The best shots are the ones that are hard to make and patience is the key.

Call me lucky (I am honestly speaking quite lucky when I travel) but before arriving in Iceland, I had booked three nights: the first night, the last one close to the airport in KEF, (because of a very early flight)  and a random night, around the middle of the trip, in Gullfoss. The hotel being located in a remote area, far away from the city lights, I thought it would be the perfect set-up to take good shots.

After checking-in, I drove to Laugarvatn to spend some time at Fontana, a natural hot spring. Great place btw if you like that kind of activities, as it is far less overcrowded with tourists than the Blue Lagoon. And what’s nice about this place is the possibility to jump in the lake (<8 degrees!!) after the sauna or the hot tub. I love doing that. It makes you feel alive!

After roughly 3 hours of going back and forth between the hot spring and the frozen lake and a solid dinner at a very nice restaurant located next to it, called Lindin, I arrived at the hotel kind of tired. So I crawled (in)to my bed to take a short nap. Before doing so, I told the night concierge to knock on my door, if it happened to have anything outside.

And thank god, she did. Cause I was looking outside through the window but the Aurora was on the other side of the hotel :-)! And according to her, due to the severe weather, they hadn’t seen any for a month or so (see chapter 3b for additional infos about the Northern Lights). What a perfect timing right? One week before and I would have been screwed!!

So I dressed up in a hurry, packed my stuff and jumped in the car to drive back to Gullfoss as I wanted to take some shots with the waterfall at night.

Well it wasn’t possible after all, the aurora being on the “land-side”. Nonetheless, the parking was a good set-up: I could use up the car to lift up my small Joby Gorilla-(Tri)pod and get better angles. Furthermore, I met a bunch of American and Brazilian students who were on a road trip as well and sleeping in a camper on that parking . We opened a bottle of sparkling wine (well they called it Champagne but we all know the difference), a few beers and despite the cold we had a great time. On top of that I could “take advantage” of one of the girls and use her as a reference point for my camera to adjust the focus. Win-win situation I guess. She got herself “portrayed” and I did better shots ;-)!


And call me lucky again, the last night, I got a notification from the app saying that I would have a roughly 30% chance to spot an Aurora in the following hour. So once again, same ritual (warm clothes, hand and feet heater, beers, etc.).

Aurora Hunter’s Kit

And as I was exiting the building, she was right above the guesthouse. What a beauty! She was dancing in the sky, I was gazing at it and couldn’t stop smiling. And I forgot all the rest. I even almost forgot to take the camera out of the bag. But eventually I did. I walked to a small field next to the guesthouse and this time, I could use the street lamps as reference to sharpen the focus.


I think you can notice some improvement between the first and the second session right? Nonetheless, this would be my main learnings:

  1. If you want to make good Aurora pictures, have a proper and steady tripod. These GorillaPod are quite handy when you travel and need sporadically a tripod but far too limited for proper shots at night, especially in windy environment.
  2. Favor wide-angle over aperture. I was switching back and forth between my 35mm f1:4 and my 18-135mm f3:5-5:6, and I believe, with a right shutter speed (>20sec), the wide angle achieved better results.
  3. Use a building, car or reference point to adjust the focus. The Auroras are really subtle and your camera won’t probably be able to adjust automatically. If you don’t have anything, and you can remote control your camera e.g. with your smartphone, you can serve as reference, especially if you have for instance a headlamp.
  4. Have enough batteries (at least 2 but I would say 3 or more). In the cold, batteries drain out really quickly. And carry them close to your body (for instance in those traveler fanny pack), so that your body heat can keep them warm enough.
  5. I tried to do a time-laps with the GoPro but if you are on a parking with cars coming back and forth, the beam of light will annihilate all your ambition (damn it)!
  6. Be patient, stay warm and have a great time. The hunt is really a lot of fun and not knowing the outcome of the night makes the whole quest way more exciting. Great pictures are the ones that are hard to get and who knows, patience is sometime rewarded!

I selected in my opinion the best shots. I did a slight post-prod editing (JPEG) with the open source software Gimp (the one I’ve been using for years now) and I’m quite happy with the results. I hope you’ll like them. And I’m sure there is still room for improvement ;-).

Looking forward to your comments, questions, etc.!

For the musical interlude, I think this song from Moby fits perfectly.

Moby – God moving over the face of the waters