It is about time - the first Northern Lights are popping up and we are sitting restless home. I (Henning from Arctic Campers) should be outside - armed with tripod and camera chasing the lights. Instead I am writing this blog to share my experience from the last years. I worked for 3 years in Lofoten as a Northern Lights guide, mostly for photographers or people which had the Aurora on their bucket list. I have seen them a thousand times. But still spotting them, especially when the activity of the Northern Lights is raging, is still super thrilling. I remember pretty clear my three biggest Aurora experiences so far. Something that stays. There are for sure different ways to approach a successful Aurora Hunt, here comes my version:
The best circumstances to spot the Aurora Borealis:
Two things are essential for spotting "Lady Aurora"! You need an almost clear night sky and of course Northern Lights activity. To spot them in their full beauty, you should make sure to be away from city lights or any other disturbing artificial light sources. This kind of light pollution is reducing a clear view towards the Northern Lights. It makes it much harder to spot them when they are still weak. Also making good pictures with long time exposure becomes difficult if there are artificial light sources.
The only time to see Northern Lights:
The Northern Lights season starts in September above the Arctic Circle. The last can be seen in the beginning of April. From that month on the sun is up almost 24 hours and there will be no darkness anymore.
What you should bring:
I will list the absolutely essentials to bring. Especially when you are hunting the Aurora with an Arctic Camper.
- Warm clothes - for sure you need that. (Essentials: Snow boots & ski underwear)
- Tripod - make sure you bring a heavy one, since it can be windy
- Camera - with long time exposure function
- Small torch or headlight - to adjust the camera in the darkness
- Smart phone or tablet - to check weather forecast and Northern Lights activity
- Thermos jug - hot tea or coffee keeps up your endurance while hunting (can be rented from us)
How to proceed after you picked up your camper:
Load your camper with enough supplies so you are ready to go wherever the Northern Lights will take you. Before you´re good to go - open our guide. Check several locations in all cardinal directions for the best weather forecast. On the detail pages you will find the weather forecast for now and in 24 hours for the particular location. Most interesting is the "Cloudiness" display. It should show below 60% cloudiness. When you found a place -> start driving. You can (soon on our webpage, too) check the Northern Lights activity on various websites. We can recommend http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/ for now. But this forecasts are never 100% reliable. I have experienced strong Northern Lights even if the forecast was predicting no activity and the other way around. The only thing that helps is keeping an eye towards the sky. And of course you will be above the Arctic Circle for some days, so take it as it comes with the Northern Lights prediction.
Start driving to the location with the best weather forecast. Make sure it is not close to a city, we also have marked several locations as Northern Lights Spots in our online guide. Xheck out the short list at the end of this blog. Try to keep your eyes on the road while driving. Let your co-driver scan the sky for Northern Lights when you are on the road.
The best help to spot the Northern Lights when they are in a early stage.
This trick helps if you see something on the sky and your are not sure if it is a Northern Light or just a cloud. Take your camera, open the aperture and adjust the exposure to 3 seconds. Take a picture roughly towards the spot on the sky you think that could be Northern Lights. If your display shows a white cloud, you can be sure it is nothing. But if you see something light green - JACKPOT - there it is! This little green might be something that could develop to a bigger Aurora burst. Keep an eye on it.
Setting up your "Aurora Hunting Camp"
When you arrive at the promising spot, park the camper so the hatch window points North. Most likley the Aurora will show up there and if it works out well you can spot them comfortably from the camper bed. Prepare some tea or coffee for the night. Keep the Diesel heater on if it is getting cold. Set up the tripod outside so you don't have to do it when suddenly the lights show up. Take your time to choose a good spot, be aware that they could show up in all directions. Now you need patience. If you don't want to stay all night long outside, arrange a night watch with your travel mate. So one of you guys goes outside and check the sky every 10 minutes. If the weather in Tromsø is good you can also check this picture of a live cam. It is showing the sky in a live picture above the city with a sensitive camera. The example below from the Tromsø all-sky camera is taken in that moment while I am writing this blog.
Suddenly the sky is on fire!
What to do? Stay calm - but hurry up. Jump out of the camper and enjoy. You never know how long the Aurora will last. It can show up for only some minutes or stay for half an hour. Also kind of important to experience the Aurora ones without trying to take a picture. That impression will stay in your mind forever. If you are lucky and you experience an really active burst, check out the movements. For me most impressive are this waves of green wafting across the sky - sometimes with a unbelievable pace. I know when this happens even Northern Norwegians are "kind of" impressed. The problem now, when the Northern Lights starting to decrease intensity you don't want to go back into your camper. To big is the fear to miss out the next burst. You are right, but it might be cold and you are tired. So continue the night watch maybe this time within a 15 minutes interval. Of course you could also just go to sleep, but the real Aurora Hunter naps during the day time.
Find the right spot
When guests are picking up the camper one question is often "Where are the best places to spot the Northern Lights?". It is hard to answer, since you can see them from everywhere, as long as the sky is clear. But of course there are some places which have a great surrounding landscape. I will list a few here, which are all marked in our guide.
- Gløshaugen - wild camp spot up in the mountains
- Kattfjordvatnet - little light pollution not far from Tromsø
- Russelv Lyngen Alps - great open view towards North
- Flakstad Beach - Maybe the most popular spot in Lofoten
- Utakleiv - (not on the guide yet) great view towards North
You might also have a look into an earlier blog entry about chasing the lights in a camper van.