Stunning Photos of the Northern Lights Floating Over an Icelandic Volcano

Most photographers would be happy to capture a photo showing just the northern lights or lava leaping out of a volcano crater. Photographer James Appleton managed to capture a series of beautiful photographs that show both in the same frame. The images were made at Fimmvörðuháls in Iceland.

Fimmvörðuháls Volcano [James Appleton]

Image credits: Photographs by James Appleton and used with permission

  • Spudbrain


  • Anonymous


  • Matty

    WOW! These are fantastic! I absolutely love the third one! 

  • 열매맺는나무

    wow! great!!

  • Fred

    This looks really spectacular. And it must be hard to combine those light sources with one exposure.

  • Hagen

    This must be HDR or two images blended. Iits absolutely impossible to capture the two lightsources like that in one frame.

  • Nj


  • Belinda

     Brilliant well conceptualised. Namaste

  • Dorothycarter

    Stunning images.

  • Sergio45

    It´s funny to read comments like yours, trying to detract a good job. Everyone know how to blend 2 exposures, but… go out and find a volcano with that lights in the background, reach a magical place like that it’s the difficult thing. And what causes so many envy

  • Francois

     I had the opportunity to witness quite a number of northern light, and i can guarantee you that if you are in a dark place and they happen to be strong, you can get really a lot of light! for instance you get a strong signal  (many colors, and not just green) with just 2s of exposure at iso1600 and f/4. And at the very best time i got some great pictures while handling a pocket camera!

    The second and fourth pictures present some violet tone, that alone indicates that it was very strong during that/these particular night(s), thus capturing both light from the volcano and the northern light is not a problem.

    The bottom line is, stop trying to justify everything with the usage of photoshop and enjoy more the beauty of the scenery! 

  • Ian Ludwig

     Well said.

  • Terry Ross

    Gorgeous photographs.

  • photo

    Have you tried it?

  • Jaco Hoffmann

    Congrats to James, perfect location, and perfect execution, to capture the NL’s is not eazy. Take my hat of 

  • Spirulina

    So beautiful. Thank you.

  • lattelisa


  • Paul Goss

    I know the photographer. Those shots are real! Check out some of his other work, you’ll realise this guy is as good as those captures look!!

  • Hagen

     I live in Norway and have seen many northern lights. Often there were some other light sources in the frame that becomes overexposed. I am 100% sure that his imgaes wouldn`t be possible i with my equipment (Nikon D90). Maybe James Appleton used a grad filter og had a camera that can handle big light contrast (maybe film???). But yes, most likely it is photoshopped.

  • Hagen

     In the second image you can see how strong the light from the vulcano is. It would be impossible to capture the sky with stars and Northern light in the same image. Alone the smoke will be enough to hide the stars and the northern light.

  • Francois

    About the volcano light, yes the light is very strong, but we do not know how it was with just the naked eye. It could have also been a rather dim light source for a naked eye, thus making it possible to capture in a single frame.

    About the smoke, it appears that a little wind was pushing the smoke from left to right, so it did not block the view.

  • Francois

    The problem with the “light pollution” you are talking about is their intensities because they are usually cities/street lights so it is really bright for our convenience. 
    Here is a natural light, so it can be super dim, and then with a longer exposure it appears very bright.

    And i am very sure that with your equipment you would have got the same results ;-) 
    I know you do not have volcano in Norway, but you should try with a dying fire (no flames anymore, but a lot of very hot coil and smoke). Of course lighting up the fire in the winter in a remote place may be a challenge, but i am sure that the pictures you will get will be worth putting on Petapixel too ;-)

  • Paulo Bortolini

    It could be real in the long exposure thing plus a little bit of photoshop .. but does that matter? The photos are stunning.
    And if we want to judge the reality like that lets take photoshop, lens distortion and light tricks out of all our photos.
    Amaaazing job!!! Really!

  • Paulo Bortolini

    It could be real in the long exposure thing plus a little bit of photoshop .. but does that matter? The photos are stunning.
    And if we want to judge the reality like that lets take photoshop, lens distortion and light tricks out of all our photos.
    Amaaazing job!!! Really!

  • ele

    Unbelievable colorshots!!! FANTASTIC

  • Bev

    Don’t know how it was done, but they are fantastic.  Thanks for showing.

  • vipin Joshi

    Beautiful and rear collection.

  • Blue

    So beautiful…

  • James Appleton

    figured I’d drop in a comment – though I don’t expect it’ll clear the doubts of those who believe this is a heavily “photoshopped” image. There is no denying this was an incredibly difficult image to take – and the end result is far from perfect since, as people have pointed out, the Aurora tends to be fairly dim, and the light from in this case a volcanic eruption, relatively bright. Consequently, the flames and the heart of the eruption are blown-out – which is a shame, but I will accept a slightly imperfect shot whej it has this much going on!

    In the end, I balance the exposure with both an ND grad filter, and also by using a small piece of folded Mars Bar wrapper (so it was black) which I then waved around in front of the lens and over the section of the image where the volcano was erupting. This, moved around during the 20-odd second exposure, allowed the light to be balanced as best as I could manage. It took a lot of missed shots to get a few right! This is an old technique, but in this case effective. I try and avoid HDR/Blended images as much as possible for precisely the reason that many people seem to feel they are “unbelievable” or somehow fake (as opposed to the fashion industry, where almost every image is photoshopped and few people seem to mind!)

    Hope that clears it up to some extent…!

    Thanks all – glad most people seem to appreciate the effort needed to get this shot, and the beauty of what it shows. Not sure I’ll ever be so lucky again!

  • Whippler

    so where can i find these at 4k, for my wallpapery needs?

  • Kenneth Simmons

    In order to capture the northern lights, the lens is set to stay open longer, that is why the brighter areas of the eruption seem overly bright. It’s called over exposure, without it only the eruption would be clearly visible.