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A photographer’s guide to chasing Iceland’s Northern Lights

A photographer’s guide to chasing Iceland’s Northern Lights

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As a news and sport photographer by trade, some might think I’m mad spending my holiday with a camera travelling around snapping pictures, but for me I find it very therapeutic and relaxing.

This is my third time to Iceland in the last 18 months and I have fallen in love with its landscapes but, specifically, with trying to capture the Northern Lights. Seeing these dancing lights is never an exact science which makes the challenge appealing as so many weather components have to come together for it to happen – without getting to technical you need a solar storm, preferably no or little moon and of course a clear, pollution-free sky.

On this particular visit to Iceland I wanted to capture some more locations of the Aurora Borealis, with a plan to pick up the hire car and head along the south coast. Checking the Icelandic weather app, Vedur.is, you can see the expected cloud cover and it gives you a better chance of finding some clear sky. As I landed in Iceland, the clearest sky was over the iconic Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, where I got the first show of the trip.

Road closures is another factor to consider when visiting our Nordic neighbour, roads are closed very quickly in Iceland due to dramatic weather changes of snow and ice or high winds. Road.is will tell you the state of every road in Iceland and let you know if it’s passable.

On my second night the only clear spot showing on the app was on the east coast, a place called Hofn around 250 miles and over a five-hour drive away. I set off stopping at the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach where you can experience the ‘real’ Iceland – giant icebergs with huge pieces of ice floating by. Hofn’s Vestrahorn Mountain was my destination for its reflection of the peaks and upon arriving I found a nice place to perch with a reflection in a frozen lake.

You have to have a lot of patience for photographing the Aurora Borealis anyway and around an hour and a half after I arrived, the sky came alive. The picture I wanted was of the mountain surrounded, and reflected with, the glow of the Northern Lights. Patience paid off and they started dancing behind the mountain giving me the shot I had tried to take on previous visits.

Owen Humphreys in Iceland (Owen Humphreys/PA)

By 3am it was time to get some sleep, but three hours later I was back up to a stunning sunrise over Hofn’s harbour. Checking the apps, Iceland’s north was the only place with clear skies – not where I had intended to travel due to the weather but the road.is app was saying roads were passable with care. Nearly six hours and 261 mountain road miles later, I was in Reykjahlid on the shores of frozen lake Myvatn hoping to get the Aurora Borealis over the famous Goðafoss waterfall. Cloud inversion halted my chances and I was left getting some much-needed shut eye.

Checking the apps once again, I sped further north past the town of Akureyri to a place called Blönduós hoping to find Hvítserkur – a picturesque rock sharply cutting through the sea’s surface. Hopes fall when the apps predict a seven per cent chance of spotting the lights but by 10pm the sky started to light up the sky, culminating at 3:30am as I watched the Aurora Borealis literally dance across the sky – not even a close call with frostbite could stop my elation.

Owen Humphreys is a photographer for the Press Association and is based in Newcastle.

Click through the gallery above to see Owen’s shots of the Northern Lights in Iceland.






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