Hunting for the Northern Lights

I have seen some photos of the Northern Lights float on the internet, but the photos usually look super professional. Most people gasp in disbelieve after I showed them my Northern Lights photo from our Iceland Trip, some even said they didn't think it was real. 

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For those of you who didn't read my previous post (its right here), we visited Iceland in February 14 - 19. Yes, yes, I know...this post is super late. But better late than never? 

If you want to photograph the Northern lights, you will need to set your camera to Manual, f/2.8 aperture, start with 1600 ISO then adjust towards lower numbers, anything pass 1600 ISO would start to look grainy, and shutter speed at 30 seconds. Make sure you test out the camera setting before the Northern Lights appear to get the optimal camera setting for your situation, so you don't waste time testing your camera when the lights appear. Northern Lights may disappear quickly, especially if it is windy and/or there are clouds around. You will also need a tripod and a remote for your camera to make sure your photo don't come out blurry. I can't expect myself to hold the camera for 30 seconds and not move at all. Since even 1-2 seconds of movement will blur your image. 

I won't be able to catch the Northern Lights with the lenses I had at the time, and I was debating if I should get a new lens just for the Northern Lights. Sen convinced me to and I am so happy I listened to him! The Northern Lights were amazing, and it would really bum me out if we are not able to catch it on camera. 

I decided on purchasing the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Ultra Wide Angle Fixed Lens w/Built-in AE Chip for Nikon.  The main reason why is because of the price, $329.00, comparing with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14 - 24mm f/2.8G ED at $1,897.00. I am currently using a Nikon D3300 Digital SLR I also purchased a water proof camera case to protect my gear from Iceland's unpredictable weather. 

There are a lot of Northern Light Tours in Iceland, but many bloggers recommended to not book a tour and hunt for it yourself, and so we did. The visibility of the Northern Lights varies based on it's activity level, how dark and clear the sky is during the time as well as how much light pollution is around you. I used both of these websites to help with the forecast:

1. Aurora Forecast  - this shows the aurora activity at current time

2. Aurora forecast for Iceland - I used this to tell the cloud activity although it also tells aurora level

Light pollution is strong in Reykjavik, with some exceptions and Grotta Lighthouse is one of them.  The wind was strong when we were there, so visibility was not great, we still went out and waited at the Grotta Lighthouse for two nights for the sky to clear up, in the process, we saw a very faint hint of Northern Lights, but because the activity level was so low, we can't say we actually saw the lights. 

I really didn't want to leave the country without seeing the lights with my own eyes, and the 3-day tour of Southern/South East part of Iceland was our last chance to see them. We stayed at the Selfoss Hostel during the first night and went out once it got dark. We walked over to the end of a street, close to what looked like a lake (it was too dark to tell) and waited. When the activities seemed strong enough according to the forecast sites I mentioned above, we looked everywhere and was not able to see anything. 

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Then I started to play around with my camera and that is when I saw some green on the camera screen, hiding behind the faint clouds. When we looked up again, there it is! Green glowing light in the sky. What we have learned is that it will take your eyes 30 minutes to 1 hour to adjust, and with all the street lights around, faint Northern Light is really hard to spot with un-experienced eyes. We left after the lights faded, went to the supermarket nearby and got some food to snack on. 

The second night, we stayed at a very cute hostel that was owned by the tour company, Nice Travel.  Very remote and is situated right in front of a small waterfall, very cute and beautiful. We didn't plan to get out to see the lights that night because the wind was very strong. However, our neighbors/tour mates came knocking on our door around midnight. "NORTHERN LIGHTS" they screamed. We all went out to see and it was AMAZING! As you can see in the photo, we couldn't help ourselves but to go out and take a photo with the lights. It was so windy that I slipped and fell on the ice (the road was all covered in ice) while being blown away by the wind while I was on all fours. Yes, you can say I risked my life haha! But it was worth it. There was a point the lights started to change color! I saw them in purple! 

I know my photos are not like any of the photos you see online, since they are a little blurry. But I am still very happy that I am able to get it on camera and sharing with you right now. 

For those of you who have not seen it yet, GO! See it for yourself! I know I will want to see them again, at a different destination perhaps. How wonderful this world is, how much more to explore and see is beyond my imagination, and I intend to find out. 

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