Day 4/10 – Part 2/3

Aurora Borealis

At 21:00 there is nothing to be seen outside, or is it? There is a vague band visible in the north, just like a long cloud, but with a greenish color. In the west it’s still reasonably light, because the sun has set only an hour ago. But this is clearly Northern Lights, very weak though. Can barely see it. The eyes are not in night vision mode yet either, because I just have been following my head lights for a while.

I find a place, shoot a photo and start waiting. The camera clearly sees more than I do.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

This time I’m better prepared. I’m using Lifeview (the same screen you have on compact cameras) and zoom as far as possible towards a bright star (which I think is a planet by the way, because it’s so much brighter and bigger than the stars surrounding it, Venus maybe?). Then turn the focus ring until the dot is as small and sharp as possible. A trick I learned two years ago in Tekapo, New Zealand at the local observatory.

With aperture f4 the lens operates at its sharpest. Then increase ISO while keeping the shuttertime as short as possible. I end up with ISO 2000 (20 x light amplification) and a shuttertime of 20 seconds. Above 30 seconds the stars become stripes. The light is reasonable stable, so a somewhat longer shuttertime is not that bad.

In the south there is a nice dark sky with lots of stars in it.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

20 minutes later there are two bands and they are already much clearer than a while ago. It’s comparable with street lighting that has to warm up before burning at full power. In the beginning they provide very little light. Sometimes it seems that you see it better when not looking at it directly, but just a bit next to it.

Somewhat later the light in the north is better visible, but still a lot weaker with the naked eye than on this photo.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

The last bits of light are disappearing and then two fountains of light appear in the west, with even some weak purple colored light.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Now the light is much brighter, the snowy mountains are colored green by it. A one minute exposure, changes the stars into colored stripes.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

The light coming from the west becomes better and better. Left in the middle is a satellite trail visible.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

These photos are so much better than yesterdays. I also shoot a couple with mountains in the foreground. The intensity of the light variates continuously. Sometimes it’s very weak and at other times large parts of the photo are too bright. I try to film it as well, but that proves to be impossible. I can’t see anything.

Cars are passing by often which irritates me a bit at first, but soon I learn to use it to my advantage.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Sometimes weird looking shadows are visible, like here in the center where the light seems to come from.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Suddenly, the light becomes much brighter and fireflies (?) come into view.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

The whole sky is on fire by several bands of light moving wildly.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Now it’s also straight above me.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

I keep shooting. Very difficult to stop…

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

…and so very beautiful to see, addictive almost.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Then a strong light is suddenly pointed towards me. I have parked the car next to a construction site (although it seems like one) and I walked towards the water earlier. I think that I’m on someones terrain and they see my highlight switching on and off all the time. The light stays directed towards me from the road for a couple of minutes. I’m thinking, just have a look overhere and talk, but nobody is coming. I see the lamp moving though, so someone is holding it. For a second I think about going there, but on the other hand just leave it. I continue shooting photographs.

The light starts moving more. The bands are more in the south now and sometimes there is vertical movement to be seen. At one point this happens right above me and there is even some reddish light. It looks like water being poored from a fire distinguisher airplane. Looks quite weird, but very beautiful!

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

The bright light goes off. Apparently they have seen enough.

More bands are added and the movement within each band increases, a kind of ripple effect, vertical sticks that are put rapidly next to each other from left to right. Sometimes it happens inside a band in the middle and at other times it happens at the end in the east thereby making the band longer.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

After a while I have seen enough from here and start looking for better foreground material for the rest of the evening.

Kirkjufell

I return to Kirkjufell. Close to the sign, I try to walk to the waterfall in the dark, but that doesn’t prove to be easy. There seems to be a frozen pond between me and the waterfall, but the flashlight hasn’t enough reach to see it completely. I do see cars and people overthere, so apparently you can get there, but without knowing how, it’s impossible to do in the dark without a fair chance of getting wet.

I shoot here for a while photos of the light and the mountains in the south…

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

…and with Kirkjufell at the foreground towards the north. Here with a satellite trail in the upper right corner.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

This reddish light is invisible for the naked eye. The camera appears to be a lot more sensitive than our own optical system.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

For just a minute there seems to be a dark shadow to the left, next to the green light. Weird. Finally at the photo I notice that this is actually very weak dark red light. Not that weird in the end because our eyes are much more sensitive to green light then to red and blue.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

The show keeps getting better. The bands are really moving now. Sometimes there is a kind of ripple effect visible, vertical bars moving from left to right like a conveyor belt. Wonder what’s causing that. Sometimes a new band gets build up in that way, every time a couple of new bars next to it.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

It’s impossible to make this visible on the photographs, because of the long shuttertimes. The bars paint over each other, turning the light into a flat green band. This requires a lens with a larger aperture, which I will be going after, once home, for the next time.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Sometimes the light seems to fade away and then suddenly it’s back again. Shuttertimes and ISO have to be adapted all the time to match the intensity of the light.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

A couple of times there is a narrow band visible that moves back and forth like a snake.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

After a while I cross the road, because cars keep passing and it’s also time to change the foreground somewhat, closer to Kirkjufell. Here I stay shooting for some hours. A couple of times, the band is moving very fast while a ripple is going through it. At the underside the light is reddish for a very short period. Both times, the camera is busy with an exposure so I miss these.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

I get into a talk with a couple of British guys. This is their first day here and they have been looking all day for this location. They intend to go to the waterfall and I wish them all the best. In darkness they are not going to find it. For just a minute a guy comes racing in with all his head lights on and parks his car wildly very close to us. Well thank you very much you clodhopper! Because of the bright light, I can barely see the Aurora. The camera luckily doesn’t have that problem.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Later I’m getting the feeling that the light has changed. The camera is getting much more out of it than I’m seeing myself. There still is a vague band with a touch of green light, but on the photographs almost the whole sky has green illumination.

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Aurora Borealis at Grundarfjordur

Around 01:30 I’m the only one left here and the show is clearly less spectacular than earlier. Have been busy for 4.5 hours (-; Time flies… The cold has got into my clothes mean while. Time to go to bed. Gladly that’s very close by. The seat heating that I discovered yesterday is just lovely.

I must have have a look at the photographs, but around 02:00 I force myself to go to bed. Tomorrow morning I want to visit the waterfall around 07:00 for photographs.

Great night this has been. During the highlight of the show I found myself laughing loudly of pure pleasure. So beautiful and special this was! I wander what a 6 on the Aurora-scale must look like or what to think of a 9…

Maps, Charts & Downloads

GPS Map with color coded altitude information

Color coded distance/altitude chart

Color coded distance/altitude chart, Iceland Winter 2013, Day 04

Download the original gpx file here.

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