First Rule of Hunting for the Northern Lights…

Make sure you know how to use your camera.

Visiting Iceland was like taking off to a faraway alien planet. One minute you’re in a lava field with nothing in sight for miles. The sun sets and there’s no sound, no wind and only the light of the night sky. It’s pretty easy to convince yourself you may have somehow been transported to Mars.

Lava fields in Reykjanesbar, Iceland
Lava fields in Reykjanesbar, Iceland

The next day you could be staring into oblivion at the top of a glacier or chasing rainbows into stunning waterfalls. The stark changes in landscape truly make it like nowhere else on earth (nowhere we’ve been, anyway). Combine all of this with the opportunity to see what should be considered one of the great wonders of the world–the Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis).

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

Sure you can see the lights in places like Alaska, Canada and sometimes even in the Northern U.S. However, trust me when I tell you, there is nothing quite like seeing them in Iceland. Your senses are already on high alert because of all of the scenic beauty, so to witness something so peculiar in such a unique place is pretty spectacular.

We were in Iceland this past October, which we later learned is not the most ideal time to witness the lights. Remaining hopeful and determined to see something, we booked a Northern Lights tour from Reykjavik city center. It is possible to see the lights from within the city sometimes but the further out in the country, the better your chances.

The first stop on our Northern Lights tour was Thingvellir National Park, about 45 minutes or so from Reykjavik. The tour guide was going on a lead from another tour operator that the lights were dancing out that way. Our noses were pushed to the glass, our necks craned to see out the bus window, anxious for the opportunity to hop out and see the glorious lights for ourselves. We poured out of the bus and waited…and waited…and waited some more. True to the saying, “good things come to those who wait,” after about an hour of staring into darkness, we started to see a faint glow. Kryptonite green slowly spread across the sky. It started as a long skinny strand and built into a massive tidal wave of color. It was like watching the ocean tide slowly build then sweep away. Oohs and aahs swept over the tour group as everyone scrambled to take photos and find the perfect camera setting. A few minutes would pass and the lights would dance away. A hush came over the group as we all waited in anticipation. “Over there, look!” someone from the tour group cried. The lights had come back tenfold like a green-tailed comet trailing through the sky. A flurry of photo taking commenced. iPhones, video cameras, regular cameras–we had every memory apparatus conceivable snapping away.

Only one problem, we hadn’t bothered to adjust the settings or shutter speed on any of them. Oops. After a good hour and a half of non-stop photos, we went back to the bus and quickly settled in take a look at what we captured. Unfortunately, our excitement quickly waned when we saw this…

DSC01248 DSC01266

What we captured on-camera didn’t even compare to what we had just witnessed in person. Yeah, you can still kinda-sorta tell what it’s supposed to be but let’s face it, it’s no mantle photo, that’s for sure. The important thing is we did get to see them in person and we’ll always have the memory of a truly one-of-a-kind experience. And, we learned an important lesson; know your camera settings inside and out. To see what your Aurora Borealis photos should look like, check out our friends Where’s My Passport’s guide to photographing the Northern Lights on TinyIceland. Their photos and others featured on TinyIceland admittedly make us weep a little for what could have been. *Sigh.* It just means we’ll have to go back and hunt for more, which is fine by us.

Skal!

J

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8 thoughts on “First Rule of Hunting for the Northern Lights…

  1. So glad you go to see them! The pictures are still good; although, I can see how nothing could compare to seeing them in person! I have always wanted to see the northern lights, but I’ve never been in the right spot at the right time. And, unfortunately, I’m guessing Iceland at the end of May won’t be idea conditions. Maybe we will get lucky…if not, I guess we will have to make another trip one day too, lol!

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