logo

Tag : Aurora Borealis

17 Feb 2020

Aurora in Iceland

Nature is amazing and one of the most unique sights is the Aurora Borealis – the northern lights. To see them in full fury is a thrill and we had a great display tonight in Iceland. It takes the right combination of dark skies, sun spot activity and no clouds. There is a scale of 1-9 that rates the solar activity and they predict it three weeks in advance. Last week it was showing that we would only be at a 2 all this week, so I sent a note to my Iceland workshop participants not to expect much in the way of aurora. 

Then two days ago when I checked tonight’s rating was 3, which isn’t bad. We had dinner and then went out of town to an area I know would make a good foreground. As we were driving the aurora was glowing bright on the horizon. Once we parked we were treated to an amazing show of light. We had a small mountain in front of us and the green light started on the right side. Then it started appearing on the left side of the mountain. I was doing a happy dance as the aurora danced across the sky. After a while a hook of light appeared on the right side creating a classic Icelandic aurora. We stood out in the dark for over two hours being amazed by what we saw. It finally diminished and we went back to the hotel with a special memory.

ra 

24 Mar 2019

Chasing the aurora in Vermont

There is something about the Aurora Borealis that fascinates me. The thought that light can shoot up in the air in the dark, dance across the sky and change colors is simply amazing. But I have yet to see it in full action. During my trips to Iceland I’ve been teased several times but I haven’t been there during the right conditions for a full show.

The northern lights are caused by solar flares, when there is a lot of sun spot activity the aurora goes nuts. Solar activity is cyclical, there is a 11 year cycle of high to low activity and right now we are in a prolonged trough and activity is low. There are several websites and mobile apps that can accurately predict the aurora a couple of weeks in advance. When I am in Iceland I constantly monitor the apps and see when and where I might be able to photograph the lights.

There is a scale from 1-9 that shows how active the aurora will be. It is usually at 1 or 2 and I’ve never heard of it hitting 8 or 9. Friday I got a message from friend Brian Horton that last night would be extremely active, a 6 for three hours and then falling back to 5. The bad part was the 6 rating was from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. while the sun was still shining bright. You want pure darkness to see the aurora, so that 6 rating was going to be wasted. But I had only seen a 4 before and it was amazing so I knew I had to check out this night of 5.

I had spent the week in Vermont and went back to New Jersey on Thursday for a workshop that night and a mentoring session on Friday. After thinking about it for a while I decided to make the over five hour drive back to my Vermont house and take my chances. I hoped my wife Robin, who was still in Vermont, would join me out in the dark, but she is finishing another book proposal and decided to wrap that up. 

Late yesterday I drove north almost two hours to Cabot, VT, where there is a cool old covered bridge that years ago was moved to the middle of a field high on a hill. There is nothing around it and no towns north so I knew it would be a great place to photograph the aurora. Back in Woodstock we got about five inches of snow Friday morning but Cabot got over 15 inches and it is piled high. To get out in the field near the bridge required wading through the snow, which was drifting in the blowing snow. Up on the that hill the wind gets pretty strong, it was blowing hard and the temperature was 15 degrees. 

Getting out to the bridge required plowing through thigh deep snow for about 100 yards, which wasn’t a whole lot of fun in the cold and dark. I have snowshoes but I didn’t think of taking them with me, they would have saved me a lot of effort. 

Once I got set up, the aurora was glowing on the horizon. The green light was shining pretty wide but it wasn’t flaring too high. It definitely wasn’t what I was hoping for. I had visions of the light dancing high overhead but it stayed low and wide. I took a couple of flashlights with me to illuminate the bridge so I didn’t have only a silhouette. It only takes a little light to make the bridge have some detail but it makes a big difference.

After about an hour I went back up to my truck, the moon was rising and the bright light shining off it would kill the green glow. I didn’t get what I wanted but I had fun

08 Feb 2019

A windy shot at aurora in Iceland

My annual Iceland Winter Photography Workshop starts tomorrow. I like to arrive a day early so my body can acclimate to the time change and I can get a little extra shooting in. While I’ll be in plenty of great places during the week my focus is on working with my clients rather than my own photography. I make pictures when I can but there are times when I’m helping rather than shooting.

Some of the others arrived early also and the sky was clear and the rating for the Aurora Borealis was pretty high, officially a 4 out of 9 on the scale. It rarely hits 6 on the scale and this is the first time I’ve had clear skies and a rating this high. The predication for the week shows that is the best shot we’ll have at it. 

I took folks out to the point of the peninsula where there are two lighthouses, I thought it would be good and dark there and we’d be able to see Northern Lights dancing. We got there around sunset, I was hoping for lots of color in the sky but clouds over the ocean in the west took care of that. I brought a big flashlight in hopes of illuminating one of the lighthouses. It was so windy that doing the long exposure we needed was impossible. I pulled out my anemometer and it showed a steady 25-30 mph wind with gusts over 40 mph. It is tough to stay steady in wind like that.

After it got dark the wind persisted and I knew it was too much to handle so I decided to head back towards town and see if I could find a place that would be better. As I was driving the wind didn’t let up but I pulled into a little lane that I had gone down last summer. I parked the van and the brave got out and tried to make some shots as the aurora danced in front of us. It was about as tough shooting condition as I’ve been in, the strong wind and the temperature around 25 degrees made it hard to even think, especially after an overnight flight and little sleep.

I got down low with my tripod and made a few shots. I couldn’t stay out there long, the wind was hitting me hard in the face, the wind chill factor was around 5 degrees but it felt much worse. It was so windy I couldn’t talk to any of the others and after a few minutes everyone was back in the van. 

I’m usually not disappointed with my results but I am rather bummed I didn’t get a better shot. There are several things I could have done but I wasn’t thinking clear enough to make the image I wanted. Mark it up to experience, I’ll get it the next time. After all, the workshop starts tomorrow.

21 Aug 2018

Things that are uniquely Iceland

If I could only spend one day in Iceland and want to see things that are fairly unique to the country, then we went there today during my Iceland Photography Workshop. Since it was raining we started the day shopping in Vic, which isn’t unique, but it is fun to see things made in Iceland. I warned the group to watch for thins that look Icelandic and are made in China. They did pretty good with that.

As we drove the southern coast the weather started getting better and by the time we got to a secluded tongue of the Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest, the rain had pretty much stopped. This is one of the coolest places I go in Iceland, there are no other people around and the view of the glacier, a lagoon and mountains is stunning. High clouds hid much of the mountain but the color of the glacier and sheer size is daunting.

Then we stopped at Diamond Beach, a truly unique Icelandic experience. Another tongue of the glacier comes down to a large lagoon that is connected to the ocean by a short river. Salty sea water goes back up the river into the lagoon helping break off chunks of ice that float back down the river and wash up on Diamond Beach’s black sand. The pounding waves wear down the ice and when sunlight hits them they look like diamonds sitting on black velvet. Quite the sight. It is fun to make pictures of the waves flowing past ice and see what happens when the shutter is open for a long time. I could spend days on that one beach.

I’m also fascinated by the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights. They are such a weird phenomenon, with the colorful display of light glowing at night. I first saw them during my trip in March and was awed and I keep a eye on several iPhone apps that let me know when they are active in hopes I can see them back in Vermont. The aurora is active all year but it doesn’t get dark enough in the summer months to see them. I checked my apps before this trip and saw the activity level was pretty high and we would have enough darkness to possibly see them. What a bonus! Tonight the activity was fairly high and the sky was giving us some major breaks in the clouds so we went to a hilltop away from town to see what would happen. We got a show! Green light danced along the horizon and an occasional red/orange light popped in. We could see clouds heading our way and knew we wouldn’t have long but what we saw was awesome. I can’t wait to come back in Feb. for another workshop when the main focus will be the aurora!