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Capturing the Northern Lights

21/07/2017

Seeing the Aurora Borealis — the Northern Lights — with the naked eye is a one-in-a-lifetime experience which ranks high on many people’s bucket list. This extraordinary natural phenomenon is visible only in the polar regions, where the solar winds disturb the magnetosphere, causing electrons and protons to lose energy and emit light. That’s the science over! The result is an extraordinarily beautiful rainbow of colours in the night sky, not only the lime green that we commonly associate with the Northern Lights, but also crimson red, orange, and bluish white.

There are multiple factors which effect how clearly you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights, and whether or not you’ll be able to do them justice on film. The naked eye is, of course, much more sophisticated than a camera, so if you want to have something more than a vague, coloured blur on the screen, you’ll have to work hard to get it ride.
Firstly, it’s about location, location, location. It is possible to view the same light phenomenon in the Antarctic (the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights), but it is far easier to do so in the Arctic.
Option 1 is Alaska, where the lights are visible from Anchorage, Fairbanks, and the Denali National Park. The University of Alaska produces a Northern Lights forecast so you have a good idea which nights the view will be best. By day you can hike, dog sled, fish for salmon, sea kayak, and track grizzly bear in the forest, and when night falls, the Northern lights will be spread out above you in the sky.
Scandinavia boasts numerous attractions for visitors, and is a superb place from which to view the lights. Consider taking an Arctic cruise, island hopping through one of the many archipelagos, or stopping in a lodge on the edge of one of the fjords. If you stay at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland, you can sleep in a glass-roofed igloo, watching the Northern Lights from the warmth and comfort of your bed. We also love snow mobiling through the forests, husky sledding, and hiking across the glaciers.
In Canada you can combine your viewing of the Northern Lights with a train ride across the Rocky Mountains, or a wildlife and wilderness experience in the Yukon. At Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories it’s possible to stay in a teepee, listening to stories about the natural wonder before you, as told by First Nations’ leaders.
Iceland, too, is a great spot for watching the Northern Lights. Head to the Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a magical light display. It’s a place of great geological interest but also of historical importance: the world’s oldest, still existing parliament was convened here in 930. You can fish and scuba dive in the lakes, and some 40% of Icelandic wildlife species have been recorded here. There are both indigenous and migrant birds, including the great northern diver, which is normally only found in North America. White-tailed eagle nest here, and you can also see fox and mink.
Consider also the time of year for your journey. The usual viewing period is from November to March, as it is then that the nights are longest and darkest. The Northern Lights are at their most impressive when the sky is clear, without clouds or other interference, so allow several days in case there is cloud cover when you first arrive.
If you want to try and capture the Northern Lights with your camera, it’s essential that you take a tripod: you will not be able to hold your hand steady long enough for the necessary length of exposure. Set the focus for infinity, choose an ISO setting above 800, and an aperture setting of at least f/2.8. You will need an exceptionally long exposure: 15 to 30 seconds is normal, so although the Northern Lights will be clear, there may be some movement in the stars.
At Exclusive Adventures we are passionate about the Arctic trips we create for our guests. Our Destination Specialists are keen to impart their knowledge and ensure that your visit to the Northern Lights is absolutely forgettable. Enquire today, and you will soon be on your way.

Article written by:
Shari Burton
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