In my last post I mentioned that I had recently been privileged enough to see the Northern Lights so I thought I would share my personal experience of the event.
Iceland has been high on my travel wishlist for a good few years now and this year it finally happened. Initially my husband and I had wanted to go there for his birthday in June to experience the crazy long hours of daylight, but the price was always far too expensive. Fortunately, we found an excellent deal for October and jumped at the chance to go.
And I don’t regret it for one second. If we had gone in June, we would never have witnessed the natural phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights.
We arrived in Reykjavik on a Sunday afternoon and when we reached our hotel, we were told that we were being picked up an hour earlier than we expected for our Northern Lights excursion, so after a few slices of take away Dominos pizza in our hotel room, we were all set to leave for our quest. I knew that it was never a guarantee to see the Northern Lights, so I tried not to get my hopes up too high. I was here in Iceland to see and do lots of other wonderful things, the Northern Lights would just be the icing on the cake.
After a bit of an introduction to the Northern Lights by our guide on our coach journey away from the glare of Reykjavik, we arrived in the pitch black darkness in the middle of nowhere. And here we waited. It was cold, very cold, but fortunately there was a little café on site where we could buy ourselves a cup of hot chocolate to warm up. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to sit since every seat had been filled by a fellow traveller and even standing room was a little on the small side.
I set my SLR camera up to the settings that the guides on the trip recommended, if you’re interested then this is basically what my camera was set to (although I hasten to add, I am not a professional photographer!)
Mode – M for Manual
ISO – Around 1600
Shutter speed – About 6 seconds
Aperture – f/4 (I think)
Focus – Infinity
I allowed myself some time to just play around with my camera to see what was working against the night sky and got shots like this-
Grainy and a bit hazy yes but like I said, I’m not a professional photographer.
Time ticked on and by about 10pm I was fed up – over an hour and a half standing around in the freezing cold looking into the black nothingness. We ventured back into the café as my knees were shaking with the cold. The guides, however, never lost their enthusiasm and at around 11pm (after approximately two and a half hours of watching and waiting) they announced that they were seeing something over the mountains. Out we rushed, all those warm café seats were vacated and we stood and watched, sure enough we could see a fleck of green in the horizon. I hurriedly set my camera up on a nearby bench but the photo turned out pretty rubbish and then the lights were gone.
We didn’t have to wait too long for them to reappear though and by this time, fortunately we had found ourselves a little patch of ground away from the other tourists. And here are the results…
So they’re a little crooked but I wanted to post photos exactly as they came from my camera – no Photoshop. I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out anyway, but I will add that what you see here is far more powerful than what you see with the naked eye.
My top 5 tips for viewing the Northern Lights
Take an SLR camera. Nothing else will do it justice.
If you have a tripod, take that too. I only had a miniature one so I had to prop it up on a bit of slab we found. It did the trick but a proper tripod would have been better.
Do some research into photographing the lights before you go. My camera settings may not work for you but are here for a vague guideline of what worked for me.
Dress warmly! Think lots of layers and thick socks. You don’t know how long you may be waiting.
Be prepared for disappointment. There is no guarantee you will see the lights, but many companies offer for you to go back with them on another excursion for free if you have no luck.