you decide to visit Iceland during our dark months (from end of August to maybe March/April), you are running a high risk of getting to experience the Northern lights aka Aurora Borealis. The dancing lights in the sky has attracted tourists to the northern hemisphere (and southern) for decades and no wonder for it is a truly amazing experience that will, guaranteed, blow you away the first time you are treated to a proper light show.
What is Northern lights?
So what is Northern lights then? For us mortals, the easiest explanation sounds something like this: On the sun’s surface, there are continous explosions that shoots off electrically charged particles some like to call sun dust. When those particles hits the earth’s atmosphere, they light up. These explosions happens all the time but one can only see the entering of the atmosphere when it’s dark so it has nothing to do with seasons really, we can just see it when it’s dark. You have the same phenomenon on the south pole but then it’s called southern lights or Aurora Australis.
Why are there different colors?
The color of Northern lights depends on what gasses excites the sun dust, the electrically charged particles. For example the green color which is the most common color is caused by the particles hitting oxygen. It can also cause a red light. It’s like Neon signs, you get different colors depending on what gas the light tubes are filled with. Every gas creates a different color of light: helium – orange/white, neon – red/orange, argon – lavender, krypton – gray/green, and so on.
One can also guess the altitude of the light by its color:
Where to see Northern lights?
You can only see the Northern lights on the north and south hemisphere and that is due to a concentration of the earth’s magnetic fields on the poles. The higher/lower you go, the greater chance to see the lights.
When you are hunting for the Northern lights in Iceland, one doesn’t have to go on special tours to get to see them. The biggest issue is to stay away from any light pollution. That comes from things like street lights, cars, shops, lights outside big companies etc. So if your Northern lights forecast app says there is a high propability for Northern lights, just jump into your camper van rental and drive away from any village, any artificial light that will disturb the sighting. It goes without saying that the sky needs to be clear, no clouds, rain, snow or fog.
The bigger question as to where to see the lights is what do you want more in the picture? If you are happy with pointing the camera to the skies and hope for the best, you can go anywhere where its dark but if you are also looking at composure, foreground, background etc, you have too many places to choose from to line them up here but water, desolate farms, churches etc makes excellent extras in a picture with Northern lights.
Read more: Winter camping in Iceland
Photographing Northern lights
Most of us traveling anywhere in the world, we want to take pictures to show them at home what you experienced, same goes with the Northern lights. To be honest, you need a good camera to get great pics due to the low light and long exposures. In short, you’ll need a tripod, a bright lens and a remote trigger or use a self timer.
Have in mind that the Northern lights are not static and they move around, sometimes really fast so it’s a little bit like photographing a waterfall. The longer the exposure, the blurier the water. Same goes with the lights.
You also want to use as high ISO number as possible but it’s a trial and error too for a too high ISO number, the grainier the picture.
What to bring when hunting for the Northern lights
During the times when you can see the lights, it will be cold so make sure you dress well. Our campers have a heater so you can keep that running so you can always seek warmth but remember to leave any cameras outside for otherwise the lenses will fog up and create a hassle for you.
Dress in layers and bring a hat, scarf, gloves, the lot so you will not be cold. Bring something warm to drink like hot chocolate, or make it yourself with the cooking equipment provided for you.
Hot tip: We highly recommend you get yourself a pair of proper Icelandic wool socks and where them with no other socks under. It migh feel itchy at first but when you get used to them, you will absolutely love them and your feet will never have been warmer.
Northern lights is really something spectacular to experience, especially if one hasn’t done that before. It will blow your mind. We truly hope you will see them when you are driving around in your camper around the roads of Iceland.
All the Northern lights photos above and in the video are taken by contestants
in our CamperStories competiton. Thank you all for your contributions!
Happy hunting! #WohoCamper
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