Chasing Northern Lights in Iceland


Pablo is my best friend from college, and since I’ve known him he like to achieve the things he dreams to do. Now he wanted to see the northern lights, idea that he had in his mind for a long time. Luckily I had the opportunity to visit this country in June 2014, and I had the best of experiences. Together with my Danish cousin we did the Laugavegur and Fimmvorduhals Trek for 6 days. A beautiful experience and much more demanding than we expected, especially the first day that we had White winds and we could not see anything (and it was summer!), But fortunately we could get to the camp because we met an amazing couple who had GPS.
Well, anyways, the idea of visiting this country for the second time sounded like a great plan, since last time I had not the time to see Reykjavík in its entirety, and there was multiple local experiences that I wanted to try.

Pablo traveled from Chile and we met in NYC on October 4th, and immediately we flew to Iceland. Unlike my previous trip, I had the opportunity to bring 2 analog cameras, and I was able to buy different films that I really wanted to try out, including the Ilford PAN F 50 of 35mm and 120mm. There is practically no granulation with this film, and it has one of the most beautiful contrasts that I have used when it comes to using black and white film. From the point of view of the light, the climate of Iceland does not help much, it is generally cloudy with a lot of rain, making really hard the photography with low ISO. We arrived in Reykjavik on October 5tn early morning and that allowed us to visit several points of the capital during the day, which previously I had not the time to do.

Our goal was clear, see the northern lights. What we learned in Iceland, is that there are two variables to consider. One is the weather, because with clouds you can not see anything, and the other is the index of light activity, which is a kind of light forecast that varies between 1 and 10. If the sky is clear and there is a index of Light activity at that exact point in Iceland, the chances of seeing them are very high. On our second day we rented a car, and went to the national parks near Reykjavík. Even when the weather was not very good (cloudy), the light was fine for ISO 400 films.

Every day Pablo ended up more frustrated since neither the weather nor the Northen Light’s forecast was good. In my case, I was really happy, nature and the cloudy sky creates this white light that generates photographs with a unique contrast.

Hasselblad Situation

We were near the “city” of Vik, and we went to this beautiful black beach that was very close by. I was carrying my two cameras on my shoulder (Leica M7 and Hasselblad 503cx), and I was taking pictures mainly of a very interesting rock formation, that it was like knives made of rock. Pablo wanted to take a casual (not) photo, it’s when I had this idea that he had to go near the shore and run when a wave comes. Brilliant … I’m taking a picture with the Leica when for some really silly reason, I forget that I’m also on the same shore and the wave of which Pablo runs hit my legs. In my hurried reaction I move fast, and I do not realize that I drop the Hasselblad into the water. Yes, HASSELBLAD INTO SEA WATER. Pablo yells at me, “the camera!” Maybe was only 5 seconds between the moment I droppet until I grabbed it. But the camera was doomed. I already knew what had happened, everything was so sad. I cleaned it up entirely, I realized that the lens was ok aswell as the back. But I had lost the body. It was terrible. I acted in front of Pablo as if it could be fixed, but I already knew about the fate of my camera. He had died in Iceland, on this beach of black sand that contrasted with the sky. Nice place to go to die.

The days continued with almost the same weather, and I only had the Leica fully operational. But the truth is that the films I had brought were not the most suitable ones. The photos that I took with an Ilford XP2 that came out pretty good, but the ones I got with the Ektar 100, Ilford Pan 50 and the Portra 160 did not have good results from the point of view of the expected granulation. I was waiting for a more defined photograph, but the weather and the low ISO made the photos far from what was expected.

Well, about the northern lights. We could not see the lights! ☹

That’s right, 2 times in Iceland and I still can not see them. But honestly it was not what mattered most to me, I went there for the bonding experience with my friend and to take pictures of the cities, nature and people. Nor did he have any special equipment to have been able to take pictures of the lights, he did not even have a tripod.

Conclusion. Iceland is a photography paradise, especially for his nature and surreal locations. It must be taken into consideration that light and climatic factors can directly affect the result of the photos. This is why you have to be careful and carry different types of film that can adapt to these factors.

And please. Be careful with your cameras and the sea, salt and sand. I’m always taking risk, but it’s the first time I’ve had to regret an accident for being neglected. Maybe I shoulg get insurance.




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