How was my First experience of seeing the Northern Lights

(Original photo – Sep 2019)

In September 2019, my dream to see the Northern lights was fulfilled while I was in Iceland for a nine day trip.

For those who do not know, the Northern lights (or aurora) is a “rare” phenomenon caused by electronically charged particles, that upon striking the atmosphere, release light. Unless, you are staying somewhere near the poles, it is highly unlikely that you can spot the Northern lights. There are in fact, some camping expeditions that take you for a week long trip (heavy on pockets) to witness this phenomenon.

So, back in Sep when we were in Iceland, I felt really lucky to see these on just the second day of our trip. Since, it was such an event in my life, I will tell you what went behind the scenes of my first experience to see the Northern Lights.

Before it happened, we needed a Camera

Until the day we planned a trip to Iceland, we relied on our iPhone cameras for our trip photos. It was a handy way to take good pictures that always sufficed for our family albums. But this had to change. If there was even a slightest possibility to see auroras in our trip, we needed a camera that could capture this event.

Our phone camera wasn’t smart enough to capture light movements in the sky. So, after reading umpteen blogs about what camera suits our need, we ended up buying Sony A6000 (that wasn’t cheap!).

I remember the first day, I handled this camera with its tripod stand and how stupid I felt. I couldn’t capture anything better than what my iPhone already did and I wondered if I was even worthy of buying a professional camera. So, I spent the whole next week trying to learn how to operate the camera, what is meant by shutter speed, what is the aperture, etc etc- basically all that was needed to understand the required setting for capturing the Northern Lights.

Just a day before our trip, I figured it all out. I read a wonderful post on how to capture aurora and saved those exact settings on my camera. I put it on my favourites list.

We were finally camera ready for our trip.

On the Night of the Main Event

Since, Northern lights is a scarce occurrence, you have to track them like you track weather. We downloaded a few apps that gave this forecast information. There was even an index associated with the probability of viewing aurora. It ranged on a scale of 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest possibility of the event.

That night, the index was close to 7 and the predicted time of occasion was 12:30 am.

I remember being super sleepy after the day long trek. I thought 7 being less than 9, nothing might happen. So, I went to the bed in my cozy pyjama. My spouse of course was much more hopeful and he stayed awake.

At 12:15 am that night, he shook me up. He shrieked excitedly, asked me to wake up and come outside. He explained that he saw some weird activity in the sky. It was a whitish moving wave. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. My first thought was – “what a pity it would be, if I were to miss the northern lights coz I am sleeping”. And with that fear in my mind, I woke up instantaneously.

I was quick on my feet. Ready in a minute, in my pyjamas & cold jacket, I ran outside the cottage. My spouse carried the camera & tripod in his hand. We stood and watched the sky together. Northern lights were about to happen.

Take the photos before it goes away

What seemed like white waves in the sky, slowly turned greenish. What started as a small patch turned to spread across the sky. We saw gently moving greenish waves in the sky and all the stars shined through it. The sky was filled with shades of green and it was so beautiful. I bent down with the tripod and camera and clicked the first picture. Strangely, it turned out great. My saved setting was a savior.

A couple stood next to us trying to fixate their camera. They seemed like experts to me because of their camera (which was much heavier than ours) and a full length tripod. We were very surprised when they asked us to share our settings. They were struggling to capture northern lights on their own and were very impressed by our first picture. Reluctantly, I shared a few of our settings and left out a tip – the aperture position. A moment later, another couple approached us for our settings and I quickly mumbled something, feeling guilty at the same time.

Eventually, they both figured out the whole thing as they sat next to each other and started their own photo clicking spree. πŸ˜€ In hindsight, I can see now, how childish my attempt was to preserve the knowledge I gained from one week of my camera struggle. πŸ˜› I swear, I am not that person anymore.

The aurora lasted for around 30 mins and I kept thinking – This is the best thing I would ever see in my life. It indeed was! We clicked many photos, all capturing our silhouettes. Coz, yeah! you can’t capture your face when your camera is set for Northern lights. (technically speaking)

I really wish I can see the aurora once more in this lifetime. Next time, with the index of 9. I hope we can plan another trip to Iceland, maybe in winter – when every night has the Northern lights.

Β© Copyright 2020. Megha Gupta. All rights reserved.