Where's Dariel? – Travel Blog

Northern Lights in Iceland – The First Encounter

‘That looks like the Northern Lights!’ I thought to myself as I looked out of the window. I was pleasantly surprised and excited at the sight when I jolted awake from my short nap. The warm and dark mini bus was taking us out of Reykjavik to catch the Northern Lights. This was 2 days before we were due to fly out of Iceland and probably our last and only chance to see the elusive nature wonder.

The mini bus driver spotted the same thing I saw and pulled up by the side road. Everyone got off the bus excitedly with some still uncertain what they were looking for / at. To be fair, the Northern Lights were quite pale-looking from where we were standing – they could easily be mistaken as clouds.

northern lights iceland

Not very prominent Northern Lights at about 11:30pm.

Those with tripods quickly set up our gears and started snapping away. We couldn’t really see the light green colour of the Northern Lights clearly with our naked eyes. It took a few attempts capturing them on the camera before anyone could figure out their exact location.

It was my first time seeing the Northern Lights and couldn’t contain my happiness. I was ecstatic after successfully taking my first proper photograph of the Aurora Borealis.

northern lights iceland

The driver felt that where we weren’t at a good location so he got us all back into the minibus and drove further down the road which seemed to be nearer to where the performance was taking place. There was also less light pollution from the nearby town and cars, definitely a better spot than before. We hung around there adoring, admiring and photographing the incredible nature for the rest of the night.

northern lights iceland

Less light pollution and clearer streaks of aurora display across the sky

I could hear people asking our driver what settings they should use on their cameras. They were fumbling around and literally wasting precious time! Fortunately I was well prepared for the photo shoot (yes I’m gloating (>.<)). I familiarised myself with the newly bought camera from Downtown Reykjavik (don’t ask, haha) back in the hotel and remembered the camera settings for the Northern Lights. Here is a simple table that should be helpful for beginners like me.

northern lights camera settings

The photo shoot went smoothly right from the start and I only needed to make some minor adjustments every now and then to see the different effects.

northern lights iceland

This was captured on my new Canon G7 Mark II at F1.8, Exposure 10 seconds

We were in for a treat as you can see, the aurora display was magnificent! It kept moving and changing shape allowing us to capture the beautiful lights.

northern lights iceland

northern lights iceland

There was a couple who didn’t bring their tripod and stuck with me the whole time. They checked out the photos on my camera and were exclaiming how beautiful the Northern Lights were each time the camera snapped. I offered to take a few photos for them and even used them as my models when I tested out the iPhone flash. The effects were satisfactory and I managed to get a clearer photo of my face with the Northern Lights in the background.

northern lights iceland

That’s me with no flashlight

northern lights iceland

With trial and error on others before I got my own photo. It’s not sharp but at least I can see my face 🙂

The trick was to point the flashlight against the white snowy ground to allow the diffused light to reflect onto the subject. Without doubt, it looked better than pointing the flash directly at the subject.

We stayed at the same location for more than an hour and watched the Northern Lights dance around in the sky. They were changing shapes and intensities every minute – what a show!

It was freezing out there and by the end of it all, I almost couldn’t feel my hands and feet. But, definitely no regrets!

When we left, the Northern Lights were still giving their grand performance for the night. It was breathtaking!

northern lights iceland

So What are Northern Lights?

Simply put, the Northern Lights, are the result of electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with the earth’s atmosphere. They are known as the Aurora Borealis when they occur in the northern hemisphere, If the same thing show up in the southern hemisphere, they are called Aurora Australis.

The auroral displays can appear in a range of colours in the shade of red, yellow, green, blue and violet but pale green and pink are the most common. The colours displayed are determined by the oxygen and/or hydrogen levels in the atmosphere. And the duration of the displays also vary from a few minutes to a few hours – it all depends on one’s luck.

We were extremely blessed that night to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis for a good full hour (could be more if we didn’t have to leave). It was such an exhilarating experience that I couldn’t sleep even after getting my much needed hot shower back in the hotel!

*All photos in this post have not been edited in anyway.

northern lights iceland

Have you seen the Northern Lights? Here is how you can watch the Northern Lights without a guided tour.

21 thoughts on “Northern Lights in Iceland – The First Encounter

  1. pennyglobetrove

    I know exactly what you mean about trial and error. It is exactly what happened to us. If it wasn’t for some more experienced photographers we may have not go any pics at all!

  2. leah sylvia

    Wow all this info is awesome thankyou! I want to try get to Iceland this year and would have had no idea about the camera settings so will definitely be referring back to this :]

    1. Dariel Post author

      You are welcome! Remember the 2 most important things-tripod and set your camera to infinity, otherwise everything will be blurry 🙂

  3. Cali

    I am dying to see the Northern Lights. Your photography tips are so helpful for a novice like me! I have pinned this so I can refresh my memory later!!

  4. Suzanne (PhilaTravelGirl)

    I did see them on an epic adventure and like the rest didn’t set the camera before I got there so I played with it as did guides and hoped for the best. I did manage some good shots but really enjoyed watching them without the camera

    1. Dariel Post author

      That’s great! I agree that besides taking photographs, it is important to just watch the lights and enjoy the experience.

  5. Alex

    Sounds brilliant! That’s cool that you got to see them in Iceland — I read that’s iffy given Iceland’s frequent cloudy skies. You’re a lucky one, it seems 🙂

    1. Dariel Post author

      That’s really true! We had pretty bad weather throughout the trip and it was the last 2 days that we got lucky.

  6. Pingback: Northern Lights in Iceland - Grotta Lighthouse - Where's Dariel?

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