Northern lights Iceland

The Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis is truly amazing. The dancing, greenish and sometimes even red light is one of the most beautiful wonders of nature. The effect occurs because many small atoms collide. The power released is a true spectacle and makes you think that you're in the middle of a dream. In Iceland, the northern lights are unpredictable. If you want to make sure that you'll see the Aurora, you'd best seek the help of a tour operator.

Noorderlicht in Ijsland

Prachtig poollicht!

Beautiful polar lights!

When?

From September to mid-April it is dark enough in Iceland to see the aurora borealis in the evening or at night. This is immediately one of the most important conditions to see the northern lights: complete darkness. Trying to spot the northern lights during the midnight sun is probably not a very good idea…

Almost as important to be able to see the aurora is a bright sky.
The Aurora Borealis is set above the clouds. The more clouds there are, the worse you will be able to see the light.

Where?

It is impossible to know where you can see the aurora in advance. Everything depends on local weather forecasts and how accurate they are.

One thing is certain: try to stay away from the city. A phenomenon that’s called “light pollution” makes your chances of seeing the northern lights a lot smaller. Because of the many lights in a city, the polar light becomes less visible or sometimes even invisible.

By booking a tour you will search for the lights with the locals. They know what to look for and where they can or should go. Often they are in touch with local weather men and they use all kinds of technical gadgets to be as successful as possible during the tour.

 

Aurora Borealis Ijsland

Aurora Borealis in Iceland.

Camera settings

Instagram, Facebook, and just for your own photo album. Obviously you want to take some great pictures of the northern lights!
However, that’s easier said than done… It might become a little technical to take some beautiful pictures. I try to explain it as simple as possible.

What do you need?

  • A camera where you can use manual settings.
  • A tripod.
  • A remote shutter control.

First of all, if you have a DSLR camera, or a camera with a special lens: set the lens to manual focus. Put the focus ring to infinity (∞).
Then put your camera on ‘manual settings’. (With DSLR cameras you need to turn the little disk to “M”).

Change the ISO value to a higher number. Between 1000 and 1600 gives the best results without getting too grainy. A high ISO value, after all, gives a lot of noise in your image. This depends from camera to camera. Try to test this beforehand.

Very important is the shutter speed. This is why you need a tripod and remote control.
The shutter speed regulates the length of the light which falls on the lens of your camera. Since it is pitch dark you need a slow shutter speed (because you need a lot of light). Otherwise your picture will just be black.
If you were to hold the camera manually you would constantly shake it slightly, so the image will be blurred.
The shutter speed is indicated by a number. 1/5000 for example. To photograph the northern lights you will need a shutter speed of 20″ or 30″ (seconds!) per picture. Your camera must be left on your tripod for twenty to thirty seconds to capture the northern lights as best as possible.

White balance is automatically corrected with most cameras. So here you don’t need to change much. You can try the preprogrammed setting and see which one suits you best. To adjust the white balance at a later time you need to take pictures in the RAW format. Jpeg or .jpg doesn’t let you change this anymore.

To change the f-stop or aperture you don’t need to change anything. Just try to keep this between 3 and 4.5 f. The higher the aperture, the smaller the lens opening and the darker the picture. A small f stop means much more light on the picture, but this also makes the background blurry. A nice effect, but not while photographing the northern lights.

Once all this is changed, you can start by photographing the beautiful aurora. Please ask help from your guide. Who probably is an expert in photographing this beautiful natural phenomenon.

 

Poollicht in Ijsland.Book a tour

Visiting Iceland and not seeing the northern lights would be disappointing. Try to book a tour in advance. With tours you are almost guaranteed to see this beautiful dancing light with your own eyes.

Click here for a list of tour operators.
Prices start at around 50 dollars p.p. Note that combo tours are often cheaper than single excursions.

Ijsland noorderlicht

Northern lights, polar light or the aurora borealis. Whatever you want to all it, is is gorgeous!

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