What`s causing the light?
This natural phenomenon is creating magical skies in the polar regions. A lot of people describe the lights as electrifying. I agree with this description, since the lights are caused by energy and they often cause goosebumbs as well. Characteristics they share with electricity. Aurora`s are made by charged electronical particles from eruptions of the sun. These particles are drawn into the earth`s pole regions, due to the magnetic fields of our planet. They begin to melt in different layers of our atmosphere, depending on their size and speed. The different compositions of gases in our atmosphere are responsible for the variety of colors. The lights around the North Pole are called Aurora Borealis. The lights in the south, around the South Pole, are called Aurora Australis.
Where and when to see the lights?
The lights usally appear in the polar regions. Sadly, it´s not possible to forecast where and when the lights will appear exactly. But there are some services, offering a forecast by following the eruptions of the sun, wind speeds and other data related to the Aurora. My experience is, that these forecast services are as good as a weather forecast three days ahead. They can be right, but they can also be completely wrong. But they surely can`t be of any help, if you need to book a holiday in a polar area more than a week ahead. They can be helpful if you are already in the northern light zone and you just want to check if Northern Lights activitiy is most likely or not.
The following information is just my opinion, based on my experience from regulary trips to the Arctic since nine years and from observing a lot of aurora experts groups in Social Media: The Northern Lights are appearing strongest and most often in October and February / March. But you can usually see them from mid September to the end of March. The best area to see them is between Lofoten and Hammerfest in North Norway and in the Fairbanks to Yukon area in Alaska. You can also see them in the northern parts of Russia, Finnland, Sweden, Iceland, Spitsbergen, Greenland and Canada.
If you are staying in one of these areas between mid september and march, check the weather forecast in the afternoon. If it`s not fully cloudy, check the sky as often as you can. As soon as the sun goes down, the lights can become visible. If you are able to see some stars, the chances to see the lights are fulfilled. But even if you don`t see any stars and the clouds are very thin, they can light up the sky and they can be even visible through the clouds. Also remind, that the weather in Arctic areas can change really quickly - and the cloud situation as well. Try to hunt the lights in locations with as less lightpolution as possible. The darker, the better! They can show up for just a minute, but they can also stay for hours. Sometimes they dance, sometimes they are not moving at all. You never know!
My five favorite places to hunt the lights are:
1) Norwegian Coastal Express / Hurtigruten ships between Bodø and Kirkenes - less light polution at sea, higher chances due to moving vessel
2) Villages in the area of Tromsø - less light polution, beautiful landscapes, lights are often really strong and active in this area
3) Lofoten (Kabelvåg, Reine, Nusfjord) - less light polution, beautiful photo motives under the lights, awesome destination in general
4) Spitsbergen (Longyearbyen) - stunning place, special experiences, historic mining equipment as motives
5) Swedish Lapland (Aurora Sky Station) - no light pollution, special experience, beautiful national park at daytime
How to take pictures of the lights?
If you really want to create great pictures in high quality, you should think about investing in a DSLR or CSC. The two most important gadgets are: A wide lense (11-18 mm) with high aperture (1,4-2,8 is perfect) and a tripod. Once, you are set up with the right equipment, you should get familiar with the manual settings of your camera. If you have never used the manual settings, you can already practise to use them at home. If the lights show up at your holiday destination, you may not want to loose any time by getting familiar with your equipment. I am using a Canon 5D Mark IV with Sigma 14mm F1,8 lense and a light Rollei tripod.
When you are at your holiday destination and the sunset is about to end, get prepared for the lights! Mount your camera on your tripod, put on the right lense, set your manual settings to a standard setting for aurora pictures, like an exposure time of one second and an ISO of 1600. Charge all your batteries (Extra batteries are highly recommended) and may bring a second SD Card.
If you just want to take pictures of the lights, you can switch your camera to manual focus as well and turn the focus into infinite. If you prefer to take a picure of a motive, like a house, a tree or a vehicle - focus on your motive and switch to manual, when your motive is clear and sharp. (Don`t forget to adjust the camera settings again, if you move your camera to another spot). Even if you are not able to see the lights yet, you should try to take pictures with long exposures anyway. If the light is weak, your camera will be able to catch the light long before you can detect it with your bare eyes. Auroras can look like thin clouds, when they are really week. But if you take a long exposure picture of them, they will show up in green. Long exposure pictures are a good way to just check, if there is even a weak auroral activity in the sky.
The key for hunting the lights is patience! Taking pictures of them, can be really hard work. Check the sky as often as you can - and stay up as long as you can! Dress warm and comfortable to allow yourself to stay outside as long as possible. I personally love to bring a thermocup with hot tea or other hot beverages ;-)
Once the lights are visible, you can experiment with your manual camera settings. Try longer exposure times or lower the ISO to raise the quality of your pictures. The stronger the light gets, the less ISO you will need. If the lights are not dancing very actively, you can also raise the exposure time to raise the quality of your pictures.
Tip: If you can`t control your camera via an app or remote control, put your self timer to 2 seconds. This way the camera stays absolutely still, when you press the shutter button.
If you have any trouble trying this, please don`t call me, because I will most likely be sleeping or I will also be hunting the lights and will be as busy as you ;-) Good luck!!!
One last advice
It is also great to just watch the lights and enjoy that, instead of taking pictures! Try to keep that in mind ;-)
(Please note, that this gallery is not complete yet. Feel free to visit this gallery again. Thank you for your patience!)