TRIPOD – no northern lights photo is good unless taken while using a tripod.
REMOTE CONTROL – helps to reduce movement of a camera when triggering the shutter; delayed shutter will do as well if you do not have a remote control.
POCKET FLASHLIGHT or HEADLIGHT – not only can you light up your friends faces on the photos, but it will help you to see on your camera while making the right settings and also to see around yourself and where you are stepping.
WARM CLOTHES – believe it or not, it will make your photos better as you will be more willing to spend your time on making the right settings. See more details below.
BATTERY – make sure your battery is fully charged because long exposures take more energy than usual photos.
Manual settings of SHUTTER, APERTURE, and ISO do your masterpiece!
If you are not sure what we are talking about, study your camera manual prior to the tour, it pays off
APERTURE: in general, keep it as much open as your lens allows you; in other words, use the lowest “F” number possible – usually 2,5 to 3,5.
ISO: is the sensitivity of the sensor to the light; raise it higher than usual, to about 800 – 1600 depending on the quality of your camera and strength of the northern lights.
SHUTTER speed: it very much depends on the type of your camera/lens and strength of the Northern Lights, but start with 15 sec and play around that number according to the results.
FLASH: do not use the camera flash, unless you really know what you are doing If you wish to take a photo of your friends and northern lights in the background, use your pocket flashlight to light up their face and ask your friends to stay very still for the whole time when the shutter is open.
FOCUS: Make sure the camera is focused correctly; focus on some light spot – if you shoot only northern lights without people, focus on some brighter star or the moon; if you take a photo of people, make sure the focus is on their face. Some cameras have difficulties with auto focus at night, then turn it off and focus manually. For a photo of northern lights only, set the focus on almost infinity, but if you have people in the foreground, do not forget to refocus on their face.
Further tips for being warm:)
Get yourself “heating pads” to put into your mittens, they stay warm for about 8 hours; you will love them since they will save you a frozen finger or two. You can purchase them in outdoor stores.
Consider using a double layer of gloves, one pair of thin ones to fit in thicker mittens with the heating pads. This is especially useful when you need to change settings on your camera – which is nearly impossible in fluffy mittens, thus when you take them off, you will still have at least one layer of fitting gloves to prevent you from instant freezing and those will still allow you to use small buttons on your camera correctly.
Having a warm tea in your therm bottle will make you a favorite travel mate
Well, warm clothing is a prerequisite for having a good time on a Northern Lights tour no matter whether you will be taking photos or not, so forget about jeans or sneakers and dress in warm and windproof clothes!
Ready for Northern Lights tour? Let’s go out and play!
If you’ve always dreamed of seeing the beautiful phenomenon called the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) come visit us in Iceland next winter.
This natural phenomenon is rather unpredictable hence the name: “Hunt for the Northern Lights”. There are a few pointers that we can offer to help you figure out the optimal time for your trip to Iceland or the best nights to go out.
1)What time of the year? The tours are offered from September to beginning of April. It is in theory possible to spot the lights in August and late April too, but the chances are much smaller and during inconvenient times of the night – therefore we do not operate tours in this time. From May to July it is not possible to see the Northern Lights, as nights never get completely dark in summer in Iceland. Now which of September to March are the best months? The answer is not that clear. September is usually not the best choice but October to March do not differ so much – feel free to plan your vacations when it fits you:)
2) The only factor that is absolutely certain is the Lunar cycle. If at all possible choose travel dates that coordinate with New Moon or Quarter Moon since moonlight on non cloudy days tends to wash out weak Aurora displays.
3) Once you arrive to Iceland, keep an eye out for the weather conditions in terms of clear or cloudy skies and ask the locals for advice on reading the weather forecasts. Icelandic weather is known to change rapidly, what you see on the screens the night before or in the morning does not always stay true come night time. Unfortunately weather is not possible to plan, do not waste your time by checking long term weather forecasts.
4) Let us translate the scientific part of it – that is the tricky part. We can tell you what is going on in terms of energy, solar wind and such. We do not operate our Northern Lights Tours unless there is a good possibility of a display.
5) A recommendation – for your benefits… Do dress warmly; bring windproof overcoat, hats, scarfs, mittens and warm shoes. You will enjoy the show much better toasty warm. It can get cold out there at night, it is Iceland after all.
Such a busy week! After going on the Snæfellsnes tour last Sunday (see “Magical Snæfellsnes”), I also went on a tour to Hekla Valley, where we would be exploring the surroundings of a volcano with the same name. This is an active volcano, though its last eruption was in February 2000. In the middle ages, Hekla was more commonly known as “The Gateway to Hell”. Today’s tour is slightly different than the usual Hekla Valley tour because the snow made some roads impassable.
First stop – snowed in caves
It was a small group for today’s tour. I was joined by a family of four, who had also been along on the Snæfellsnes tour on Sunday. Much like on Sunday, we were again guided by Gummi – the owner of the company. The sun shone brightly as we left Reykjavik behind. While Gummi tried his best to answer the group’s questions and told his stories, I enjoyed the surroundings of the city in the sunlight.
We were soon driving through a lava field and Gummi told us about the caves that have been discovered in Iceland’s lava fields. We stopped at one of these caves, the Raufarholshellir, to have a look. Once there, we discovered that the entrance/exit was completely blocked by snow. There were other holes in the ground to the cave, but Gummi said we couldn’t get in there without having to dig ourselves out through the snow. So all we could do was look into the cave from above, which was already quite spectacular in itself.
Calm beaches and strong females
We then continued further towards the south coast, where we made another stop at a beautiful piece of a black sand beach. Usually, the ocean on the south coast is quite rough with dangerous waves able to drag you into the ocean without warning. However, the waves crashed somewhat further away from the shore, where you could just make out a line of rocks, which made the beach rather calm. Though, we could see many traces of how far the waves had gone in the storms that we had had during the weekend, with driftwood going as far as to the main road.
After this lovely visit to the beach, we continued to a small fishing village, called Eyrarbakki. Gummi drove around while telling us interesting stories about many of the buildings we were passing by. Soon after, we were already in Stokkseyri, where we visited the “Puridarbud” – fisherman’s hut – which was built in memory of Thuridur Einarsdottir, a female fishing-boat captain. Unfortunately, the door seemed to be locked so we had to simply at it from the outside, though there was a window through which we could look inside.
Beautiful nature on the way
One very short coffee break later and we continued along the south coast for a while longer, before driving towards the highlands. Along the way, we stopped to admire the sheep, by request from one of the people in the group. We drove for some time while enjoying the landscape and Gummi’s stories.
Shortly after, we came across a lovely Icelandic forest. Now, every forest in Iceland, I had seen so far, was not that impressive in size. But this came quite close to what could be called a decent forest. We took a little walk on the neatly kept path through the forest, and turned around after walking for a little bit, all the while sniffing the wonderful forest air.
After this short walk, we were ready to get back on the bus and continue our way.
The next stop would be the Hjálparfoss waterfall, the name of this waterfall means the “helping falls”. The land here is quite rough for traveling and the Lush Hjálp area seems great for resting and letting the horses graze – the perfect help during travels. While looking at the waterfalls from a distance Gummi tells us that, if you use your imagination, you can see an elephant, a lion and a chipmunk in the rocks right by the waterfall. Sadly, I only managed to find the elephant, no chipmunk or lion to be found.
After this, we visited Stöng – an old Viking farmhouse. Although about the size of a house for a small family, Gummi told us a farmhouse this size was usually the home of 80 persons at a time! We can only imagine how cramped it must have been. While walking around the house, we could perfectly see its building structure, which was interesting to see.
Hekla museum and volcano
Then we drove to the mountain pass. It took us quite some time to drive there, but Gummi kept us entertained all the way. We were getting an increasingly clearer view of Hekla, herself. When we arrived at the Hekla Museum,we were welcomed by shut door. But Gummi made a call and it was opened and running within minutes. The exhibition was very interesting, with a lot of facts and figures put together with videos from the area and of the latest eruptions. The museum was built using lava stone and ash, which makes its exterior quite interesting. Also, from the museum, you have a wonderful view of Hekla, which was not completely covered in clouds by now.
The visit to the Hekla Museum concluded today’s tour. As we were driving back towards the main road, we could just start to make out the Eyjafjallajökull, coming out from underneath the clouds. Gummi stopped to let us get some pictures of this notorious volcano, before continuing our way back to Reykjavik. This was a wonderful tour – the amazing weather, Gummi’s countless stories, and the enjoyable company of today’s group made it unforgettable.
The Northern Lights tour is one of the trickier tours. It revolves around Aurora Borealis, an unpredictable natural phenomenon that paints the sky with green and purple colors. For this tour to be successful you need clear skies and a lot of solar activity, to say the least.
Gateway to Iceland pays close attention to these aspects whenever they have a Northern Lights tour scheduled (NOTE: every day between October and April). If the conditions do not promise Northern Light visibility, the tour is canceled. This means that when the tour does go out, there is an increased chance of seeing the Lights but, still, there is no guarantee. The solar activity is supposed to be highly active this week and when the latest update for the weather forecast predicted clear skies, I decided to join the Northern Lights tour for Monday night.
I had already been on the Northern Lights tour on my very first night in Iceland. However, due to exhaustion from traveling that day, I couldn’t help but sleep through half of it. Because I want to give a completely accurate description of the tours, I decided not to write a blog post about that tour, even though the moments I was awake during it were very enjoyable.
Let’s start the trip!
I would be joining Gummi’s group for tonight, as he picks me up just after 21:30, as the last person in the minibus. While driving away from the light pollution of Reykjavik we paid close attention to the sky and all we could see – were clouds.
The first stop we made was at a side road, where no street lights could be found. Everyone got off the bus and started looking up at the sky – still only clouds. We weren’t there for too long when Gummi started shouting enthusiastically that we should get back on the bus because he had just received a phone call from someone telling him that the skies in the south were completely clear.
While we were driving away Gummi told us what exactly are we looking for – sometimes, when the lights aren’t bright enough, they can look like a thin white cloud, but you can still see its colors when you take a picture of it. Gummi also gave instructions on how to set the settings on our cameras if we wanted to take photos. He also told us that we could always ask him for help. When we reached the point where the skies became clearer, we started scanning the sky for something that might be the famous Northern Lights. Often, Gummi would park the car and just take a picture of what could be the Lights, to see if they were clear on the camera.
First glances of Aurora
After a while, Gummi told us to get out of the bus and pointed towards a very faint white arch. It was very cold outside and when everyone had seen enough we went back on the bus to stay warm. At that point, I started wondering, “What if we don’t see them tonight? What if all we have to settle with is these faint lights?”. While these thoughts crossed my mind, Gummi looked to his side, through the window, and said: “The lights are becoming brighter, they’re illuminating!”. So I opened the car door, assured the others could get off the bus as well and walked to the other side of the coach.
And there it was. A beautiful green arch right above us!
The beautiful green arch
It was a beautiful display already on its own, but then the Lights started to dance! I had heard people saying: ”We saw the lights dancing above us” and always thought it was just an expression. Not anymore as there they were, literally moving through the sky. To top it all off, I managed to take pictures of the spectacle! Alright, I took them with Gummi’s camera, and Gummi had done all the settings, but I pressed the button to take the pictures, and that’s important too!
We had as much time as we wanted to look at the Lights. It wasn’t until I felt like my feet had turned into ice cubes, that the lights faded and I could get myself back on the coach, along with a few others who couldn’t get enough of the Lights. After driving only for a short while, Gummi looked outside again and said: ”They’re back!”. So he parked by the side of the road again, for the last look.
When these lights faded, we headed back to Reykjavik, still scanning the sky constantly to see if we had one more chance to see them. However, our luck had run out. We returned to the city tired, yet completely satisfied, because seeing the Northern Lights is definitely worth losing a bit of sleep over.