Adventures in Iceland: The Northern Lights

As I mentioned in a Planning for Iceland, the great hope of my trip was to see the Northern Lights. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I lost complete hope that I would actually see them. See, the Aurora are a temperamental phenomena as you have to have perfect conditions: in the very Northern Hemisphere (the deep Southern Hemisphere has a similar event), clear skies, no light, and solar activity. You can control one of those items and I had one going against me…the weather. It was supposed to rain everyday that I was there. So by the time I boarded my flight, I had resigned that it wasn’t going to happen. I mean, I still checked the Aurora website frequently, but I wasn’t optimistic.

My first date was cancelled for weather. You receive an email and they allow you to rebook with no charge. When you sign up it says the next day but they actually give you a calendar. I was unable to do it the following day, so I scheduled it for my last night. Which was fortunate as the weather seemed like it might just cooperate. That morning I went whale watching and it was the first time I saw blue skies and the sun! There was a snow storm that afternoon but I hadn’t gotten the email cancelling the journey just yet! I checked furiously up until the moment my coach pulled up and off we went!

To prepare, I wore my Sorel snow boots, thick wool socks, and long underwear. I am not sure I have been less comfortable. I was warm, so it was worth it, but just know that longjohns suck! It is going to be very cold, so bundle up and wear lots of layers.

The coach will take you about an hour outside of Reykjavik. Here’s the thing, you need to find darkness and a coach can only go so far, but there were, like 15, other coaches in the same parking lot. There were so many people, it was slightly annoying. In addition, you just pull off the road, so you have cars driving and parking to also see the lights. While you can still see them, you cannot photograph them. With so many people, it was hard to be alone with one’s thoughts and really put yourself in the moment. It was also really hard to find the coach when you go to leave. But I SAW THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!!!!!

We departed the coach and there they were! While it was a ‘lighter’ show (no pun intended, just lower solar activity) and no dancing, it was spectacular! They came in waves across the sky and they just sort of sweep across. And they literally came in waves as the weather kept toying with us. You would have clear skies, clouds would move in, it would snow/sleet, stars would start to appear, and then the Aurora. Repeat.

Seeing the Northern Lights was good enough and then the shooting stars started. There were a handful of them and I would have cried if I could feel my face. Don’t let anyone talk you out of traveling to Iceland in January. I could have been standing in a polar vortex and it still would have been worth it just to see this!

Disclosure of photographing the Northern Lights-it’s really hard! I had high hopes I could get some of those really cool galaxy shots and I’m not sure how they do it! If your exposure is too long the stars move but not long enough, you won’t see the lights. I recommend just playing with it and seeing what happens. You’ll at least get a shot that comes out. I shot using my Panasonic Lumix G7. I purchased the kit that came with the tripod. You will need to have one to take these photos due to the camera needing to be completely still. My tripod worked for what I needed but I have gotten a taller,sturdier one for my trip Down Under (the terrain will be much more rugged and I’m tall). You will also need a lint free cloth to wipe the lens repeatedly, particularly as it snows.

Happy Hunting!!

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