We set out at 9pm on Friday, most of the coach party were doing the tour for the first time, but for me and Steve we had done it before and tonight had to be the night. We were due to leave Iceland tomorrow so you could imagine the desperation I was feeling.. I would have been heartbroken if I had to return to the UK without seeing the aurora with my own eyes.
Friday had been the brightest day of our week, mainly cloudless and with lower temperatures than the rest of our stay. We had spent the day on the Golden Circle Grand Tour which took in the Gullfoss Waterfall, the volcanic crater at Kerið and the spouting geyser of Strokkur. It was definately money well spent, but that's another story.
Reykjavik Excursions whisked us 45 minutes out of the city and away from the light pollution to the now familiar site in the Thingvellir National Park. Our tour guide (foolishly I didn't get his name but I know we were on bus number 10) was a walking encyclopedia on the lights giving us a documentary's worth of information en route. But to be honest my attention was firmly outside the bus, hoping I would catch first glimpse of the lights through the darkened coach windows.
Our group remained at the assembly fields near Öxarárfoss for what seemed an eternity, I could feel my core temperature dropping by the minute together with my optimism. The skies were clear however, a lot clearer than Monday night's visit, so I took the opportunity to capture some long exposures taking in the freakishly bright stars above including what I believe was the Milky Way (below).
Eventually our guide ushered the now frozen party back onto the coach for the journey back to Reykjavik. I could no longer feel my fingers and reluctantly boarded with a heavy heart, the magic wasn't going to happen for us.. or so we thought.
Five minutes into our silent return the coach suddenly pulled over and the guide sternly announced "everybody off the bus!" I've never seen 60 people move so fast, and with good cause too. We all gathered along the roadside and sure enough we were rewarded. As if by magic the aurora made a spectacular appearance, a little hazy at first but soon revealing her true splendour. It was clear that this lady was not going to appear on demand, and neither would she be rushed.
The "show" lasted about 10 minutes, in which any feelings of discomfort were soon forgotten. I was like an excited school child, pulse racing and forgetting for a minute that my travel companion Steve was even there. But he was, and was also blown away with the phenomenon gracefully shimmering away before us. It was so beautiful, I felt it should have been accompanied by its own soundtrack.
By now we were into Saturday morning, giving (for me) the 5th of November a new meaning; not only does it mark Guy Fawkes foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament but also the morning I marvelled at a light show I may never have the pleasure of witnessing again.. the great Northern Lights.
See also: Searching for the lights pt1
No filters were used in these photographs however they have been processed in order to enhance the beauty of the lights.
I read a review from one visitors who commented that it would have been nice if the tour operators published recommended camera settings in order to assist more people to capture the lights effectively. I agree, it would have been a nice touch, however I wouldn't mark Reykjavik Excursions down for not doing so. The ambient light will vary from night to night so what works on one occasion may not work on another.
That said, here's the equipment and settings I used;
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC USD
ISO: 1250 to 2000
Shutter Speed: 30 seconds
My camera was mounted on a tripod and set to fire on timer (I didn't have a shutter release cable handy).
I hope this helps.
Thingvellir National Park | Reykjavik Excursions | Get Your Guide