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A guide to photographing the Northern Lights

For many, seeing the Northern Lights is top of their bucket list. The Aurora Borealis puts on magical displays of green and purple ribbons that whimsically dance across the sky. Sometimes, all you have is a fleeting glimpse; other times they appear for hours at a time. It’s no surprise that we want to capture the image of something this beautiful, but what do you need to know if you want to snap something wall-worthy? Here’s our guide to photographing the Northern Lights.

Choose the right night to chase them

The Northern Lights are a fickle phenomenon and can never be guaranteed. However, if certain factors align, you have a better chance of spotting them. First, time your visit for Aurora season, which falls roughly between September and March – you might catch them in late August or early April. Secondly, check the weather forecast. If you aren’t blessed with clear, cloudless skies then you’re wasting your time. Lastly, take a look at the aurora forecast, for you also need plenty of solar activity.

Gather your gear

Photographing the Northern Lights works best if you set a longer exposure. That means you’ll need to steady the camera and most likely you’ll achieve that using a tripod. In Iceland’s often windy weather, the sturdier your tripod is the better, though you’ll need to balance this with your weight allowance and portability if you’ve travelled to Iceland by air. Another thing you might find helpful is a remote shutter release. Instead of pressing the shutter button on the camera itself, you do so at the end of a cable, which reduces the likelihood of camera shake.

Find the right spot

If conditions are right, you need to select a suitable location. The most important thing is to be away from anywhere bright as the light pollution from built-up areas will make the Northern Lights appear more washed out – if you can see them at all. Next, make sure you have a clear line of sight to the north which, fortunately, is pretty straightforward on the Reykjanes peninsula. To photograph them, you’ll find it easier to place your tripod on level, firm ground, so visit potential sites during daylight to work out where the best spot is.

Seek out foreground interest

It’s also helpful to have some kind of foreground interest, such as a lighthouse or a church, perhaps, which will help you manually focus your shot. On the Reykjanes peninsula, for example, you might head to the Bridge Between Continents or perhaps to Garðskagi, where you could snap a green sky over its chunky old lighthouse. Kálfatjarnarkirkja, which you’ll find in an isolated location north east of Vogar, is also a good bet.

Consider a group tour

If you’re a novice at night photography, think about booking a place on a group tour. Book this early on as many operators will rebook you if the aurora forecast doesn’t look promising. With expert local knowledge, you’ll head straight to a great location and have a professional photographer on hand to help you select the correct the settings on your camera. It’s a great confidence boost when you’re trying out this type of photography and will equip you with the skills you need to go it alone later in your trip.