Arctistic Licence

Northern Lights

I’ve just come back from Iceland.  I went there to:

  1. celebrate the end of my first term at college
  2. use up my annual leave allowance
  3. see the Northern Lights

Having arrived very late last Tuesday evening, I spent the following day exploring the pretty little city of Reykjavik and was booked on a trip to see the Northern Lights in the evening. At around 8.30pm, I was picked up from my hotel with other excited tourists and we were driven out to that evening’s best vantage point.

During the hour long drive, the guide talked us through all the factors that might mean seeing – or not seeing – the lights. The list was long and one of the biggest factors seemed to be luck. As my family will attest, I am quite lucky, so didn’t see this as being an issue. We were nearing our destination when the guide suddenly stopped and said – “Look, they’re over there, on the right!” I was sat on the left side of the bus. “Can you see them?” she asked. Straining as far as my seatbelt would allow, I looked and looked for them but saw only my own reflection. She then said that they’d disappeared from the right, and were visible through the front window of the bus.  I was sat towards the back. Again, they disappeared almost as soon as she announced their presence.

A short while later, we arrived at our destination. We were on the coast, next to a church with neon lit headstones in the cemetery. It was a beautiful, clear night. The guide set up her camera and tripod and it was at that point I understood the images I’d seen of the Northern Lights had all been taken with a professional camera with a very slow shutter speed. She explained that only then can the vivid colours build up enough to create the impressive pictures we’ve seen in holiday brochures. Otherwise, the colours are usually too transient to be seen.

We drove onto another viewpoint, but the lights remained elusive – even to the guide – and after an hour of waiting, we were driven back. As we hadn’t seen the Lights, we were given the option of going again the following evening. The next day, I travelled to the Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle. When I got back to my hotel in the evening, the trip to see the Northern Lights had been cancelled due to bad weather.

On my last day, I went to the Tourist Information Centre. There, amongst the racks of postcards was an image of the Northern Lights, taken, no doubt, with a professional camera on a slow shutter speed.  So I took my own picture of it, with an iPhone and an Instagram filter.


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