Iceland is conveniently located when it comes to spotting the northern lights. Witnessing them dance across the black sky is an extraordinary experience never to be forgotten.
The northern lights, or Aurora Borealis, are a celestial phenomenon created when particles from the sun interact with the atmosphere in the Earth’s magnetic field. This releases energy, causing peculiar luminous green streaks across the skies.
There is no single ideal location for sightings. It varies depending on weather conditions. On clear winter nights, sightseeing trips are organized around this spectacular—though fickle—natural phenomenon. These tours are recommended as the guides are skilled in “hunting” the lights—finding locations with the best conditions for seeing them on a given night. Plus, they will probably be able to tell you all there is to know about the phenomenon. Moreover, several hotels in the countryside offer a special northern lights wake-up service.
There are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights during your stay, but the chances immediately increase outside populated areas, away from the light-pollution of the capital.
Make sure to bundle up in layers of warm clothing as Icelandic winter nights can be very cold. Bringing a hot drink in a thermos is also a great idea.
How to Take a Photo of the Northern Lights
First thing first: Clear skies. If the weather cooperates, you are already half-way there. You can always check weather conditions, cloud coverage and Aurora activity on the Icelandic Met Office Website.
As far as equipment goes, the most important thing you can bring is a tripod and a cable release to avoid the dreaded shaken-photo-syndrome. If you don’t have a cable release, set your camera’s self-timer to two or ten seconds’ shutter delay, if available.
There is no single setting for your camera that ensures great captures, but if you have manual options, you are probably best served with experimenting with various combinations of ISO, aperture, and exposure settings. As a rule of thumb, ISO setting between 800 and 3200, aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6, and shutter speed at between 15 seconds and 30 seconds have proven effective.
Different combinations may give very different results. Higher ISO setting will allow you to capture faster exposures, but may also result in grainier images. Note that shutter speeds of above 15 seconds will result in slight star movement. Wider angle lenses are usually more versatile in low light settings, but longer lenses give you different options for compositions. Make sure that you remove all lens filters, as they may distort images. You will probably get the best results with manual setting for infinite focal length.
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