As the winter gets closer and we wait for the aurora season to begin, here comes a guide for those who would like to hunt for the Northern Lights around Reykjavík area.
Quick info before we start
Aurora season in Iceland is from September till March, but i seen them as early as late-August on cold still night
Auroras form in altitudes of between 90 to 150 km above Earth’s surface but can extend up to more than 1.000 km.
perfect conditions are when it’s cold, dark outside (less moonlight the better) Aurora activity is high and sky is clear.
Look up, Look up and be patience, very important, they can appear and disappear in few moments.
Its good to do little planning before, check the aurora activity and clouds forecast prior to our location
We are looking for clear sky and high activity, on picture you can see the sky will be clear over Reykjavik/Reykjanes peninsula, for more information check out Aurora Forecast website for guide to reading forecast
Get good rest and remember to wear comfortable and warm clothes, layers preferable and don´t forget waterproofed shoes.
Charge all your devices and bring extra batteries when possible, they don´t last so long in cold temperatures as normally would.
Hot beverage, headlight or any flashlight is recommended.
Choose if you wanna hunt them for yourself or go for a tour.
Best places around Reykjavík
Here is list of few places i like to check out when the forecast is good, typically we want to avoid places with high light pollution.
Grótta Grótta is popular place since its only 10 minute drive from downtown Reykjavík, if you choose to walk than there is nice paved path and even bike patch. On Seltjarnarnes peninsula you will find lot less light pollution even thou the City is still in eye-sight. The lighthouse was build in 1947.
You can walk out to it during low tide (Please be aware of tides time, here is chart otherwise you might end up stuck and needing to jump trough stones to get back to mainland.
National Park, its 45 minute drive from Reykjavík and great destination to escape from city lights,
there are many spots you can use to shoot northern lights from, Information Center area has nice overview of Þingvellir, Öxarárfoss makes for nice foreground so i recommend putting the headlight on and take a walk around.
Krisuvík This one is really nice place since is just behind Hafnarfjörður area, Geothermal area makes really nice surrounding for pictures, around Kleifarvatn lake there is great amount of spots to pullover and park your car but since there aren´t any light sources, please be careful and wear some sort of high-visibility safety apparel and dont park the car in the middle of road.
Other places worth mentioning: Elliðaár, Hafravatn, Úlfarsfell, Elliðavatn, Heiðmörk
Shooting with your DSLR camera
DSLR with good high iso performance
Wide and fast lens
Preferable lens with manual focus window
Once you found good location and have set up your camera on tripod, we start by manually adjusting the focus (infinity in most cases) the settings i always start with is around 3200-6400 iso, f/2.8 and 4-8 sec exposures. What we want to achieve here with high iso and lower long-exposure is to get the aurora shapes rather than going for very longer exposure and make aurora´s to creamy, and remember to always shoot in RAW format, since a lot can go wrong in these environment and we will be fixing few things in post process
Editing your RAWs
Little workflow i use to edit my pictures:
Crop/ Straighten horizon
Correct White balance
Getting best out of your phone camera
The key to good shots here will be getting a cheap phone tripod like octupus style ones and just use surrounding rocks to put it down, we need to get steady long exposure shots, you can check if your local phone/camera store has any solutions for your budget.
In most cases we will need third-party application to control our camera, since not many in-build applications allow us to manually control camera. Settings we want to start of are ISO 800 and 10-15 sec long exposures, there are also applications who are more Northern Lights oriented like “Northern Lights Photo Taker” on Apple store