The Truth About Northern Lights

ISO: 1600 f/1.8 5s
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I remember a point in my life, when I was sitting among the audience, hearing a speaker talk about his amazing experience seeing the northern lights. I was young, still in primary school. But, I told myself, one day… one day, I’ll go see it for myself. Many years later, when I became a young working adult, I embarked on a mission to view the northern lights.

No 100% Guarantee to See it

We all wished every story would have an happy ending. But it isn’t always the case. There is NO Guarantee you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights on the first attempt. It’s a natural phenomenon, and no guide, no matter how good they are, can guarantee a 100% success rate. However, this success rate does go up if you go for multiple tours over a few nights.

I stayed in Iceland for 14 days in December, and this was the best shot I got from the trip.
Acceptable in pictures… But, too bad my naked eye couldn’t see a single thing.
Would you have called it a successful viewing? 

Northern Lights, Iceland, þingvellir
ISO: 1600 f/1.8 30s

Is it enough to just see it? Or, do you need it to dance in the skies?

So, 3 months later in March, I booked my next ticket out from Singapore to Norway for my 2nd Northern Lights trip. The experience in Norway was much better. Maybe due to clearer skies and better weather, my camera managed to “see” the northern lights every night I was on a tour. Even with my naked eye, I could see a soft greenish-whitish glow near the horizon. 

Would you have called it a successful northern light viewing? To be honest, to me, only 1 out of the 4 times I could count it as successful.

That first night. It was the day you really could see the lights dancing in the sky, swirling around above your head. At some point, you could even see it spread out, and burst, as if like fireworks.  

Northern Lights, Red, Noway, Tromso, Aurora Strom
1st Night Viewing – ISO: 1600 f/1.8 2s

 

Northern Lights, Norway, Tromso, faint glow, coast
2nd Night Viewing – ISO: 1600 f/1.8 6s

 

Northern Lights, Norway, Tromso, faint glow, inland
3rd Night Viewing – ISO: 1600 f/1.8 3.2s

 

Northern Lights, Norway, Tromso, faint glow, coast
4th Night Viewing – ISO: 1600 f/1.8 5s

It’s Cold…

The weather forecast tells you it’s -5 degC. Even the signboard on the highway says the same thing. So why does it feel as if it’s -10degC?

During the day, we do all sorts of things from sightseeing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, ice caving, or hiking. Then at night, try leaving the warm toasty apartment and hunt for Northern Lights for the next 6 hours. And maybe, you’ll arrived back ‘home’ at 4am last night after a not so successful northern lights hunt.

The Ideal Scenario: You drive to a spot, the northern lights are already waiting for you. You whip out your camera, and start taking pictures.

The Reality: You arrive at a location, try to look for clear skies, or if not, try to look for “holes” between the clouds. Take out your camera, do a test shot with a long shutter speed to try to spot any greenish glow with your camera. No? Turn to another angle, and try it again. If nothing, you wait out in the cold for the next half hour and take another look around with your camera. If there is still nothing, you drive off to another spot and start the whole process again. In the cold.

With a body so tired after a full day’s worth of activities, trust me, it’s not fun. Especially, if you don’t see the lights at all. As time passes, you despair. 

Would you really have the energy to that same procedure every night? 

I was sitting right besides a bonfire wrapped up in a snowsuit, and feeling cold all the same.

No presents for guessing who I am! =D

Northern Lights, Norway, Tromso, finland, bonfire, group tour
Courtesy of Marek from Chasing Lights, Tromso

Prepare LOTS of Money

How much did I spend on both the trips? At LEAST 10k SGD. And that was staying in hostels + cooking my own food. To be fair, the **10k also included many other activities that I did. But, if you traveled to Iceland & Norway you wouldn’t be contented just to stare up in the sky every night would you? 

What if I didn’t see it on that first night in Norway? Another wasted trip? Or, would I have been contented to see it only as a faint glow in the sky?

10k… how many other trips could you have done? How many other (cheaper) experiences would you have had? What would you have gained in savings, investments etc?

Is the viewing northern lights worth that kind of money to you? Would I have embarked on the trips beforehand if I knew I would need to spend this amount of money?

What if I didn’t see the lights on that first night in Norway? Another wasted trip? Or, would I have been contented to see it only as a faint glow in the sky?

** Note that travelling alone does bring up the cost. Get a partner!! And you may be able to bring down this cost by sharing some of the stuff.

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