Northern Lights: Top Tips for Iceland Photo Tours

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) is an extraordinary thing – the sky crackles, with undulating swathes of color dancing across the sky. Where best to see it? Iceland, of course! With its wide open areas, lack of trees, low city lights, and plenty of room to view the sky, this is one of the best places on the planet to view the Northern Lights. If you’re a photographer (like me!), there are specific tips you’ll need to know, to ensure the best photos possible. 
Northern Lights: Top Tips for Iceland Photo Tours

Learn from locals

My very best tip is to take a Northern Lights photography tour. Why? Wherever I go, I try to learn from locals, who are experts at place and niche. This goes double for photography – they know the best light, the best locations, the best settings for your cameras, and give the most useful suggestions for personal comfort (i.e., which cold weather gear to wear, how to keep warm, etc.). Taking a photo tour with knowledgeable local experts is the quickest way to learn – and get the photos you want (and those you didn't know you wanted).
Northern Lights: Top Tips for Iceland Photo Tours

Know your seasons

Northern lights happen when the air is crisp and cold, so a summer trip to see them will be fruitless. Know your seasons, look up the best months for aurora, and make your travel plans based around that. In Iceland, you can see northern lights from the end of August through the beginning of April. The best months for aurora are December – March, for both clear, crisp weather and the absence of the midnight sun. You can see northern lights from the end of August through March.
Know your seasons! From Northern Lights: Top Tips for Iceland Photo Tours

Study before you go

Do your research on the northern lights, including the science behind them. Excellent resources include my favorite, the Asahi Aurora Classroom. Here you can not only explore the science of aurora, but also the history of our fascination with the northern lights, research into the northern lights (and the theories of eminent researchers throughout history, including Aristotle, Seneca, Ben Franklin, and Edmond Halley), interesting facts, new mysteries of the aurora (e.g., morphology, the black aurora, a theta aurora, and aural sound), and real time geomagnetic and solar data and predictions. 

Science Geek?

Me, too. Here are some facts.

The Kp index, ranging from 0-9, is a measurement of geomagnetic activity. The main island of Iceland, at 64.9631° N, is just south of the Arctic Circle. The northern island of Grimsey, Iceland, at 66° 34’N, is located in the Arctic Circle. 

Here are some resources for auroral activity:
Space Weather Conditions at NOAA (including the aurora) 
The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has a daily forecast for Auroral activity 
More daily forecast goodness at the Iceland Met Office 
Be a science geek! From Northern Lights: Top Tips for Iceland Photo Tours

Clear Skies

Of course, winter also brings cloudy skies and snow. This will interfere with viewing the Northern Lights, as the sky won’t be visible. Make sure you have scheduled plenty of time in Iceland to account for this! 
You'll need clear skies! From Northern Lights: Top Tips for Iceland Photo Tours

Lack of Lights

Head away from city lights to get the best views of Northern Lights. For this same reason, minimize cell phone use, as well as other devices that light up, and travel at times opposite of a full moon (here’s a link to Iceland’s lunar calendar). It’ll just take your eyes that much longer to readjust to dark skies, shining stars, and dancing aurora.

Meanwhile… there’s plenty to photograph

Perhaps you’d like to learn how to photograph glacial ice and ice caves, or visit windswept moors, the ever-present multitude of waterfalls in Iceland, towering mountains and volcanoes, geysers and rifts, or discover reflections of ice, sky, and water. Don’t worry - if you have cloudy or overcast days where you can’t see the northern lights, you will still have plenty to photograph
There's so much to photograph! From Northern Lights: Top Tips for Iceland Photo Tours

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