Do's and don'ts when chasing the Northern Lights!

I think most of you are familiar with the 'bucket list' concept. (Yes, this list of things that keeps on growing, because no matter how many topics you get to cross off, there's always more to discover in this world).

Are the Northern lights on your bucket list?

  • Yes? Great! Now put it in your top 5 and stop making excuses on why this won't be possible yet.
  • No? Are you from another planet? Put it on your bucket list ASAP!

The Northern Lights, officially known as Aurora Borealis, are a natural phenomenon, caused by the collision of magnetospheric charged particles and solar winds. I won't get into the scientific details here, but I guess you could compare it to a cocktail. If the right ingredients are put together, you get an amazing result.

The Northern lights will go from bright green, to red, pink and purple. You'll see them passing by in different shapes, winding and twirling from lines to curls, glowing strong one moment and dissapearing the next. The real magic however happens when they seem to fall down from the sky like curtains. This is truly a jaw-dropping, magical experience! One of those things you have to experience to feel the true impact it has on you.

Unfortunately there's never a guarantee you'll see the Northern Ligths, but we did want to give you some useful tips on how to chase them or capture them on camera:

  1. Check the Aurora activity forecast.
    When in Iceland, make sure to regularly check the website!
    In order to see the actual light show, the Aurora activity needs to be intense enough. This is measured by the Kp index, a scale of numbers between 0 (very few or none activity) and 9 (Major Aurora activity). We were lucky to hit a 5 and (as you can see on the pictures) get a great show!
  2. Embrace the darkness.
    Lights make it impossible to witness the Aurora so :
    - Wait until nightfall
    - Find a spot where there's no light pollution (in other words: leave town!)
    We went to the coastline near Grótta, a little place not far from Reykjavík.
  3. Make sure the sky is clear.
    The Northern Lights appear way above the clouds, so you won't see anything if the sky is covered by a fluffy white blanket.
  4. Be patient.
    Should you be dealing with a cloudy sky, then don't give up immediately! The first time we saw the Northern Lights (in Norway), the sky wasn't clear either. However, we were so determined to see them (as it was our last night out there), that we persisted on waiting. Around midnight, the wind created some clear spots, granting us our very first glimps of the Aurora. So worth the waiting!!!
  5. Be Positive but realistic.
    If the above topics are in your advantage, chances are you'll get to experience the Aurora. However, don't be too disappointed if you don't! You can't force the Northern Lights to pop up into the sky. At Vik we had an activity 3 and a clear sky, so by the time it was 23h, we were at the beach, cameras ready, prepared for at least some action. In the end, we didn't get to see anything, not even a green made us realize how lucky we had been that first night).
  6. Get layered.
    Being excited about possibly seeing the Northern Lights might keep you warm for a while, but a few hours underneath a clear sky can be freezing cold! We were wearing gloves, a hat, a scarf and our warmest clothes and we still had to do an entire fitness program of jumping jacks to stay warm enough.
  7. Turn around.
    If the activity is high enough, there will be lightshows all around you, so make sure to look in every possible direction! There was this moment, where we didn't know where to look first and we kept on pointing out different directions to eachother, saying: 'Wow, look over there and there and theeeeere!'.
  8. Take the right gear with you and know how to use it.
    Yes, it's dark when you're out there watching the Northern Lights. No, this doesn't mean you need a flash to take pictures! Place your tripod and let a long exposure do the work!
  9. Enjoy it!

Grótta's lighthouse