Reykjavík and the Aurora (Northern Lights) – Iceland

The Sun Voyager – Reykjavík

This is probably the most photographed scene in Iceland, but I couldn’t help myself. The recent addition of several high rise flat blocks unfortunately obscures the sun from the sculpture for a lot of the day. One of main excitements for the trip was to see the Northern Lights.

Downtown Reykjavík and the Hallgrimskirkja church

Iceland is one of those mythical places which is hard to imagine really exists until you have been there, as the tourist brochures proudly proclaim; “The Land of Fire and Ice”. Over the Easter break I spent nearly a week there staying with my friend Albert whom I used to work with in London who has now headed back to his home country and lives in central Reykjavík.

A woman returns from a swim in the freezing sea. In the foreground steam rises from a hot pool

On the afternoon of my first day there Albert took me to the sea near the university where people go swimming in the sea, which is apparently a relatively modern craze… The women seen above looked to be in their 60’s and completely unfazed by the frigid water temperatures.

As dusk fell I headed home to wrap up warm ahead of a night hunting the Northern Lights. The solar wind predictions weren’t amazing, but I was hopeful of seeing something.

Long exposure of Reykjavík from a nearby hill top at night

At around 9pm I was picked up in a jeep in the centre of Reykjavik and headed out to a hilltop nearby to scope out the the chances of seeing some lights. The other people in the jeep had spent a long cold night previously hoping to see the lights without success. As I shot the view of the town with the last of the sun disappearing into the horizon some colours started appearing in over the mountains in the opposite direction.

First sighting of the Aurora

At this point the Northern Lights were quite faint, just a light colouring in the sky, but wow it was pretty impressive none the less. The decision was made to head into the national park to try and get a better view away from the light pollution of the city.

Aurora over Hvalfjörður

Aurora over Hvalfjörður with trees in the foreground

By this point it was pretty cold outside, -8°C degrees so operating the camera and trying to get focus was pretty tricky with a large thick set of gloves on, taking your hands out of the gloves was really not an option as your hands almost instantly start to hurt from the cold. But the Aurora overhead was pretty strong at points, and by using a tripod and a long exposure I was able to capture it. My feet were the bit of me that really got cold.

A car’s tail-lights disappears into the night

I was amazed how bright the moon was behind us through the clear Icelandic night, creating long ghostly shadows in front of us. It was amazing how much you could see without any kind of external illumination.

Jeeps with the moon overhead

For a nominal fee in Iceland you can get virtually any number plate you like, every jeep had it’s own quirky name.

Long night time exposure as Clouds pass overhead

By this point I had been standing in the cold for several hours watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky and had pretty much lost the feeling in my feet despite thick wool socks and hiking boots, but it was definitely worth it to see these strange, beautiful other worldly lights. It was time for a hot chocolate and to head back to Reykjavík.

I hope to head back to Iceland to photography the Aurora further in different locations as it is truly a photographers paradise! I have several more posts to put up from Iceland in the coming days.

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