I recently decided to take some time off commercial shooting and traveled to Northern Norway to photograph the Northern Lights. After extensive research, I decided to base myself out of Tromso. This small university town sits about 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle, is appropriately cold (about -17 degrees Celsius!) and has a healthy reputation as one of the world’s best places to see the Aurora Borealis; a natural phenomenon caused by the collision of solar charged particles and atoms when entering the earths atmosphere and magnetic fields.
You need three things to see the lights: clear skies, minimal light pollution and maximum solar activity. On arrival, things were not looking promising as my flight was delayed by a huge blizzard and as my cab took me the short cab to my hotel visibility was no more than five feet…this was not going to be easy.
I had done a lot of research beforehand on Google Earth and OS maps to see where the best places might be in order to get good photographs of the lights; I wanted to ensure that I got some water in my shots to achieve some reflections from the lights. However, on the first two nights I was out until 5am having driven 3 hours out of Tromso in search of clear skies and saw little more than the shot below due to inclement weather. This photo was taken on the Eastern coast looking out on the Atlantic Ocean and although the green activity of the lights is JUST visible behind almost 100% cloud cover in camera, it was barely visible to the human eye. Also, it was taken in gale-force 35 metre per second winds (the strongest I’ve ever experienced). In fact, the wind was so strong that it stripped some of the paint off my 14-24mm lens. Needless to say I was already planning my return trip next year with my spirits dampened by two nights of failed attempts of chasing the lights.
Determined not to give up though I headed out the next night with a different strategy to head west towards the Finnish border having seen on radar that there was the possibility of the clouds parting and some clear skies developing for a few hours just before midnight. Fortunately, as I got further and further away from civilization I began seeing stars until the whole sky was covered in constellations as I sped eagerly towards a Fjord that I had identified could potentially make for a good photo spot. I couldn’t have timed my arrival any better as I pulled over, looked up and began seeing one of the most phenomenal sites I’ve ever witnessed in person. Words cannot do it justice as you see flashes of coloured lights meander and manouver their way across the sky; it as if God is playing with a paintbrush. The show lasted about four hours and I’ll let my pictures describe the scenes better than my words.
I was very lucky as I have spoken to numerous photographers who have spent weeks in Tromso and seen very little. On the other hand, you could turn up for a day and see a far better show than me; you really are at the whim of nature. Nevertheless, I left more than contented. Thanks to Arctic Guide Service for their help and advice.
p.s. I also got extra lucky on my SAS plane on the way up to Tromso when speaking to a flight attendant and telling them about my planned trip. They happened to be able to see the Northern lights from the cockpit during the flight and invited me into the cockpit! Even better they let me take my camera in (you never know unless you ask) which I was amazed at; truly blessed and an unbelievable experience to be able to see them from the air as well as ground. The below shot was therefore taken by resting my camera on the dashboard of a commercial 737 at 37000 feet with the towns of Northern Norway below whilst my camera was resting on the cockpit making an impromptu tripod.
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