Bucket List Check #20 - Viewing Iceland's Northern Lights

In 2015 my family visited Iceland...in the wintertime. I'm sure you're wondering why the heck we would want to visit Iceland in the winter? Four reasons, all of which were on my bucket list...
  1. To see the Northern Lights;
  2. To experience New Year's Eve, Viking-style and witness their amazing fireworks displays and bonfires;
  3. To bath in Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon - a hot spring in the middle of a volcanic field;
  4. To go snowmobiling on one of Iceland's glaciers.
Viewing the Northern Lights was one of my top priorities. I had seen some amazing photographs and I wanted to see if this was up to all the hype. So we booked a tour and headed out....around 4:00 PM which was dusk in Iceland.

One thing my family, coming from Texas where you get a ton of sunlight, had difficulty adapting to, was the absence of light during the wintertime in Iceland. Sunrise is around 11 AM during that time and sunset was around 3:30 pm! Not a very long day!
Jake in Reykjavík Iceland in the Winter
My son, Jake, right in the center of Reykevik.
This is about as bright as it gets in Iceland during the wintertime!
Me and Jake at the shipping port in Reykjavík Iceland
At the shipping port in downtown Reykjavík

Heading out, our tour guide took us in a van and stopped along the side of the road, just a few miles outside of Reykjavík, because he could spot them coming out. Looking up, I didn't really see the vibrant colors I was used to seeing in the photographs. One thing that I think a lot of people don't realize (including myself) is that viewing the Northern Lights is like viewing the Milky Way. You cannot enjoy the full beauty of it with your naked eye. You actually have to have a pretty decent camera and tripod to view the amazing colors in the sky. Because to the naked eye, the Northern Lights just looked like a different kind of cloud.

Personally, I would have preferred a better foreground/background scenery for my Northern Lights shots and when I go back, I plan to go out on a Northern Lights tour with an actual photographer who knows where the best spots are to shoot pictures. I was one of the few tourists who brought a camera (and tripod!) which even if you're not into photography, is still worth it to bring, in order to get the most out your experience.

Once you get your camera focused on it, and steady (on a tripod of course), experiment with the different settings of your camera (if you shoot in Manual) to capture Mother Nature's amazing display. In particular, set your aperture at the lowest it can go, and play around with the shutter speed, trying to keep the shutter open longer to capture more light. With longer shutter speeds (i.e. the lens is open longer) you must have a good tripod and shutter remote to keep the camera absolutely still, or your images may turn out blurry (like several of mine). I actually did have a tripod, but I kept bumping my camera taking my gloves off and on. It is rather cold and I think it helps to have a glove liner on when you take off your main glove to handle the camera buttons.

Catching the Northern Lights at Dusk Outside Reykjavík Iceland
This is a nice image I took along the highway. Cars were still passing and you can see the tail lights trailing with the long exposure. The sun is still setting at this point.

Mike, Jake and Me Watching the Northern Lights Outside Reykjavík Iceland
Our family under a Northern Lights "rainbow"...

We did venture off to another location that was near a steam power plant and was able to capture some better family portraits with the Northern Lights.

Watching the Northern Lights Outside Reykjavík Iceland

The whole tour lasted a few hours and was quite enjoyable. Next time, though, I'm going out with a photographer as a guide and making sure I bundle up. It's definitely cold out there!

Have you seen the Northern Lights yet? Is it next on your bucket list? Comment below!

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