Two weeks ago I spent a few days in Iceland. My stopover from the Netherlands was in Reykjavik and made use of the opportunity to stay a bit longer. I really must say Iceland stole my heart. The diversity of the country is stunning. Never seen such breathtaking diverse landscapes this close together. It absolutely wowed me and I’ve only seen the South-West in these 5 days yet. I guess having a volcanoes and glaciers on one island makes for dramatic landscapes.
When I planned the trip I really, really hoped that I had a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. I knew my chances were slim as it is towards the end of the season for Iceland and there had to be clear skies. I found a website that gives you a very detailed prediction for the upcoming days. It took me a bit to figure out how it worked but it came down to the fact that the more green clouds you see on the map the less chance to see Northern lights. Plus you have to watch how much activity there was.
Well all days during my stay it was cloudy according to the forecast and not much activity, so not much luck on seeing any. But on Sunday there was a enormous wind. It really was blowing like crazy during the day. And when I checked into the hotel the lady said she was glad I made it as there was a Storm warning out. Oops…. Wasn’t aware of that….. But while checking in she said they had a Northern Light wake up system for their guests and asked if I wanted to be on that list. I would get a wake-up call if they were out. So I asked her if there would be a change of seeing Northern Lights tonight. And she said yes, as all that wind had blown all the clouds away. And it was funny she showed me the map of that website I’d been watching all along. So yes I said, please put me on that list.
Back in my room I did study that map again and it really had changed since the day before and I got all excited. I really, really wanted to see those green lights! So I took a shower and headed to bed. But laying in bed I just couldn’t go to sleep, I was that excited. What if they forgot to call me? How much time do you have to set up my photo gear? Tripod and such. Will it be to dark to do that?
So, to make a long story short, I got dressed and went out when the sun was down. Which was about 11:00pm. By then the night clerk was at the desk and asked him where was the best place to see them as I didn’t have any chance to scout out the town I was in. He showed me the place and it was just outside the backdoor of the hotel. He said to look towards the North-West as that’s where they usually came from. And stubborn as I am I questioned his judgement a bit. Shouldn’t you be seeing these lights best if you didn’t have any other lights around you? Their backyard was flooded in lights from the hotel and garden lights. So again I wondered what to do now… Decisions, decisions….
But, I got bundled up, as it was about 27F outside with the wind howling by about now. Utterly cold! But… I wanted to see those darn lights right? So you I better be prepared to turn into ice 🙂 I decided not to go outside the hotel as I really thought there was too much lights and the scenery was not all that attractive and drove out into the boonies….. Found an okay spot and projected my vision and camera towards the N/W sky. At first I was outside my car. But that wind, it just blew right through me. I had layers of cloths, a scarf, gloves and a hat, but I just was so cold. Incredibly cold….
I really wasn’t seeing any green in that sky and instead I was turning blue from the cold. Then I got the wonderful idea, to turn my car a bit, put the tripod out and… sit in the car myself and use the release cable from inside the car if the moment was right. Brilliant idea!! Just being out of that wind made it so much nicer. Just my luck, the Aurora Borealis might come on a night with howling winds!
And I sat there for about an 1,5hr until I think I saw something. Was that what I think it was? It looked greyish white but it was a beautiful sight. As if it was dancing…… Could it be? So I clicked and I’ll be darn! It was!!! Holy smokes. The Northern lights came in disguise. They were white, but turned green with the long exposure in my camera.
How cool was that? My heartbeat was racing. I forgot all about the things I read up before about photographing Northern Lights. I was in awe. Just in awe. Am I really looking at the Northern Lights. It was wasn’t that big of a spot in the sky, but it surely was the Aurora Borealis. I was so happy. That was über cool! And as quick as they came, it left again too. They were out for about 5 minutes or so I guess. And so I waited, and waited….. Nothing…. Just stars…. Pretty stars, but I just wanted a repeat of what I just witnessed. Those lights could become addictive. So I waited until 1:30AM and decided to call it a night. I saw them and they were super cool. Drove back to the hotel and started to unload my gear. I can tell you that’s not easy when you’re bundled up like I was. So when I finally got everything out and locked up the car, in the corner of my eye I saw a green glimpse…. What was that? And I look up. Holy moly, the whole sky around me was green.
I just dropped everything I had in my hands and was gasping. Gasping for air. It was just stunning…. So incredible wonderful. Wow, just wow…. It was like magic. Lights dancing in green. It took me a bit to come back to earth and grab my camera and tripod. But I surely did once I got some air in my brain again 😉
So here is that shot out of the parking lot. Ground lights every where….. But boy was it pretty! I wondered what I should do next. Should I drive back to my “in-the-boonies” spot or go to the place where the hotel clerk was talking about. And right when I was thinking that another car pulls up. It parks behind me and a girl comes out. Suitcase in her hand. I’m still in awe and bedazzled by all that pretty green. The girl is with her back towards all the lights, as I was just a minute ago. And I feel that I should tell her to turn around as she might miss the spectacle that was going on. So when she walks past me I say, have you seen the Northern Lights behind you? She then looks up towards me and gives me a not all that friendly look, and says “I’m from Iceland, I’ve seen them so many times. I’m cold and I just want to go to my bed!” Oops….. True, I’m in a parking lot at 1:45 am in the middle of the night. I should be in bed too 🙂 So funny!
Anyways I decided to not go driving but walked towards the back of the hotel and watched there. The wind ever so howling around me. I’m utterly cold but it was stunning….. I do need to go on a “how-to-photograph-Northern-Lights” course but I was just enjoying the moment for most of it. It was a show. How incredible beautiful and how incredibly lucky and privileged I was to witness this. This was just awesome!
I think I stood outside for another 30 minutes and by then especially my legs and hands got numb. I tried moving around a bit but that wind was just brutal. The lights were also fading some and I decided this was going to be it. I called it a night. So I walked back into the hotel and wished the hotel clerk a good night. He looked up from his half closed eyes and said I’m so sorry you didn’t see any lights. So I stopped and looked at him and said, you know the light are out now right? I really thought he was kidding me. But by the look on his face I soon realized he wasn’t. Really? And asked if I really did see them. So I said, yes for about the last 45 minutes or so. And before I could finish he jumped up and mumbled, I’d better start calling the other guests. Uh yes…. You’d better. And when I walked back to my room I was so glad I had followed my instincts and just waited outside. If I had gone asleep I never would have seen them. 🙂
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
― Roald Dahl