Our first night in Iceland we all had one thing on our minds. You could say it was the reason it we were all there. It was certainly the impetus for the trip. You see I have a bucket list, and seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland was the highest thing on there.
If you want to see the Northern Lights you have to time your trip correctly. You need complete darkness, a nearly cloudless sky and a bunch of time for that opportunity. Since during the summer the sun can be up through Midnight only to rise again a few hours later, the likelihood of seeing them is slim. In winter the sun can rise as late as 11.30am and set as early as 3.30pm – way more opportunity. In the winter you are going to be fighting cloud cover but so long as you give yourself enough opportunity – you will see something.
We booked our tour for the very first night, we figured since it was such a priority it we happened to not see them, we had all the other nights in the week to chance seeing them again. There are a few options for tourists chasing the lights. A standard bus tour (ranging from $50-$100), a super jeep tour (about $175) or a private tour. The bus tour, whilst the cheapest, generally parks in one spot and you sit there and wait. The super jeep tour does drive around to multiple spots – but in a convoy with other tourists.
We opted for a private tour – with a photographer. We went through Thor Photography, but since he was unavailable he put us in touch with his friend Flosi (you can contact him here to book your own). The trip was $500, which between the three of us was only marginally more than the super jeep tour and 100% worth it.
Flosi picked us up at 8pm, he let us know that whilst the lights were super active this week, low cloud cover was going to make it tough. So we set out on a mission, feeling a little like we were in the movie Twister, except chasing surreal lights in the sky instead of devastating tornadoes. Flosi had a map that showed him where the cloud cover was opening up, so we chased those open clouds for hours, while Sigur Ros blasted through the car (Flosi claims this is the perfect accompaniment for the Icelandic landscape, I don’t disagree)
In terms of taking photos, you’ll need a DSLR and a tripod (and this is recommended for your experience in general, in cloud cover it’s much harder to see them with the naked eye). This was my first time photographing the night sky and even using a tripod for long a really exposure, I probably should have gotten some practice in before I left. My intuition initially had me shooting at a really high ISO, it wasn’t until the third stop that I was finally getting the hang of it – lowering the ISO, and upping the exposure time, that the shots really started coming out. Having Flosi help out where he could was great.
There are a lot of photos here, I wasn’t particularly judicious about editing them down, you can see where I played with exposure, where I had the ISO so high all you can see is grain. But hopefully you can see the ridiculous majesty, the surreal experience that was had. I want to do it all over again.