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Photography Tips for Capturing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is one of the most spectacular phenomena on earth. Capturing this celestial dance is a highlight for any photographer's portfolio. Iceland, with its optimal conditions of clear dark skies and minimal light pollution, offers one of the best stages to photograph this natural wonder. Capturing the auroras, however, is challenging and requires both preparation and patience. Whether you're a seasoned photographer or a hobbyist, these tips will help you capture the Northern Lights in all their glory during your Icelandic adventure.


Before you begin your photographic journey, it's important to understand what the Aurora Borealis is and when it's most likely to appear. The Northern Lights are caused by particles from the sun striking Earth’s atmosphere, creating bright colors across the sky. In Iceland, the aurora season runs from late August to early April, with peak visibility from September to March when the nights are darkest.


The auroras are highly unpredictable, but your best chance to see them is on a clear, dark night. Aim for times between 10 PM and 2 AM, although they can appear anytime from dusk to dawn. Monitoring aurora forecasts can also help increase your chances of a sighting. Websites like the Icelandic Meteorological Office provide daily forecasts on aurora activity.


Capturing the Northern Lights requires some specialized gear and settings:


  • Camera: A DSLR or a mirrorless camera capable of manual settings is ideal.
  • Wide-Angle Lens: A fast wide-angle lens (24mm or wider, f/2.8 or faster) will capture more of the sky and landscapes.
  • Tripod: Essential for stability during long exposures.
  • Extra Batteries: Cold weather drains battery life quickly, so have extras on hand.
  • Remote Shutter Release: To avoid camera shake when pressing the shutter button.


  • Focus: Set your lens to manual focus and adjust it to infinity. Test this during the day to find the sharpest setting.
  • Aperture: Use a wide aperture (low f-number) to allow more light to hit the sensor.
  • Shutter Speed: Start with a 15-second exposure and adjust depending on the aurora’s movement. Faster movement may require shorter exposures to capture detailed shapes.
  • ISO: Begin at ISO 1600. If the lights are weak, gradually increase the ISO to 3200 or higher. Be cautious of higher ISO settings as they can introduce noise. White Balance: Set manually to a Kelvin temperature of around 3500 to 4000 to cool down the colors a bit.


Iceland is full of remote areas that are ideal for night photography due to minimal light pollution. Here are some top locations:


Located about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers a dramatic landscape of tectonic rift valleys and a vast, open sky for a perfect backdrop of the lights.


The icebergs and calm waters provide a unique foreground for reflections of the auroras. It’s a farther drive but well worth it for the breathtaking scenery.


This iconic mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula serves as a fantastic focal point with the auroras dancing above it. The nearby waterfalls add to the composition, making it one of Iceland’s most photographed spots.

4. VIK

This small town on the south coast has black sand beaches and rocky seascapes that contrast beautifully with the green tones of the auroras.


For those who prefer urban settings, the capital city of Reykjavik can surprisingly offer good sightings, especially from areas like the Grótta lighthouse.


  • STAY WARM: Dress in multiple thermal layers and bring hot drinks—waiting out in the Icelandic cold can be challenging.
  • BE PATIENT AND PERSISTENT: The auroras can be elusive; they might appear faintly or burst out in full glory, so patience and persistence are key. USE APPS: Apps like Aurora Forecast and PhotoPills can help you plan your shoot with forecasts and augmented reality features showing where the lights are likely to appear.
  • RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT: Stick to marked paths and respect private property. Iceland’s landscapes are pristine but fragile. POST-PROCESSING YOUR PHOTOS

Post-processing is crucial in bringing out the colors and details in your aurora photos:

  • EDITING SOFTWARE: Use Lightroom or Photoshop to adjust exposure, contrast, and color balance.
  • NOISE REDUCTION: High ISOs can introduce noise. Utilize noise reduction features sparingly to maintain detail.
  • ENHANCE COLORS: Gently increase saturation and vibrance to make the colors pop, but avoid over-saturation.

Photographing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland is an adventure that combines the thrill of the chase with the art of photography. With the right gear, settings, and a bit of luck, you’ll capture stunning images that convey the magic of this celestial phenomenon. Remember, every aurora display is unique, so enjoy the moment, whether you’re behind the lens or soaking in the night sky with your own eyes. Happy shooting, and may the lights be in your favor!

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