Sharing this information with you is a dream come true, one that was years in the making. If you’re reading it I hope your dream comes true as well. Living in Colorado, there are few occasions where it’s ‘possible’ to witness this cosmic spectacle. I’ve never had any luck. It required quite a bit of planning, a healthy sense of adventure and a little luck to make this dream a reality. We packed the bags, jumped on a plane and headed to Iceland for the New Year. The days would be short and the skies would be dark. The only thing we needed was a little cooperation from the sun. Which wouldn’t be a problem, me and and sun are pretty tight.
Lodging Note – If you are interested in staying in the same cabin we did, the one that is pictured here, you can find it on VRBO. ( click here )
- Studded Snow Tires – This is more specific to photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland, but if you decide to go there in the winter, MAKE SURE TO GET STUDDED SNOW TIRES! We rented our car at SadCars.com and the fact they slapped some studs on there made them Glad Cars real quick!
- Stable Platform – Obviously a tripod is going to be king here. However, if you’re in a pinch use a bean bag, jacket or meditative trance like stance. Whatever you can do to catch that magic that is unfolding above you.
- Shutter Release – Shutter releases are awesome, but if your camera has a timer…you know that one for selfies…that works great too.
- Spare Batteries – Be warned, the Northern Lights are going put you in a trance. They will hypnotize you forcing you to stay outside until dawn. If it is cold outside, your batteries aren’t going to last as long so make sure you have a few extras in tow.
Camera & Settings
Your mileage will vary, but this is what I was using. Note, the moon was pretty bright that night, so I was working against quite a bit of ambient light.
- Camera: Nikon D750 (visit the fan club)
- Lens: Nikkor 17-35 2.8
- Tripod: Really Right Stuff Versa 24 (wish it was the L)
- ISO: 800
- Shutter Speed: 30″
- Aperture: 5.6
The Mathematics of Stars
Here’s a quick tip for keeping your stars sharp and bright as opposed to tiny light trails.
Divide 500 by your focal length to get the maximum exposure time.
Example – Let’s say I am using a 17mm lens. 500/17 = 29.4 So, according to this word problem, I can use up to a 30 second exposure and maintain beautiful sharp stars. After you make that calculation, it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve it. You can boost your ISO, or open your aperture. Now you see why most those amazing and expensive 1.4 lenses (Nikon 24mm 1.4 Fan Club) are ideal for this type of photography.
The Northern Lights only reveal themselves to those that are pure of heart and lovers of tiny Icelandic horses.
- I checked the skies.
- Didn’t see anything.
- Was bummed out.
- Went to pet some tiny Icelandic horses to cheer me up.
- The skies cleared.
- Figured I point my camera towards the sky which was totally dark. The only things I saw were stars and what appeared to be wispy clouds. Little did I know…
- THEN I SAW WHAT WAS ON MY LCD!!!!!!
- I startled tiny Icelandic horses with shouts of joy.
The lights that you see here were not visible to the naked eye. At least their color wasn’t. They just appeared as wispy shapes in the night sky.
These lights, well you could see them reaching across the entire sky. Even under the bright moonlight, you could see them clear as day.
Our Holiday Card
Just a heads up, if you receive our annual holiday card, this will be the featured photo for the next decade.