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Guide to Northern Lights in Iceland

The Northern Lights drives thousands of travelers to Iceland each year. One thing we learned when planning our trip to Iceland is that they are not always visible, even in peak aurora season. Read our Guide to Northern Lights to help you track the auroras for your next trip.

Aurora Borealis over mountain side
Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon found in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres . This light display is absolutely incredible to witness in person as you watch the lights dance in the night sky. Keith and I were lucky enough to see them during our recent trip to Iceland back in March.

There is a best season for seeing the Northern Lights

Your best chances of seeing the lights is in the winter months. Winter in Icelands starts in mid November. This does not mean you will not see them before winter, there have been sightings of Auroras as early as late August(update august 19: travelers to Iceland are reporting see the auroras during their trip). This is because in Summer Months you get more day light due to the Midnight Sun, as the summer progresses there will be less daylight, as it moves closer to Winter.

Auroras over Reykjavik

Weather,Weather Weather Many Aurora tours in Iceland may be cancelled due to weather conditions mostly stemming from cloud coverage. If the skies are covered in clouds then you will be less likely to see them. You may get lucky and get a glimpse even with some cloud coverage. We experienced this while in Reykjavik, our auroras tour was cancelled due to the weather, however we were out late at night and spotted them clearly above our airbnb.

Get away from the City Lights

If you're trying to see the northern lights it's best to get away from city lights. They create too much light pollution in the sky and seeing the auroras becomes difficult. Many Aurora tours take you out of the city to places where there is very little light. Don't be discouraged though because even with city lights there is a chance to see them. Also keep in mind the cycle the moon is in, it will give off extra light and can hinder seeing the auroras,

Track the auroras like a local

Check out, this is the recommended website to track the northern lights. When on the home page, after translating to english or your preferred language click Northern Lights Forecast. There are two spots you want check out, the first is in the top right corner where it says Northern Lights Forecast. The higher the number the more chance you have to see the lights. The second area is the cloud cover map, this will show you which areas will be best to see the lights. You are looking for areas where there is no green, this means there will not be clouds, and the auroras may be visible. You can also drag the blue pin to see how the clouds will move, so you may notice clouds covering your area but in an hour they may clear out.

Website to track Northern Lights in Iceland

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis Greens and Purples

How to Capture the Lights

Surprisingly the lights at first were not very bright. If we didn't have our guide on our overnight tour or our phones we probably would have missed them. Unsure if you're seeing them?, take your phone out and bring the exposure down, no flash, then snap a photo. If you see green and purple in your shot, congratulations you are seeing the northern lights. We used our Canon 80D to capture the lights, here were my manual settings.

  • Lens: 24mm Lens f 2.8

  • ISO: Adjusted between 3200-6400

  • Shutter Speed: Between 1-15s As the auroras moved faster, I increased the shutter

  • Raw Shooting: Bump colors in post, (tip: I found out later that if I would have set my white balance around 3500 K, my photos would have more of a color consistency, and would be easier to work with in post)

  • Focus Infinity: To set the focus on your camera to infinity you need to set your camera to live shooting, then zoom in on a distant light or object, then move the focus ring of your lens manually until it reaches the sharpest point.

  • Tripod: Is a must with wireless remote. You want to keep your camera steady while shooting with slower shutter speeds.

  • Editing Tip: Use noise reduction in Lightroom or Photoshop to reduce the amount of noise in your photo.

Best Photo Spots

We were not able to attend our auroras tour, but were able to see the auroras two nights out of our 10 day trip. When looking at photo spot inspiration for Iceland, here were some of the best photo spots we found.

  • Reykjanes Peninsula - Grotta Lighthouse

  • South Coast - Skogafoss

  • Golden Circle- Thingvellir

  • Snæfellsness Peninsula - Kirkjufell, The Black Church

  • Skaftafell Nature Reserve- Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

If you’re near these area we highly suggest braving the cold to get a gallery wall worthy photo.

Northern Lights over the mountains
Northern Lights located near Adventure Hotel

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