We were about to open a bottle of Austrian red wine to celebrate my birthday. That very minute Marc stormed into our comfy apartment with the news we had longed to hear. The northern lights were in the sky, exactly on my birthday!
Even better, on my very first day of our stay on Senja! Of course I had secretly wished for this birthday present, but for it to really happen?
After hastily wrapping myself in seven layers of clothing, grabbing the tripod and the camera, I dashed up the little hill, right next to our little hotel complex. Eagerly searching the skies I saw nothing, absolutely nothing that looked like the bright green lights I had so often seen marveled at on photos. In the distance drifted bites of wafts that could have qualified as light fog. Marc and Christina, our coaches, must have dealt with this situation many times before: super excited people frenetically fighting with their tripods, ISOs, aperture and shutter times.
Cool as icicles they gave us the proper instructions and soon we stared at our first photos in disbelief -clearly and brightly, the northern lights were painted in the skies, in colors ranging from yellow to green. Once I got control over my camera I keep shooting away, with the lights getting stronger and stronger, the photos improved.
Encouraged by the ever increasing celestial activity, Marc and Christina piled us in the van and drove us to a viewpoint overlooking a fjord and a small village below. The perfect setting for what was about to come – a spectacle of whirls, spirals, wavy patterns, straight lines, arches, moving, dancing in bright green and purple. None of us felt the cold, it was pure excitement, a thrill unknown.
Equally, if not more spectacular, was our last night. I was leisurely walking back from the hotel to our apartment when it struck me, a sky full of greenish wafts. Again, first we took photos around the lighthouse next to the hotel, later we drove to a wide, open area surrounded by mountains. The snow sometimes reached up our hips. What fun we had! Being a lot more familiar with our equipment, we got daring, taking photos of ourselves with the northern light or using trees as the ideal forefront for the lights dancing in the background. At times the lights danced so fast that we had no time to change the shutter speed or ISO to freeze them, resulting in large fuzzy drifts smeared across the sky. Once there was a bright arch right above us, in order to catch that I would have needed a super, super wide angle. The other gadget I missed so badly was an intervalometre. What a name! It allows the camera to take a photo every few seconds from one particular point, without further doings. Later a software turns these couple hundred of these photos into a short, very short video. The result is awe-inspiring – an aurora racing across the sky.
Watching a full-blown aurora is a life-time experience, something that fills you nothing but happiness.
Like all natural phenomena nobody can guarantee the northern lights to dance for you, but that far north, in clear weather, the chances are very very good. Being on the coast has two advantages: temperatures are a lot milder and the weather changes quickly. So it is yery unlikely you are stuck in a week-long snowstorm at temperatures hitting-35 degrees Celsius. This can easily be the case in the interior of Lapland, where only the Sami people can deal with this battery-eating climate.
A short article why only photos reveal the true color of the northern lights
How to turn the northern lights in a time-lapse video