Growing up in a small town spoiled me with the night sky. From a young age, I was obsessed with finding constellations. With my childhood fascination, it is no wonder I made it a point to see the aurora borealis in Iceland.
My goal was to capture this amazing experience with a time lapse, and I wanted to do it right. I researched which settings to use on my DSLR camera, then bought a puffy down jacket, packed my mountaineering boots and snow pants, made sure my batteries were fully charged, then headed out for some chilly Iceland nights. Fortunately, clear skies were in the forecast.
Reykjavík, the capital and only city in Iceland (and where my trip was based), gave off too much light, which “pollutes” an otherwise vivid night sky. This posed a problem for capturing the aurora borealis, so I journeyed 327km (203 miles) to Skaftafell, part of Vatnajökull National Park. It was a perfect choice for my trip; there were hiking options, glaciers, and a cute little cabin. My two days photographing the park were spent bundled up at the glacial lagoon, Jökulsárlón, which offered a perfect foreground showcasing not only glaciers and the deepest lake in Iceland, but also mountains and icebergs. Only four hours outside of the capital, the park is a great place to explore southern Iceland and view the aurora borealis.
To capture the aurora borealis, it is best to know where the lights will be coming from. A compass can point you north, but the latitude also matters as this will affect where the lights will be (high in the sky or on the horizon). Look for a ribbon of colors fluttering as the light show starts; the aurora borealis can start slow or fast. Be patient; there will be many different flares and activity. Try watching them in a dark and isolated area to avoid other people’s flash photography or movements.
A note on “Nothern Lights” tours: During the second night of my photographing the lights, a tour bus pulled in. The crowd barely left the parking lot as the bus left too quickly to explore. This leads me to believe that a northern lights tour hardly worth the money unless it takes you to multiple viewing areas or your only desire is to simply see the lights and not take time to photograph or enjoy the movements of their display. I was happy to have as much time as I wanted to do a full time lapse and capture some of the show.
The third night offered the most spectacular views of the aurora borealis. Sadly, it was also my last night in Iceland, so I was back in the Reykjavík. However, I did my best by taking one last drive out of the city until I found myself surrounded by a dome of dancing green lights. I was amazed how wonderful, active, and bright they were so close the largest population in Iceland. The light pollution didn’t seem to faze them. Surprisingly, the night’s show was only listed as a “normal” aurora on the forecasting site (listed below); if that was true, I cannot even imagine what a “high” aurora borealis forecast looks like!
Side note: For once, I endured the cold like a champ. I credit this to “Raspberry,” my down jacket—which gets its name less from the color and more from the fact that I look like a raspberry when I wear it. My point here: be prepared for the icy nights you’ll endure while attempting to photograph this gorgeous phenomenon. The right clothing might not do much for your looks, but you’ll be able to concentrate on your photography and not on staying comfortable.
If you’re starting your own search for the aurora borealis, the Aurora Forecast is a great resource. For more tips, check out my blog.
. . .Have you seen the aurora borealis, or are you just starting to plan your own northern lights adventure? Let us know in the comments.
About the author:
Angela Anderson is travel blogger sharing how to make the most of vacation days. She enjoys hiking and backpacking trips to city touring. When she is not traveling and blogging, she lives in Seattle and enjoys the great outdoors, photography, and crafts.
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