Tips for seeing the Northern Lights

The aurora borealis has long fascinated travellers. The locals believed they were the trails of a celestial fox as it ran through the night sky; others that they were the lights from the dead. The Northern Lights have always been elusive, mysterious and awe-inspiring. Here are a few tried and tested tips for catching the aurora borealis on your own Northern Lights hunt.

Seeing the Northern Lights
Sunspot cycles (Pic from www.science1.nasa.gov)

Go during a solar peak

The Northern Lights are bigger and brighter during a solar maximum, or peak in the solar cycle. This occurs once every 11 years or so  and there is increased solar activity such as sunspots, which in turn means more and more dramatic Northern Lights. 2014 is the tail end of the solar cycle, but with a high level of sun activity at the end of 2013, you may get lucky!

Seeing the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights filling the skies (Pic from www.nature.desktopnexus.com)

Go in September/October or March/April

The magic months to view the aurora appears to be in September/October or March/April.  Statistically, these are the best months to see the Northern Lights, though much also depends on local weather conditions. The aurora is often in play; however cloud cover, rain or snow means that the lights are obscured. Choose to visit above the Arctic Circle during the drier, clearer months to maximise your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Seeing the Northern Lights
Settings for shooting low light (Pic from www.digitalcameraworld.com)

Be prepared to photograph the lights

Photographing the Northern Lights is technically challenging, but with a little preparation you should be able to capture the aurora. A few additional tips for taking photographs of the Northern Lights:

  • Use a DSLR camera. No other camera will allow you to photograph the Northern Lights like a DSLR.
  • Bring spare batteries and store them in your pocket to keep them warm. Cold conditions can result in reduced battery life.
  • Use a memory card built for extreme conditions. I relied on two SanDisk cards from their Extreme range, which held up well for me.
  • Bring a torchlight – useful for picking your way around in the dark, adjusting camera settings or doing portrait photography.
Seeing the northern lights
Warm layers are essential (Pic from www.theunemployedcollegegrad.blogspot.com)

Dress warmly

The aurora is usually only seen above the Arctic Circle, during the winter months. This means that if you go hunting for the Northern Lights, it will be cold. Dress warmly, in layers, making sure you are well prepared for the weather. There will be extended periods of standing around waiting for the lights to show. Ensure you have a good quality base layer – silk lined gloves, thermal base tops and thermal leggings, and double layered socks are essential! A windbreaker is also an essential to keep the heat in.

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6 Comments

  1. We’re heading to Lake Inari and Karasjok for the last week of February, and I am hoping and praying that we get lucky. It’s been a dream of mine to see the lights for as long as I can remember!!

  2. We’re heading to Lake Inari and Karasjok for the last week of February and I am hoping and praying that we get lucky and see the lights. It’s been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember!!

    1. Good luck Shelley! I hope you see them too! There has been good solar activity the last few weeks so you ought to get a good display. How long are you at Lake Inari and Karasjok for?

      1. We’ve got 2 nights in Lake Inari and another 4 in Karasjok, hopefully it’s enough time to give us a good shot!! 🙂

  3. Always wanted to see the northern lights! Great tips to keep in mind, especially about keeping warm – cold weather is foreign to a South Texan like myself hehe 🙂

    1. I grew up in tropical Malaysia, so anything under 20 is “chilly” for me! Stay warm when you do go!

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