Photographing The Northern Lights

Photographing the Northern lights was always something that was on my to-do list, so when my little lady and I decided we were going to visit Reykjavik in Iceland for a holiday it seemed like the perfect opportunity to achieve this goal.

I have to be honest and say it turned out to be harder than I thought it was going to be, so I wanted to share some general advice about my experience photographing the Northern Lights in the hope that it may help others.

Without further ado, here are my top tips:

  1. Dress Appropriately
    I can’t even begin to tell you just how cold it was being out in the middle of nowhere at night in Iceland hunting for the Northern Lights. This wasn’t like standing in a field near my home town of Stilton in winter (which I find myself doing frequantly), this was an evil cold that had me running for the heater on the bus at every opporuntity. It doesn’t matter what gear you take with you, if you’re not covered up appropriately you’re not going to want to stand out in the cold photographing them. Trust me on this one!
  2. Check The Forecasts
    As you’d expect these days there are online tools that show you the forecast for the Northern Lights and predict how good they will be that night. You need a night with zero cloud cover in order to see them ideally, however also chat with the locals and tour guides, they all seemed to have a good idea as to the chances of seeing them each day.
  3. Take A Tripod
    This may seem obvious to some of you, however you will need a tripod. What you see in other people’s photographs and what you see with the naked eye when you are there is somewhat different. You’ll need to set your camera up on a tripod and shoot a long exposure in order to let in enough light and make the Northern Lights bright enough in your photographs to see.
  4. Bump Your ISO
    My shot in this post was shot at ISO 5000 and cleaned up in Adobe Lightroom to remove some of the noise. Whilst mine was maybe overkill and I could just have shot a longer exposure, you are going to have to shoot at high ISO’s in order to get the Northern Lights showing in your photographs and standing out.
  5. Get Yourself Somewhere Dark & Wait….
    Everybody in Iceland told us that the best place to see the Northern Lights was away from the bright lights of the city, so we ended up going on numerous bus / boat / car tours to the middle of nowhere in order to try and find them. The Northern Lights are fairly elusive and can come and go in a matter of minutes, you could genuinely found yourself sat for hours waiting for them to appear  just to get one shot.
  6. Hope You Get Lucky!
    So the truth of my trip is that we were out there for 5 nights, we went on 2 bus tours, 1 car tour and 1 boat tour looking for the Northern Lights and spent hours out in the middle of fields looking up at the skies without any luck whatsoever. The tour guides sometimes pointed to a faint white blur in the sky and suggested that may be them, but I wasn’t having any of it.

    In the end we got lucky, we arrived back in from a boat tour where we hadn’t really seen anything, only for the boat to be pulling into the harbour and for them to appear over the city skies out of nowhere. 5 minutes later they were gone… I got one shot of the Northern Lights I liked but I’ll take that and call it mission achieved.

    Photographing the Northern Lights – Done!

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