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Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?

By Anna Liesowska
12 January 2015

Amateur photographer who takes samurai sword for protection in lonely taiga captures the stunning majesty spreading its colours in the sky.

Welcome to Yakutia! Picture: Ruslan Akhemtsafin

Alone in the Far Eastern taiga, photographer Ruslan Akhemtsafin takes a samurai sword with him for protection from wolves. He also regularly suffers from bouts of frostbite as he waits patiently in temperatures as low as -50C to capture that perfect image. But his reward for persevering in the quiet Yakutia solitude is being able to produce stunning images of the icy landscape and, in particular, the Northern Lights.

Indeed, last week he snapped what could easily be some of the greatest photographs ever taken of the aurora borealis, just a few miles from his home.

The sensational images show the natural phenomenon at its majestic best, with swirls of green, red and purple reaching out into the cold night sky.

‘I love photography and I love nature’, says Ruslan, who lives in the village of Aikhal in Yakutia, also called the Sakha Republic. ‘So, for me it is an ideal situation where I live as it’s a great region surrounded by fantastic nature and I can capture moments like the Northern Lights and share them with people. 

‘Photography for me is when my soul tries to reach something so beautiful that you can’t describe it with words, but can you capture it, and then share it [in pictures].

‘It’s never about money, it’s about this moment of beauty that I’ve been lucky to witness’.

Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?
Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?

Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?
'It’s never about money, it’s about this moment of beauty that I’ve been lucky to witnessa'. Pictures: Ruslan Akhmetsafin


The remarkable thing about Ruslan, a 37-year-old father-of-one, is that he is only an amateur photographer and he has a normal full-time day job – as an energy engineer at a nearby diamond mine. He was brought up in the Aikhal area having moved there from Kazakhstan with his parents and brother 30 years ago. 

Ruslan has been taking photographs since he was a schoolboy in Soviet times and, using his Pentax MZ-30 film camera, in 2001 he began trying to capture the beauty of the night sky. He recalls: ‘My heart demanded much better results than what I was achieving with its limited abilities though. Four years later, in 2005, I bought my first amateur Nikon D70, which brought me a step further to what I wanted, although the quality of night time shoots with high ISO left a lot to be desired.

‘I had been dreaming about a camera that would allow me take pictures of Northern Lights within split seconds since the sky changes so rapidly that if you miss a moment your picture is gone. So when Nikon issued the D3 with ideal parameters for night-time shooting it was like a present from heaven. It took me some time and effort to buy the camera in 2008, but ever since I got it we have been inseparable.

‘There were upgraded models released with better characteristics than D3, but my camera managed to go through months of temperatures of -50C and even the icy waters of Yakutian winter springs’.

Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?
Sensational images show the natural phenomenon at its majestic best. Pictures: Ruslan Akhmetsafin


His recent images taken on January 7 in -45C show the Northern Lights at their stunning best, with strong reds and greens swirling across the sky.

It can take up to six hours to compose the perfect shot, as well as wait for the phenomenon to begin in earnest. Often he uses his winter house – a small hut with a stove, 6km north of his village – to stay in and enjoy the solitude while taking his photos.

But he always ensures he is prepared, and equipped, for a long wait. That includes making sure his trusty camera is wrapped up and protected from the cold.

He says: ‘I’ve got a set of clothes that have been tried and tested by years of going to winter taiga for long hours. Of course no camera is supposed to work for four, five or six hours at temperatures like -50C and below, so I have to invent some tricks.

‘I cut a sleeve off an old fur coat, turned it inside out so that the fur is inside, and then cut holes for the lenses, tripod, viewfinder and LCD monitor. That helps to protect the camera, and it gives a bit of extra warmth to my hands.

'Taking pictures of the Northern Lights is a bit of a sport. You have to follow information about solar flashes and then possible days of the sun’s winds reaching earth. On the day you also monitor any rise in this activity and then finally rush with all the equipment to the shooting area. 

‘If I go by foot, or on skis, I have to keep moving and keep warming myself up. If I drive, then I always take a flask with hot tea and chocolate candies, so that the time waiting is both warm and tasty.”

He adds: ‘I do get frostbite on my face, legs and fingers while waiting for the next shot, but I am quite used to it’.

Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken? 
'My family supports me in my passion and applauds my little victories'. Pictures here and below: Ruslan Akhmetsafin


Being alone in the taiga - which is closer geographically to the United States than it is to the Russian capital Moscow - can have its dangers and Ruslan ensures he is armed, for 'security'. ‘I have always had to carry hunting knives when going on trips in case I meet any wolves’, he explains. ‘So far our paths have never crossed.

‘I am against killing animals but these days I carry a small samurai sword, called a Vakidzasi, which I bought on a website that specialises in Japanese and Korean made weapons. I bought the most expensive one they had and it was just like they promised, so it cuts bottles and logs. The sword weighs a bit more than a kilogram, but it’s worth carrying it around as it gives me a feeling of security and confidence while I am alone in taiga’.

He adds: ‘My family supports me in my passion and applauds my little victories, when I catch a very good shot. So I am a very happy man indeed’.

Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?


Are these the greatest images of the Northern Lights ever taken?

Comments (20)

His photography is awesome! Is Ruslan on Facebook, or other social media?

Some of my pictures:https://500px.com/manage/profile/aurora_borealis_north_light
Frank Olsen, Sortland, Norway
30/08/2015 19:05
0
0
This is magnificent. Where we live we don't see this wonderful phenomena. Thank you.
jaycee van rooyen, Cape Town, South Africa
31/01/2015 19:04
0
0
Amazing !!
Václav, Pilsen, Czech Republic
20/01/2015 23:52
2
0
Great!!!!!!!!!
Miroslava, Prague, Czech Republic
20/01/2015 23:07
2
0
What wonders and what a wonderful man you are to give to Others without asking money, such natural phenomenons


You catch them in a so cold weather and loneless ...Thank you so much . My best regards
gisele Bourven, Nice France 2 rue Pierre pietri 06000
17/01/2015 09:12
3
0
Stunning photos. Keep it up.
Eric, Detroit,USA
17/01/2015 07:32
3
0
Wish I was there and watch the amazing show. Beautiful!
Carina, Sweden North
16/01/2015 15:44
2
0
Wish I was there and watch the amazing show. Beautiful!
Carina, Sweden North
16/01/2015 15:43
1
0
Wish I was there and watch the amazing show. Beautiful!
Carina, Sweden North
16/01/2015 15:42
2
0
More info on sword, I wanted to look at your particular choice for sword?! Very interesting!
Steve, USA
15/01/2015 09:06
1
0
Я живу в стране, где есть эти красоты. Я этим горжусь!
Дмитрий, Нерюнгри (Якутия), Россия
15/01/2015 07:46
3
0
wonderfull photos.
john, finland
15/01/2015 05:02
3
0
Thank you, thank you. They are so lovely, and you have really captured their wonder. (I know you can't hear them, but I somehow felt that I could do so.(
Elinor Johansen, Denton, Texas, USA
14/01/2015 03:47
5
1
Какая красота!
Просто замечательно )
Ольга Айдина, Россия
14/01/2015 02:11
4
0
Indeed these are the best.
David B. Benson, Pullman, Washington, USA
13/01/2015 09:58
6
0
12

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