was lying on the ice pack of Greenland, with the sea under the ice, beneath where I lay, my body a little numb. Above me, was a sky of incredible purity, inhabited by the mysterious presence of this glow that weaved to and fro like something alive. I felt inspired, caught up by the phenomenon.” For the photographer based in Marseilles, observing the majesty of the celestial vault is certainly a step beyond. “Even in the city, the sky connects us to nature. It is necessary to take the time to contemplate it in silence before photographing it. Watching the sky is poetry, a moment of inner calm, like when you look at a fire.” At the other end of the Earth, Dai Jianfeng (aka Jeff Dai), a Chinese amateur astronomer and astronomical photographer, insists on the poetry of solar eclipses.
“This is a particularly moving moment. The world suddenly becomes silent, day turns into night. Only the glowing edge of the sun and Baily's Beads remain in the sky — an optical phenomenon that takes place during total eclipses — like Crown jewels! ”
Change of scale
“My passion began when I realised how logical it seemed to form a connection with the sky,” says Paul Zizka, a Canadian nature photographer and astrophotographer based in Banff, Canada. “You can see objects that are so old, so big, so far away... it's a different scale. The cosmos is where we come from, our past and origin. This puts our lives and our daily problems into perspective.
The universe, by reminding us how ephemeral our existence is compared to celestial objects, offers us an opportunity to put things into perspective. This landscape also suggests the possibility of other worlds that might look like ours. We see only small spots of light, and everything else is left to our imagination. Looking up at the sky opens up great opportunities for dreaming, without forgetting the physical reality of our planet: all these tiny stars are actually far bigger than our little planet,” says Jeff Dai. “The sky shows us how small we are compared to the universe.”
Experience the magic of rare phenomena
Comets, galaxies, eclipses, meteor rains, polar lights...
Over the years, photographers have looked at the skies from every conceivable angle without ever becoming blasé. Jeff Dai, passionate about rare phenomena, has kept alive memories of meteor showers and a particularly staggering airglowphenomenon: “It was 2014, in the Himalayas. The sky was shot through with waves of green, yellow and red”. For many, watching the Polar Lights is truly something special. "Watching the energy of an Aurora Borealis, its waves dancing over the mountains of Tasermiut, Greenland, is one of my most beautiful memories,” says Paul Zizka.
For Pierre Destribats, a native from south-western France, who turned to nature and landscape photography after being a drone pilot, the first Polar Light he saw was southern: “It was in Tasmania, and I was just happy to finally be able to witness this phenomenon! What's fantastic is that every time I live this moment, I always feel like it's the first time!”.
Dive into infinity
“Heavens are often half of what surrounds us, from the horizon to above our head,” Pierre Destribats recalls. The photographers are unanimous: the spectacle of the stars is offered to us everywhere, provided that we have clear skies and move away from sources of light pollution. Of course, the highlands of Chile, Argentina and the Himalayas are privileged places for star-watching, and the Polar Lights can be seen once beyond 65° latitude.
But you can fall under the spell at home.
“I come from Chongqing City, nicknamed ‘Fog Capital’,” says Jeff Dai. "I discovered the stars during an observation trip to Mount Fanjing... in the neighbouring province.” Théo Giacometti, who also likes to photograph “simple” clouds, claims that he “rarely found skies as beautiful as those of some valleys of the Alps”, and that observing the starry vault “from a boat, when the stars are reflected on the sea, gives the feeling of floating in space”.
Observation : Where and when?
Two basic conditions are needed: a clear sky and the absence of light pollution. Priority is therefore given to regions remote from inhabited areas.
The Northern Lights can be observed from October to March in Norway (Tromsø and Lofoten), Iceland, Finnish and Swedish Lapland, the Faroe Islands, Shetland and the Hebrides (Scotland), and northern Canada. For the Southern Lights, you will need to head towards New Zealand and the vicinity of Cape Horn.
Phenomenon : Polar lights
The Polar Lights — Northern Lights in the Northern Hemisphere, and Southern Lights in the South — are the Holy Grail for many observers of celestial phenomena. They occur when the electrically charged particles of the solar wind (the plasma flux that emanates from the sun) interact with the Earth's magnetic field.
The result? Bright curtains of moving light, colouring the sky in an incandescent ballet of shades of green, blue, or even red or purple. The phenomenon is visible in both polar regions, but more easily observed in the North, notably in Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland. Exceptionally, when solar wind activity is particularly intense, they are visible in areas closer to the equator.
5 tips to experience the immortal sky
Take warm clothes : Observing the sky at night, often in areas close to or beyond 65° latitude, means spending long periods in the cold. Dress yourself accordingly, with an additional consideration: if you are a photographer, wear gloves that enable you to still operate your equipment.
Be prepared to be patient : Be prepared to be patient If looking at the stars is easy, observing celestial phenomena such as the Northern Lights can sometimes take time and does require some luck. Be prepared to be patient... And don't forget to observe with your eyes before burying them in the camera's viewfinder.
Take a good tripod : It is one of the most important tools for fans of sky photography. Because of the low light conditions, long exposure times are required. Use a stable model so that it is not too influenced by the wind. Otherwise, it is always possible, but less convenient and effective, to prop the device up on the floor or on a bag.
Use the timer : This is the other basic tool of the dedicated photographer of the skies. This function of the camera allows you to delay the trigger a little in order to avoid movement (thus blurring) arising from activating the shutter manually. A headlamp will also be useful for checking its settings in the dark.