Top 5 things that you need to know before going on your holiday for the Northern Lights

Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are some of the top places to visit and also without fail, to catch one of the most natural occurring scientific phenomenon of Earth, the Northern lights, also known as Aurora Borealis. So how do you enjoy this amazing sight out in the cold? Here I have gathered some tips based on my experience! Enjoy!

1.  Environment

You will need lots of luck! This is just like watching how animals behave in the South Africa. It is nature, but only this is a bit better because if the following 3 conditions are met, faster prepare your camera! It might just appear anytime!

  • Clear sky with billions of stars

The surroundings you are in have to be as dark as possible, get away from any source of light, even a street light can interfere with your Northern Light experience. How to know if the place you are in is dark enough? You must be able to see lots and lots of stars!

If it is rainy/snowy, this means that it is very cloudy which means that you need to pray very very hard the sky clears in the next few hours. If it is partly cloudy, it would mean a 50/50 chance, if you can find the hole in the sky you might have chance.

  • Good Kp index (intensity) of Northern lights

What is Kp index and where to check? It range from 0(min) to 10(maximum). Thus, for Kp index above 2 the lights can be quite visible with the clear sky.

  • And the position of the Aurora Ovation Oval (light radius) is right above the country you are in.

As you know, the Earth orbits around the sun, hence, depending on which country you are in and at different timings, you will get to see different intensity of the lights. The key to seeing the different colours of lights dancing above your head is to have the Aurora Ovation Oval right above the country that you are located in! Go to this link to press play either for the northern or southern hemisphere and watch the top right time run as the earth orbits. The picture below shows the Northern Lights at 20.45UT(Universal time) above Russia,the Scandinavian countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden and also Iceland.

2.  Applications and links to check the Northern lights Forecast.

For Iceland aurora prediction: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/

How to use: from this website, you can see the cloud cover prediction for Iceland, the areas on the map that have white represent clear sky and those that are dark represent cloudy sky. So by clicking the left and right arrow below you will be able to see the clouds cover at different time. The top right represent Northern lights forecast’s kp index.

For Finland, Sweden you can use http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/

For Norway you can download the app call Norwaylights by clicking on the link.

aurora at abisko national park
p.s taken in Sweden abisko national park with goPro5.

3. Camera

When you are out in the cold to take photos of the Northern Lights, it is crucial that you know your camera well so that you will not fumble when you want to take photos of the Northern Lights when it appears right before you. Because when you are out in the cold and it can be so cold that you are not able to feel your fingers, so you need to get acquainted with your camera. So what kind of camera should you choose that suits you best? There are few options that you may consider.

  • DSLR(Expensive but captures the best pictures if you are a pro)
finland aurora
p.s. taken using DSLR,Canon 450D, in finland,taken by Norman lau
  • GoPro HERO 4 or 5 (Cost of camera is mid-range and able to capture most of the lights in the landscape environment because of the wide angle lens)
aurora in iceland
p.s. taken by goPro5 in Iceland.
  • Mobile Aurora Borealis app (cost around 1 usd for the app to get an average photo)
  • Mobile camera (The most available camera you may have but it is not recommended as sometimes you can’t capture anything when it is dark.)

Once you have your camera, get a remote for your camera and a tripod as well. This is EXTREMELY EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that I could not emphasize further because you do not want your photos to appear shaky or blur. A good tripod and a remote is definitely is must.

4.Identifying the Northern Lights

When the kp index is low, for example kp index 2, the Northern lights appear like clouds to the naked eye, moving vertically upwards, sometimes you might not know even when you are looking at it. But, nevertheless, still pray for the high kp index!

5.Selecting the season to hunt for the Northern Lights

The right timing does matter, the best season / period to catch the Northern Lights is from September to March. Rumors about it diminishing are a myth. It is just expected to appear less frequent. Northern lights take place at the peak on an 11-year solar cycle. The Northern lights appear when there are solar eruptions on the Sun. The intensity of the Northern lights depends on how massive the solar eruptions are. The eruptions may occur erratically and unpredictably.

The peak of the Northern lights were at 2014, we are currently experiencing a downward cycle heading into year 2020(lowest) and the next peak is at year 2025.

 

BONUS TIPS WITH GOPRO HERO!!!!

The challenge about taking still photos of the Northern lights with a GoPro HERO , is to take photo of yourself together with the Northern lights in the background. You will need to have a good spotlight to shine on yourself but not too bright until you can’t see the Northern lights in your photos. Get someone to shine an external light on you so that you can take photos of yourself together with the beautiful Northern lights. For me, I used my iPhone camera light to shine on my lower body to illuminate myself in the photo. Having done that, adjust the settings of your GoPro HERO camera, the shutter speed should be 15 to 20sec, and because of the timing, you should stay PERFECTLY still when you click the shutter button because you would want a clear, well-lit photo of yourself together with the Northern lights!

goPro5 setting for aurora
p.s settings for gopro5,photo>night mode>shutter 15s or 20s,PT as above.

Now that you have gathered all the precious and important information, book a trip and start hunting! GOOD LUCK!

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