Iceland Part 4 - The Auroras

After the long and bumpy ride back I had to drive west towards Lake Myvatn. Close to my destination I looked out of the window and up on the sky. There I saw some long light streaks, first I thought it was just clouds, but I did know that I could expect the northern lights, so when I looked properly my heartbeat and enthusiasm just skyrocketed! There they were… the Aurora Borealis…! It’s hard to explain how excited I was about finally seeing this phenomenon with my own eyes. It was the closest I got to that childhood excitement we all remember so clearly, when you just can’t keep your joy inside! I knew that the northern lights can come and go rather fast, so I grabbed my camera and tripod and started shooting! Here’s my first picture of the auroras in Iceland.

After checking in to Guesthouse Stöng I went out again. I simply couldn’t let this chance pass by! From my experiences with landscape photography, I knew that I had to find a strong foreground and from my preparations back home, I had the perfect location in mind! Around 40km from the Guesthouse there’s a volcanic crater called Hverfjall. After the drive back to Hverfjall and locating the parking lot at the foot of the crater I started climbing. Now, the climb itself isn’t that difficult, but when you add winds, absolute darkness and dust and that you haven’t been at the location before it does become a little challenging. Luckily I came prepared for exactly this situation with a little forehead lamp.

Since Hverfjall is mostly black ash, dust, sand and stone it does not give away much light, so despite my lamp the entire volcano crater was, to my eyes, nothing but a big silhouette and the dusty strong winds did not help either. At some points, the wind pushed me a bit close to the edges, but I carefully continued around the top of the crater to get a nice composition with the auroras. Once I set up my tripod and camera, it was only about trying.

I had a pretty good idea about the settings of the camera. Exposing for too long just makes a blur out of the auroras and you do want to show the nice textures. A 20-second exposure seemed to work fine. Obviously you want to shoot with the lowest aperture to get enough light and the ISO can be changed according to the settings above, but also as low as possible. For my gear, I found a good balance with a 20sec exposure, aperture of f/2.8 and ISO 800. To get the foreground I made exposures of 30sec at f/2.8 and ISO 3200. I later combined the foreground and sky in Photoshop.

The northern lights constantly changed its shapes and textures. In a few seconds, the lights could ignite and lit up the entire sky. I was very surprised by how fast it changed! It was unbelievably beautiful. From time to time, I just sat and looked up, no camera between the magic and me – just staring in awe and wonder. Other times I was dancing around in happiness – also to keep warm.

After 3-4 hours both the auroras and my camera batteries were dying, so I decided to go down and return to Guesthouse Stöng, where a well-deserved sleep waited.

Experiencing the northern lights like this has definitely been one of the greatest experiences in my life! I cannot recommend enough to everybody to seek them out – with or without a camera, it’s an awe-inspiring experience!