Browsing through photos of the Northern lights (or more scientifically put, the Aurora Borealis) in National Geographic is one thing however, seeing them with your own bare eyes is an entirely indescribable experience that should top your bucket list.
Their mystical demeanour and breath taking picture perfect sceneries they produce, is truly an incredible event to witness first hand and definitely worth your frostbitten aftermath hands.
Northern lights appear more frequently than you’d think, however they’re without doubt the stars of their own show: they emerge when and where they want, put on a multi-coloured display or just a dab of light green and dance around or are motionless and can last for seconds or minutes.
When it comes to the Northern lights, there’s really no set rules that guarantee you’ll catch a glimpse of them however, they can potentially be seen all year round, their so-called active season is between the cold winter months of September and February. The colder the air and the clearer the skies, the better chance you’d have for a viewing.
Now you’re probably wondering what the perfect location and time would be… No wonder why everyone says that they’re going ‘hunting for the northern lights’ as you really need to hunt them down! Firstly, get as far away from city light pollution as possible. Your best bet would be the nearby mountains or fields. Somewhere with lots of open space and clear skies would be ideal. If they decide to come and say hi, they usually do this between 9 and 12pm. If you’re unlucky and can’t seem to spot any on your first try, don’t be disheartened and just keep trying! Remember to move around the nearby area as they might be just around the corner!
The most important thing to note when northern light hunting is that your camera’s sensor is much more powerful than your naked eye; although you may not be able to see anything in the sky, they might be there taking their time to appear. So before you move to another location, take a few snaps just to make sure that you’re not missing out on anything, and if you see even the faintest hint of green,purple,yellow etc wait for a minute or two and see if they’ll emerge.
As with any night photography, a good and sturdy tripod is also a must! Remember that Iceland has unforgiving powerful winds especially during the winter months so you need something that won’t get blown away when conditions get rough ( my first tripod did… ).
For these photos, I needed the most light possible entering my sensor therefore used f2.8 on a wide-angled 11-16mm lens to capture the entire sky and landscape.
I must admit, making a time-lapse from numerous photos stitched together is also a wonderful idea to show the colour changes and movements of the Northern lights.
And last but not least, make sure to dress for the occasion. Layering is key to staying warm in cold conditions and believe me, Icelandic winters surely know how to crack the air conditioning on.
Enjoy and happy hunting!
Donna Tzaneva is a twenty-something year old globetrotter that was born in Bulgaria, grew up in Australia and now resides in Iceland. After finishing her BSc in Equine Studies, a severe horse-back riding injury made her take a step back from that career and take up photography. She hasn’t stopped ever since..