Some things in life are well worth waiting for and experiencing the Northern Lights is certainly one of those. Geographically speaking, there are very few spots on Earth where you can see this amazing phenomena, so to actually visit a location where this is possible is a feat on its own.
During our recent trip to Iceland, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to go in search of the Northern Lights. Thanks to Time Tours Iceland, they made this excursion fun, adventurous and of course highlighted by the end result which I am sure you are all waiting for…but that comes later folks!
What are the Northern Lights?
Without going into too much scientific detail of what occurs in the Earth’s atmosphere to create the Northern Lights, it is essentially a collision of particles that can be seen above the magnetic poles hence the reason there are only certain locations on our planet that they can be viewed.
Interchanged with the term ‘Aurora Borealis’, the Northern Lights are best seen away from any form of noise pollution and this is where our story begins with Time Tours Iceland.
An Evening with Time Tours
After an amazing day exploring the Golden Circle with Time Tours Iceland, we only had a couple of hours to grab dinner before heading back out again with the same company to search for the Northern Lights. Our pick-up time was 8:30PM from our hotel in downtown Reykjavik, though this time our bus was pretty full as the forecast for Aurora Borealis activity was good, at least in comparison with previous nights.
Our tour guide gave us all a brief overview of our proposed itinerary for the evening, though this was subject to change dependent on how successful we were at finding the Lights. We had to drive 30 minutes out of Reykjavik to remove any possibility of noise pollution affecting our chances of seeing the Lights.
The first stop saw us venture just off the main road to a spot where other buses were parked and we all exited the bus in hope of seeing the spectacular Lights. Unfortunately we were left a little disappointed, at least I was given that I think my expectation levels were probably way too high. The first thing worth noting is that you cannot control how ‘active’ the lights are so every night is going to be different and you have no idea what direction they will appear.
As we were preparing to leave and head to higher ground for a better chance at seeing what we all came out for, our tour guide spotted something in the distance. Although we couldn’t see the vibrant greens and bright colors, we could see a bright spot that was clearly something but near impossible to identify as the Northern Lights. But this one glimpse helped raise the spirit inside the bus and gave us all the confidence that we would find the needle in the haystack (at least that’s how it feels).
Of course although we all wanted to see the Northern Lights with our own eyes, capturing that perfect shot is equally as important. However, this is far from easy and way more difficult than you probably imagine. Unless you are an expert photographer or have a DSLR capable of taking high quality night shots, the likelihood is that you will have a hard time capturing that memorable shot. A harsh reality I know but I would definitely recommend practicing your night photography prior to heading to Iceland or anywhere in search of the Lights.
Here are our quick tip settings to help capture the Northern Lights:
- Take a tripod (this is one regret we have as it is incredibly difficult trying to keep steady for 20-30 seconds to let enough light in, especially when it’s freezing cold outside!)
- Make sure your lens and body focus are both set to Manual (our Nikon D7100 both have options to set to Auto or Manual)
- Make sure the mode on your dial is set to Manual also
- Change the shutter speed to 15 seconds (this is the length of time the shutter will remain open, hence the reason why it is beneficial to have a tripod)
- Change the aperture (F-Stop) to as low a number as possible. Ours was set on 3.5 but this number will vary depending on the lens you are using (our lens was a 18-55mm)
A couple of these variables are interchangeable and it’s all about playing around with our settings. We want to give a HUGE thanks to Runar from Time Tours Iceland who helped us tremendously in figuring out our camera. It’s only in situations like this do you realize just how complex a DSLR can be!
The Moment of Truth
Driving deeper into the Icelandic abyss, at least that’s how it felt, certainly aided our opportunities of seeing the Northern Lights. Our driver and tour guide found a perfect spot alongside another Time Tours Iceland bus who we had been following around and we all scrambled out of the vehicle and immediately peered towards the sky and saw what we had all been waiting for.
Now I am not going to lie and say they were as bright and clearly visible as the pictures suggest but it really was an impressive sight. If you have followed our above tips or able to take a really good shot of the Northern Lights, you will notice that the pictures are much better than what your naked eye can see. Essentially the shutter speed on your camera is letting in more light than your eye is able to, but it is cool nonetheless to see the Lights and then have a memory to take away with you!
Standing there in the middle of the Icelandic tundra and seeing the Aurora Borealis is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Experiencing the Northern Lights for the first time really is a life changing moment, especially given the rarity of this phenomena occurring. We both felt very privileged that Time Tours Iceland took us to experience this amazing attraction and we are delighted at the way our pictures turned out, providing us with cherished memories of this breathtaking adventure.
You can view more of our images from our Northern Lights experience here: Northern Lights 2014.
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Time Tours Iceland for providing us with complimentary tickets for the Northern Lights tour. The content of this post are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.