I used to read blogs about how to spot or photograph the northern lights and scoff when they’d say, sometimes they show up as whisps of white in the sky.
When we think of the northern lights, Aurora Borealis, we think of vibrant greens and magenta dancing in the sky but I can honestly say that that is not always what you see. Back in 2017 I traveled to Iceland for the very first time and being the ever aspiring photographer that I was, I wanted to go “hunt” for the northern lights. I packed all of my gear and readied myself for a cold night under dark skies. Funny thing was about 10 steps outside of my Reykjavik Airbnb my companion gave me a slap on the arm and said, look up. There they were, vibrantly green like nothing you can imagine. I remember exactly where we were standing and snapped a photo of the spot to commemorate my very first sighting.

As we made our way up the street we could see scores of people staring up at the sky so we stopped, pulled out my gear and without knowing what I was doing I managed 3 shots before the lights faded into the night. As you can see these three shots are nothing to write home about, but I had seen them and they were amazing.
Now let me say a couple of things about seeing the Aurora, 1. There are specific times of year and conditions which make it possible to see and 2. Even if all of those conditions are met you still may not see them. So many people plan their trip to see the Aurora and honestly many of them leave disappointed. The Aurora is a gift and should be treated as such. Plan your trip to see the world and try to see the Aurora but if you don’t, well make other memories, try again, know that it just wasn’t your time.

Fast forward to my latest trip to Iceland and yes, I planned my travel in March, which is very much still Winter and therefore comes with a certain amount of uncertainty. It’s the last month to see the Aurora so I knew I had a chance but when looking at when in March to go I also looked at the moon phases and planned my week around the darkest night skies. What good is Aurora season if there’s a bright full moon lighting up your sky? Now all I needed was solar activity and cloudless skies, two things very much out of my control. In the weeks leading up to my trip the photos coming out of Iceland were beyond my comprehension. The skies were lit with the most incredible colors and all the while I sat with anticipation, would I be so lucky?
Flights from Boston to Reykjavik often leave at night and for anyone who’s ever flown with me you know that no matter how hard I might try I just don’t sleep. So staring out the window at the night sky was my first opportunity to catch a glimpse of this natural wonder….and low and behold, I did. Very faint, very white, but dancing in the sky off the port side wing was a glimpse of the Aurora. Let me say that taking that photo with a iPhone, out the dark plane window, was next to impossible so my advice to you if you’re looking to be prepared is have your camera on hand as I would have had to wake half the plane to get mine.

The first few days of my trip were somewhat cloudy as storms had been rolling through the south so I opted to not even look for them at night and instead relax, have a drink and promptly pass out for much needed sleep. I told myself if I see them I see them but that is not why I am here. But making my way northwest to Snæfellsnes Peninsula where you’re free of lights and north of the storms helped change my mind and so on a clear, relatively warm night, I made my way out of the hotel and down to the shoreline to wait under the stars. And wait is exactly what I did, alone, in freezing temperatures for 90 minutes….I saw so many stars! I had been in the same spot, away from the hotel lights when I decided to move closer to the building and change my view, and ensure I still have the ability to move my toes, when I caught the faint white whisps off in the distance. Nothing overwhelming but there they were. I will admit, I was cold and tired. I had been up since before dawn and it was now approaching 11pm and 90 minutes in the cold had gotten to me so I snapped a few photos and felt it was time to warm up so inside I went. Broke down my gear, prepared it for the next day, snuggled up in bed and began watching tv.
1 hour later this voice in my head said, you should probably look out the window. No idea why I had this thought but I shut off the tv, threw open the curtains and lighting up the night sky was a sea of white. Now let me tell you that before, when I was outside, I was bundled up with only my eyes uncovered, this time however I made it out with slippers, pajamas and a coat! Putting the right lens back on the camera, frantically trying to remember what settings I had, attaching it to a tripod was all done at break neck speed as I dove out my door and took my first image of the sky. After a few adjustments I snapped another shot and burst out laughing. The utter amazement and joy I felt seeing the back of that camera is indescribable. With every shot I took, laughter poured from my lips, I was seeing, right before me, images I could only dream of. Now as I said before what my eyes saw was white, no color at all. But what the camera saw was magnificent. Very simply our eyes, especially at night, do not have the ability to see the faint colors of the northern lights. The camera, however, has no such limitations. So why did I see vibrant greens all those years ago, a very strong Aurora. But on this night a sea of white in the night sky meant weaker Aurora for my eyes, but no match for the camera!
Shot on Canon R5 with an EF 16-35mm.
ISO 10,000
1 Second exposure at f/2.8
Processed in Lightroom
Hotel Langaholt

These 2 were taken with my iPhone which does not have the same sensor as a full camera so it’s closer to what my eyes saw.

Now for the real light show!