Dancing Skies: Northern Lights at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

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“Time feels as frozen as the icebergs floating on the glacier lagoon in front of me.  My mind has stopped wandering, incapable of focusing on anything but the moment I am in.  My eyes are fixated on a sky that has transformed into a kaleidoscope of colours.  It’s the Northern Lights – and it’s an epic performance.”

 

Two Hours Earlier

The stage is set.  Icebergs of all shapes and sizes are scattered around the lagoon, like extras in a play.  The glacier from which their journey began creates an imposing backdrop and the cloud that has been covering the sky like a curtain begins to clear, unveiling a collection of shimmering stars.  The moon has risen behind us and although it threatens the dark skies we are hoping for, it throws a soft and subtle light over the stage, beautifully lighting the foreground.

The audience is ready.  We’ve been following the aurora forecast for days, excited by the news that not one, but two geomagnetic storms are due to hit earth within days of each other, a rare and potentially spectacular event.  Unfortunately our excitement has been overshadowed by our frustration with the rain and cloud that has blanketed the Icelandic skies all week, obscuring any potential view of the aurora.

But tonight is different.

The rain has stopped, the skies are clearing and the second storm is due to hit this evening, with a G3 rating driving a KP Index prediction of 7.  In other words, the aurora forecast is strong – very strong.  We know it is out there: we’ve been teased with a preview on our way to the lagoon, a splash of green in the sky, enticing us to continue our journey towards a more picturesque setting.  The light was moderate and only partially visible, but the forecast is strong with reports of sightings as far south as England.

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We arrive at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and we are ready for the main event.

So we wait.  And we wait.  And we wait.

The previews continue but with fading intensity.  The light we had seen earlier with our naked eye can only be captured now with our cameras.  As the skies clear in the west and north, the aurora hovers behind the cloud that remains in the south.  The hope and anticipation we enjoyed earlier in the evening is morphing into an uncomfortable sense of feeling underwhelmed.

But just as we fear the night is reaching an anti-climactic end, the sky changes colour.

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And the main event begins.

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It starts with a simple green shape hovering above the horizon, before splashes of purple and magenta are introduced.  The single shape starts to spread across the sky like paint that has been thrown onto a canvas.  An invisible artist lifts a paintbrush, creating horizontal streaks before stretching the colours high into the sky.  Within minutes, the canvas in front of us is spectacularly covered with hues of yellow, green, purple and magenta.

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And just when I think it can’t any better, it begins to dance.  It twists and it turns, moving to a melody only it can hear.  The sky is its dance floor and it is treating us to an epic performance.

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It is intense.  It is breath-taking.  It is awe-inspiring.

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Right Place at the Right Time

I’d arrived in Iceland a few days earlier, preparing for a week of landscape photography in a country which had mesmerised me during my first visit two years earlier.  I was joining five other enthusiastic photographers on a Lightstalkers tour run by Glen Campbell, the friend and professional photographer I had previously travelled with in Scotland, Australia and Croatia.  We were also spending a couple of days with Páll Jökull Pétursson, an Icelandic photographer and friend of Glen’s who runs local photography tours through Landscape Photography Iceland.  I was looking forward to photographing waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, icebergs, volcanic landscape and geysers.

I was also hoping to see the Northern Lights.

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My first sighting had been in the Lofoten Islands earlier this year and whilst the experience was memorable, I hadn’t been entirely happy with my photographs.  I was greedy – I wanted a second chance.  It wasn’t the reason I had returned to Iceland, but wow, what a bonus it would be!

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Being September, I knew an aurora sighting in Iceland was possible.  I also knew it was not guaranteed.  We needed to be in the right place at the right time, with both solar and weather conditions on our side.

And we were!

Within a few hours on that incredibly special evening, an otherwise great photography tour of Iceland was upgraded to incredible.

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Kellie, you have excelled your normally excellent standards. What amazing photos and your words re equally inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Beautiful shots! To see this in person must have been truly incredible.

  3. I think those are the best photos of this stunning phenomena that I hav ever seen. Thanks!

  4. We are big fans of auroras, having seen some pretty good ones in Antarctica. Must admit your shots are amazing and aren’t they just the most eerie of things to watch.

  5. WOW, amazing northern lights photos Kellie!!! I love them all! You really managed to capture all it`s colours beautifully!

    It is difficult to take good northern lights photos, I know because I am from Tromso in Northern Norway and we have northern lights all the time during winter. Plus it is extra hard with all the waiting, waiting and waiting, and usually it is freezing cold too! 🙂 So great job! This really made me home sick. 🙂

    • Thanks Maria! Yes, taking a good aurora shot feels earned as you rightly point out – it’s not easy and requires lots of patience in the cold! But it certainly was worth it in this case. I’ve been to Tromso once, but in summer, it’s such a beautiful location, I’d love to return one day.

  6. Wow, these photographs are absolutely incredible! Sorry I don’t have anything more original to say, I’m just really awestruck! You’ve certainly convinced me that I need to travel to Iceland to see this myself…wow wow wow. What an experience.

    • Thanks Leah. Yes, it was a pretty incredible experience! Iceland is a great place to try and see the Northern Lights because even if you are unlucky, it’s an incredibly beautiful place to visit. The aurora sighting is always a bonus…but an incredible bonus at that!

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