To see the Northern Lights also known as the Aurora Borealis has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. While visiting the Alaskan Katmai grizzly bears we had hoped to see them then, but the clouds just would not cooperate. However our spur of the moment trip to Iceland fulfilled that dream come true. We got to see the beautiful Northern Lights of Iceland even though there had only been about 11 clear days all summer, we had 3 beautiful days.
Best Time To See The Northern Lights in Iceland
The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the period of longest darkness. About mid-September through early April is that time frame. Our family arrived in Iceland on September 12. We had two nights out in a tiny little town called Hella with clear skies.
We decided to go with our family to Iceland about 1 month prior to our departure. I’ve been a photographer for decades, photographing a few weddings & I’ve have had a couple of my images published in a bridal magazine. I have been wanting to up my photography skills though, so I took a photography class & did some research on how to photograph the northern lights. The thing is, I’m not good with numbers & shooting the Northern Lights involves lots of manual settings, in short numbers. Numbers just have no place in my brain, they don’t stick.
A Comedy of Errors
Our first night in Hella, Iceland I woke at about 2 AM, hearing people talking outside and literally walking on our deck. I got up, peered out and saw some people walking around with flashlights. From the window, I couldn’t really see anything and almost went back to bed. Then I thought, I should just step outside and take a look, but it was freezing out there. I went out anyways, and OMG there they were, just above our tiny little cabin on the river, the Northern Lights.
Excited isn’t even the best way to describe how I felt!! I ran inside to wake my husband, grabbed my coat, but not my glasses and ran a few cabins away in my PJs and bare feet with temps below 40 degrees to wake the rest of the family. Thing is, I couldn’t remember exactly which cabin they had. Thinking I was pretty sure, so kind of shined a light towards the window of the cabin that I thought they were in. I could see the bunk beds and a figure standing near the window in a white tank top. I thought it was my daughter so shined the light on my face so she could see who it was. Pointed at the sky and then ran.
Preparation Is Key
I was so not ready to photograph this, even though I had done all this research and practiced in my head over and over. My tripod which is a must was in the car. I ran in my bare feet, nearly blind to get my tripod. By this time my husband was up and outside. Asked if the kids were up, I said yes, but was barely listening, because I’m still half asleep with adrenaline pumping, so I couldn’t focus on anything he was saying. Wanting to just stare at the lights, but I needed to focus.
Thankfully Timo thought he should go check on the kids, cuz they still weren’t out. I had been waking a family in the wrong cabin. LOL, lol, Lol. Our family was still sleeping. I hope I looked like a crazy enough lady, making scary faces with my flashlight that if we crossed paths the following day, they didn’t recognize me.
I got my settings right, but couldn’t figure out how to focus on the lights. Couldn’t find them, and all of my images were just blackness. I was really sad but so happy that even if I didn’t have the lights captured in an image. I did get to see them.
A Second And A Third Chance
The following night using an app called Aurora, we monitored our chances of seeing the lights again and they appeared early, around 8:30 PM. This time I was prepared and I had realized that I could actually faintly see the lights through my viewfinder, so I knew where to shoot. I did get some images, but I was using my zoom so the lights were usually cut short. I got beautiful color, so even though not perfect I was happy.
The lights are quite active and they move like a ghostly figure in the sky. After watching for about 45 minutes, they began to fade and we went to bed. About 1 hour later our son in law had stepped out of his cabin to make a phone call and there they were again. We all ran back outside, snuggled under the comforters we had ripped off our beds and watched while I got a third chance to take pictures.
I had changed to a shorter lens and was able to capture these gorgeous pictures of the Northern Lights. What do they say? “Third time is the charm”. This was one baby boomer dream come true. I couldn’t be happier to have seen such a beautiful display of creation. What a wonderful world we live on.
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