Before our trip to Iceland I was frantically looking at the forecast praying for some sunshine. You see, I’d secretly booked a whale watching and a northern lights tour (aurora borealis) for the first night we were in Reykjavik. The forecast said rain and cloud for the entire week. Great.

Upon arriving we rescheduled our tours from the 23rd September 2017 to the following Saturday which would be the 30th September. We were camping around Iceland anyway so we just flipped our itinerary a little in the hope for a break in the clouds and the rainy weather at the end of the week. That first day in Reykjavik had blasted us with so much wind and ice cold rain that we thought we were in for a tough week.

Our lucky break happened on the Friday (29th September). We were just finishing driving around the Snæfellsnes peninsular to the west of Iceland and discovered that as the day wore on the weather had greatly improved, it was bright sunshine, a little windy but not a cloud in the sky – perfect for Northern Lights!

Sarah made the decision that we should go for a rebooking that night rather than chance it the day after, we were only a few hours drive from Reykjavik and we could camp just outside the centre. We called our booking agent Elding and asked if we could move the northern lights tour for a day earlier – they said yes. We hot-footed it back to Reykjavik in the late afternoon (or as fast as you can hot-foot it in Iceland – maybe 80km/h) ready for a 10pm Northern Lights cruise.

At 9:30pm in the Reykjavik campsite I was just finishing the washing up while Sarah was getting ready and I heard a shocked gasp from a fellow camper down the path. I turned around and the Northern Lights were shining above the campsite – something that’s pretty rare with so much light pollution in the city. I screamed at Sarah to get out the camera and come outside and have a look. It was our first glimpse of the Northern Lights and it was pretty special.

I had purchased Sarah a camera for her birthday. A pretty jazzy one – and we quickly Google’d (like the expert bloggers we are…) “how to take pictures of the Northern Lights”. The results said to set a long exposure – so basically the following:

  • ISO 1600
  • Shutter Speed between 1 and 4 seconds
  • Aperture of around 1-3 (F-range I call it for some reason)

The above settings were quite hard to work out on the camera at first – as it wouldn’t take a picture because AF (Auto Focus) was still turned on – as soon as I figured out how to turn that off we gave it a few snaps in the car park. We’re not the best photographers in the world and this was a new camera that we were getting used to – plus we were being buffeted by the wind quite a bit but here’s our first glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Shaking hands for the first shots of the Northern Lights that night.

We arrived at 9.45pm all bundled up in our warmest jumpers, ski gloves, hats and coats. We boarded the Elding boat straight away and, as we wanted to stay outside rather than in the heated seating area, we went below decks to get kitted out even more in our fisherman garb. At 10pm exactly we were under way – the boat was big enough for 100 but there were only 30 on board – plenty of space to go above decks and start craning necks to the clear night sky.

Our Northern Lights Cruise Ship for the Night

The idea of these tours is that you take the boat out towards the centre of the bay to get away from most of the light pollution from the city itself. However after approximately 2 minutes and 15 seconds of being underway (not even out of the docking area) the announcer on board, a ex-pat British girl if I remember correctly, practically screamed in delight as the most amazing ribbon of Northern Lights appeared above the Harpa building.

“Oh my God!” she cried. “If you’re sitting inside – get out right now! This is Amazing!”.

Just like this experienced Northern Lights announcer – we were blown away. It was absolutely stunning. We were the luckiest people in the world that day. It had turned from being a miserable rain-soaked cloudy week to being the most beautiful night sky we had ever seen.

I can’t really go on to explain it, words don’t do it justice, but the announcer did say that it was the best show they had seen for a while – definitely the best of the season so far. We were treated to another hour of watching the northern lights flit across the sky. We saw blue, we saw green and we even saw purple.

We tried a little in vain to take some pictures. We captured the colours (you see so many more colours through a photo) but due to the wind still being rather strong, the boat was constantly rocking at least 2-3 feet from side to side and we couldn’t capture a crystal clear image. Turns out you need to stand still to take a long exposure shot of the sky – who knew?

The bay area with city lights in the distance

No that’s not a sunset – it’s 10:30pm in September!

This one is out of focus (that manual focus thing…) but I’ve included it because it seems less shakey!

Here is a lovely ribbon of dragon fire across the sky – you can see from the lights how rocky the boat was

One of the best moments of the 1.5-2 hour display. The entire sky was literally ablaze with fire