Northern Lights – What we actually saw

In November 2013, my girlfriend, my cousin and I travelled to Iceland to tour the south west of the island from our base in Reykjavik.  By my own admission, it was baltic, however we braved the cold to travel to visit tourist spots including waterfalls and national parks.

It was always in the back of my mind for the trip that I’d love to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), however I chose not to get my hopes up as there is no guarantee of sightings.  One night, we decided to drive to Viðey ferry terminal (only 5 minutes from our hostel) to have a look at the Imagine Peace Tower.  My cousin and I set up our cameras and took a few shots of the light omitting for the peace tower.  With a longer exposure, I noticed a wisp of green cloud and expected it was due to a reflection of a beacon located a few meters behind us.  After a few moments of giddy excitement, I then thought it could be the Northern Lights, however the others were not so sure.  After increasing my ISO and extending the shutter speed, I took another shot and the green light was definatively visible.  I had managed to capture the Northern Lights, all be it on my camera’s 3″ display.  Over the next 30 minutes, we took numerous photos ranging from out of focus to spectacular, however with the naked eye, it was faint, very faint, in fact my girlfriend commented that during the whole experience, she saw no green light in the sky.

The following is the photo of the Imagine Peace Tower and Northern Lights taken from Viðey ferry terminal which I am most proud of:


Northern Lights - what the camera captured

Canon 5d Mark II with 24-105mm lens @ 40mm, ISO 1000, f4, 30sec


However, the following is the same image but with the exposure changed to represent closely to what we saw with our eyes:

Northern Lights - what we saw with our eyes


This is not to say that others have not seen these natural phenomenons without aid of a camera, this is simply an example of we personally saw.  I thought it was would provide an insight for others to see the difference between what a camera is capable of capturing (with long exposures) versus what you may see at the same time.