When we told people we were traveling to Sweden in March we were asked, “Isn’t it still cold there?” The answer was yes, it was cold. In fact, it was very cold where we were planning on going, because we were heading above the Arctic Circle to Swedish Lapland. There was a reason we were going to spend four nights in below freezing temperatures—the Northern Lights. Come hell or high-water, I was going to see and photograph the famous Northern Lights . . . if I was lucky.
Our Northern Lights Story
I was under no misapprehension that a Northern Lights sighting was guaranteed. I had been researching seeing and photographing the Northern Lights, including the recitations of fellow travel blogger Jennifer Dombrowski, Luxe Adventure Traveler, about her chase of the Northern Lights, especially her 5 Things No One Ever Tells You About the Northern Lights. I had found in my research that Swedish Lapland above the Arctic Circle was one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.
When we arrived in Jukkasjärvi I neurotically checked my Aurora Forecast app, an Aurora Service website with an hourly forecast, the Aurora Sky Station web cam, and the AccuWeather.com cloud forecast.
Our first night in Jukkasjärvi, March 16, was supposed to have very low aurora levels, but according to the weather forecast that night was going to be the clearest night of our four nights in Swedish Lapland. This was also the day we were spending the night in an ICEHOTEL cold room. We sat in the dressing room of the ICEHOTEL, falling asleep occasionally and heading outside every half-hour in hopes of seeing some small glimmer of green light in the sky. It wasn’t until we had given up and were getting ready to head to our ice bed around 1:30 a.m. that I saw the tiniest bit of movement in the sky. It was barely anything, but it was my first ever sighting of the Northern Lights and I was worried that was all I was going to get.
|I was worried these were the only Northern Lights we would see. They're not much to write home about.|
|We would have been happy with just this glimpse of the Northern Lights.|
|Our Northern Lights show started with pink.|
|The Northern Lights moved and changed to shades of orange.|
Travel to the Best Places to See the Northern Lights
|Shooting star or satellite?|
Travel When the Northern Lights Can Be Seen
Plan Non-Aurora Related Activities
|If we hadn't seen the Northern Lights, we still would have had fun snowmobiling.|
Know What to Expect About the Northern Lights
|The Northern Lights even look different on different cameras.|
Set Yourself Up for Successfully Photographing the Northern Lights
|Mother Nature sent a heart for our broken-hearted companion.|
- Set your camera’s focus to infinite, or focus on something as far away as possible. It is easy to forget this step in the excitement, but if you don’t set the focus, your photos will be blurry.
- Set your ISO to the lowest number that will still allow your image sensor to capture an image (see below for examples as this number can vary depending on the camera’s capabilities). The lower the ISO, the less graininess (noise) your photo will have.
- Set your f-stop to the lowest number possible. The smaller the number, the more light that is let into the lens, which provides a better picture with the shutter being open as short of a time as possible.
- Set your shutter speed for the optimal time based on the brightness of the Northern Lights. While you can pretty much leave your focus, ISO, and f-stop alone once set, the number of seconds you will keep your shutter open will change depending on the brightness. We used anywhere from eight to 30 seconds. This is why a tripod is essential.
- Use a wide-angle lens if possible. The more of the sky and landscape you can get into the picture, the better.
- Take off that lens filter. If you use a filter on your lens, you might come home, go through your pictures, and find that in the center of your beautiful Northern Lights photos there is a circular pattern that almost looks like a fingerprint. It has something to do with the spectral emissions of the aurora and the parallel faces of the filter and other scientific sounding words. Bottom line, lose the filter.
When I told a friend about our experience and how, even after we had arrived home, I still found myself peering anxiously up into the night sky, she said that's what children do, and isn't that a wonderful thing to have that feeling back. She was right. The Northern Lights are such an awe-inspiring phenomenon they draw up that wonderment and excitement we had as children about the little things in life. They remind us there are things in this world that may be hard to understand and should just be enjoyed when we are lucky enough to witness them.
Thank you to Lights Over Lapland and Kiruna Guidetur for hosting our Northern Lights tours and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own. Purchasing items through this article's affiliate links help fund our travels.