Play Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights

Nov 2018 | Photography

It came up in conversation in Iceland in 2010, I mentioned how seeing aurora borealis was on my bucket list and if we might see it there. It was May then and arctic days which never turn to night. The sun would almost set, remained at dusk until the next morning. It’s a strange but great experience, but not the kind of conditions needed to see the northern lights. It was the right place geographically, on the edge of the Artic circle, but the wrong time or year.

Having been to Iceland we decided Norway was a great option and somewhere we hadn’t been to. In November Tromsø, situated on the edge of the Arctic circle, has Arctic nights where the sun barely rises over the horizon during the day.

I wanted to make sure I document this experience the best way possible, so invested in a Sony A6500, a Sigma 16mm wide angle lens, a couple of extra batteries (batteries lose their charge quicker below freezing conditions) and a Manfrotto travel tripod.

Our journey began in Bergen. The old town built around a port with it’s with characterful wooden buildings in contrast with a more familiar modern European city. The next day there we took a 3 hour train journey to Flåm, a tiny town on the edge of a Fjord with an authentic Viking church converted to a restaurant with it’s own brewery. We took a ferry trip on the Fjord the first day, which had to break through a thin layer of ice to dock. On the second night I decided I needed to get some test shots in, to prepare for the Aurora.

Night sky test shots

From Flåm we went onward by train to Oslo then a short flight up to Tromsø.

We signed up to the Chasing Lights Big Bus Tour to give us as much chance as possible tho see the Aurora Borealis. The tour company say there are no guarantees you will see the Aurora Borealis but they have a high percentage of success. If we didn’t see it the first night we had just about had the funds to go a second night, but hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

The bus picked us up early evening and with our equipment including a flask of Whiskey we boarded the bus. The guide explained that there are three things we needed in order to see the aurora borealis:

  1. Pitch black night
  2. A clear sky
  3. The Aurora Borealis

They could achieve the first two with a combination of satellite navigation and whether app, to find a location with clear skies. The third was a bit more difficult and sat in the lap of the gods.

After travelling for over 3 hours and crossing the border into Finland, we pulled up at a frozen lake around midnight. Before I even had a chance to set up my camera, the light show began. After some initial fumbling with my equipment and settings, panicking I was going to miss this one-off spectacular light show experience and exchanging some less than pleasant words with partner as I did it, I got the shots I had gone all that way to see. Fortunately for us, our first night was blessed with a great show lasting for a few hours in total. By the time we left to return home around 5am, our hands and feet were frozen, but there was a warm glow of satisfaction as we returned back to Trømso. Box ticked.