Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland
An aurora is one of the nature’s most spectacular phenomena. The sensational light shows are resulted from the collisions between charged particles emitted from the sun and magnetic field lines around the northern and southern hemispheres, near the magnetic poles. Aurora can be in varied colors depending the energy levels of gas atoms and frequencies. Nitrogen will cause blue and purple emissions while you will see green and red colors caused by oxygen. Many times, the colors blend together into yellow and pink. The aurora borealis or the northern lights are often in pale yellowish-green color.
In this article, we will show you some important tips to improve your chances of finding the northern lights in Iceland. The best period to see the northern lights starts from the end of September until the beginning of April because of the long periods of darkness. You should also check moon phases calendar before you go. You have more chance of viewing the lights around the period of new moon when the sky is darker, instead of the period around full moon. Another important factor is the amount of cloud in the sky. You should go to the location with clear sky to see the lights.
The northern lights can be in different forms. The auroras can cover around the sky like curtains. Or, sometimes, they break up into small groups and move around rapidly like the dancing lights. Many times, the phenomena are so subtle that they are not visible to your human eyes. The different levels of geomagnetic activity can determine the strength of the glow. As a result, the Kp index can be used to forecast the intensity of the northern lights. You can check the level of geomagnetic activity in the Kp index graph here. At Kp index around 1-2, the northern lights are barely visible. You might mistake them for moonlit clouds apart from the fact that the stars do not dim by the white clouds. At Kp index more than 4, the aurora will be very bright. You can see the lights dancing clearly with your bare eyes.
Despite the limited visibility, you can still capture the phenomena with your DSLR camera when the Kp index is more than 2. You can check for the aurora explosion easily with your camera and a len with widest angle. First, you set the shutter speed to 2 seconds and ISO around 6400. Then, you capture every angle of the sky around you with a camera. If you notice the green background in the photo, the white clouds that you see are actually the northern lights. Once you know for sure that there are aurora explosions going on, you should set your camera with longer shutter speed to capture better photo. You can use use the widest apertures at f/2.8 or wider if you can. The ISO can be around 3200, 1600 or lower depending the brightness of the sky. The shutter speed should be set according to other settings mentioned before and the amount of lights in the sky as well.
Here are other things that you should consider when you plan to hunt down the northern lights. The aurora phenomena are unpredictable despite many factors that can help increase your chances of finding them. You cannot be certain when it will happen. Some nights, they appear only once while the other nights you might experience them 2-3 times. You might want to stay there more than one week for a chance of viewing them for a couple of nights. It would be more flexible if you rent a car during your stay. The further away from the town, the darker the sky is, and higher chances of seeing the northern lights. It is best to plan to stay up late in the night because sometimes the lights appear around 3-4 o’clock in the morning. When you find a good location to camp down for the night, you should set up your camera and be prepared right away.