In 2014 I made it back to Iceland for the first time in over a decade. I had been planning to shoot the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) for years, but the stars just hadn’t aligned until 2014. I knew Iceland was one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, and I was shocked that I had never seen a really well executed print of this magical phenomenon so I made it a goal of mine to fix that…
According to my research, the Aurora Borealis run in eleven year cycles, meaning that every eleven years they have a peak in their activity levels. I also found that the Auroras seemed to be brightest within 3 weeks of the solstices, particularly the spring and winter solstices. It just so happened that in 2014 there was a new moon (necessary to photograph stars and the sky at night) within 3 weeks of the spring solstice AND 2014 was the peak of the eleven year cycle.
I arrived a couple weeks early, scouted out locations and spent loads of time looking at maps, weather trackers, cloud trackers and even Aurora trackers. What I didn’t realize was how massive Iceland is. In the few weeks that I was there I drove nearly 4,000 kilometers trying to find the right weather conditions and landscapes.
The light shows themselves last anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, varying in intensity. As winter time is almost always cloud covered, it proved very difficult to witness these magic light shows. When I did get a chance, the Auroras weren’t showing in the areas I was hoping and I had to drive a couple hundred kilometers to try to find them and set up a shot.
This proved exceedingly difficult on me and my crew and it looked like we were going to be shut out of a truly great Aurora shot. Then, near the end of our trip, the forecast for the area we were hoping to shoot in became really clear and the intensity forecast for the Auroras showed spiking just after midnight.
I was ready. I set up my gear near this amazing waterfall and waited. The late February air was crisp and the wind was frigid and blowing at a pretty good click. I weighted down my tripod with a bag full of gear I wasn’t using and prayed the camera would stay still for the few seconds I needed to capture the shot. I danced around on the banks of the icy stream to stay warm.
Like clockwork, just after midnight the show began. At first I was just in awe, not paying attention to my camera but just watching the lights bounce off the clouds, mountains and water. It was incredible. I quickly adjusted my settings to compensate for the extra light I hadn’t expected and started firing off frames.
I shot a lot of images that night, but this is my favorite. It took me 35 years to witness the Aurora Borealis, but my friends, it was well worth it. If this is something you’ve yet to see, put it on your list. It is truly one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever been honored enough to witness. At that moment, I will never forget seeing the majesty of Heaven literally dancing before my eyes!
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