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Luc Roymans on Photographing the Night Sky and the Aurora Borealis

Luc Roymans on Photographing the Night Sky and the Aurora Borealis

Photographer Luc Roymans shares how he captures beautiful images of the night sky and his remarkable trips photographing the aurora borealis.

The night sky never ceases to amaze. Whether it’s pitch black, full of stars, or glowing with the aurora borealis, there’s something about it that captures our attention and keeps it. Capturing images of the night sky can be an experience unlike any other for photographers.

The Milky Way (South Africa)
The ever-mystical milky way over Namibia, South Africa. Image by Luc Roymans.

“When you’re shooting nature, you are often disconnected from everyday life,” says Luc Roymans. Based in Antwerp, Belgium, Roymans is an interior and architecture photographer whose photos have appeared in Elle Deco UK, O! Magazine, The Guardian Weekend, de Architect, among others. His images showcase the playful and unique ways that nature and architecture intersect. While architecture photography is his bread and butter, Roymans’ images of the night sky are equally enthralling. In today’s article, Luc shares his photographic journey and how he captures incredible images of the night sky. 

A Love of Design Pre-Photography 

I grew up in Antwerp, Belgium. Life was simple back then. No cell phone, barely any internet. I was supposed to become a pilot or engineer. I love mathematics and think in an abstract, graphical way, which, in the end, led to me becoming a photographer specializing in interior design, architecture, and nature.

When I was nineteen and a college drop-out, I went on holiday with my childhood friend to Laguna Beach, California. Over there, I saw a Thomas D. Mangelsen art gallery that blew me away. I purchased a camera during that vacation and started shooting (slide film back then). When I got back home, my mom had enrolled me in a Bachelor of Photography course. I never really shot with it as a “hobby” in mind. As soon as I started, I envisioned it would one day become my main source of income.

The Milky Way (Southern Africa)
The milky way over a salt pan in the Namib desert, southern Africa. Image by Luc Roymans.

Locally, I have some very talented friends who definitely pushed me (back in the day) to improve my skill set. My favorite photographers were Frans Lanting and Thomas D. Mangelsen. At the moment, it has to be Vincent Munier. I graduated in 1999 and have been shooting ever since. It took me more than ten years to reach a point I could live only from photography. Until that point, I did every type of job you can imagine.

Exploring Nature, the Night Sky, and Architecture

I love the voyage that you need to make in many ways to get “the shot” you have in mind. It takes a lot of work, effort, time, and money to do most shots. The final picture isn’t even that important to me. I lost many good shots because I preferred to enjoy what was happening in front of me, instead of taking images. The night sky is brilliant because the whole world we know goes to sleep, and another wakes up. With cameras these days, you can use long exposure to really make the night sky come to life.

Quiver Tree (South Africa)
A silhouette of a Quiver tree against the night sky in Namibia, South Africa. Image by Luc Roymans.

That being said, while I love photographing the night sky, architecture and interior photography is my bread and butter. This provides me with a steady and good income. Nature offsets that in many ways. It’s much less comfortable, you have much less control over conditions surrounding a shoot, and it’s much, much harder to make a profit from it. I need both to stay in balance, and both feed on each other creatively. They are both types of photography that require specialized equipment and great technical skills.

Shooting Photos of the Aurora Borealis and Humpback Whales

I got the chance to shoot both humpback whales and the aurora borealis in Andenes, Norway. It was a photography trip organized by my friend Yves Adams, who is a professional nature photographer and trip organizer. It was winter so we knew we would have very short days. During the day, we went out on RIB boats looking for whales. Then, at night, we would look for a nice background and hope for the aurora borealis. Searching for the aurora borealis is always a waiting game. There are specialized apps that forecast predictability, which are very helpful. But, you also need clear skies, so that narrows down the opportunities drastically.

The Aurora Borealis (Iceland)
The aurora borealis glowing in the sky over Iceland at dusk. Image by Luc Roymans.

Shooting the humpback whales was like a spiritual experience to me. The humpback came towards us and came out of the water to actually look you in the eye. We normally have to conceal and camouflage to blend into the environment as much as possible. To have another animal being so curious and obviously intelligent was mind-blowing for me on an emotional level.

See, when you’re shooting nature, you are often disconnected from everyday life for a couple of days, or weeks. You’re placed in a bubble where only photography and your surroundings matter. When you get back to normal life, it often takes a very long time to adapt again to normality.

Experiencing More Through Photography 

Nature photography, for me, is a way to experience things and places I would never experience otherwise. The camera gives me the purpose I need to make certain sacrifices, to be able to have extraordinary experiences most people can only dream about. Being in nature is almost always a very humbling experience, so it has totally changed every aspect of me.

Aurora Borealis
The aurora borealis over the beach. Image by Luc Roymans.

You also, very often, end up in less developed parts of the world, which re-educates you on how lucky you are with the life you live. I don’t see myself as a creator—more like a craftsman who loves registering things as beautiful as possible. And, to the young photographers, I would say hang in there and never quit. It took me more than ten years of backbreaking work and investment. If I can do that, so can anyone.

Cover image by Luc Roymans.

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