It’s not everyone who has the privilege of witnessing the aurora borealis during the long winter nights in Northern Europe.
The greenish shades of the Northern Lights appear out of the darkness of the night like a sudden mirage, dancing to the rhythm of some far-off music. They change appearance continuously, showing their hues of pinks and reds, shifting effortlessly across the sky, from one direction to another, amused by our open-mouthed admiration and our attempts to capture it all with our camera.
The aurora borealis is an unrivalled natural wonder: no one can fail to be amazed by the dancing lights in the starry skies of the north. One of the places in which this phenomenon appears with the greatest intensity is over the archipelago of the Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle, in Norway.
On my trip to the Lofoten Islands, before devoting my time to observing the Northern Lights, I was able to get to know the islands better by sleeping in a rorbu, the traditional house of Norwegian fishermen, going on a boat trip to see the sea eagles, which are numerous in the area and quite easy to capture on film, and riding the waves on board a large boat, in order to see humpback and killer whales, the delightful puffins and the European shags, a species of bird very similar to the cormorant. Using a telephoto lens, I was able to witness the romantic scene of two humpbacks swimming around our boat, side by side (at a safe distance!), before diving down into the deep… a moving experience that I will certainly never forget!
There is no doubt that the cold north, even at the end of the darkest season, has a great deal to offer for those who love the natural world and areas of unspoilt wilderness. The apotheosis of this incredible adventure north of the Arctic Circle would be to find myself face to face with the verdant light of the aurora borealis… will I be so lucky?
To prepare for my hunt for the lights, I visited the Polar Light Center in Laukvik. Rob and Theresa devote themselves with great passion and dedication to the phenomenon of the aurora borealis and they chose these islands as the headquarters for their research, among the hundreds of places from which it is possible to observe the magical green light. Kitted out with the very latest equipment, the Dutch couple are able to give advice to visitors on which of the short days are best for observing the phenomenon. Talking to Rob and Theresa was truly enlightening and, looking at the photos taken by these two experts, I received confirmation of just how difficult it is to take technically good quality photographs of the aurora borealis.
Taking photos in conditions of almost no light at all is never easy: the first thing you need is a good tripod, capable of holding your camera totally still whilst you take the shot. It’s also a good idea to have a wide-angle lens that can take in a large portion of sky and, finally, if you use a high luminosity wide-angle, it is possible to use a faster shutter speed without having to increase the ISO values too much, which is the frequent cause of image noise. There is one other consideration to make concerning this particular phenomenon: the aurora borealis is in continuous flux, moving across the sky and mutating constantly in both intensity and shape. Being able to use a fast shutter speed allows you to capture the phenomenon in static form, avoiding the blurred effect caused by longer exposure of a subject in motion.
The evening after my visit to see Bob and Theresa, in Andenes, in the extreme north of the Lofoten Islands, I was fortunate enough to witness the Northern Lights. The sky was dotted with stars and appeared still and silent, the tripod with my camera firmly mounted quivered with the desire to get to work; I exchanged ideas with a travel companion, casting anxious glances towards the sky.
Like the star of a beautiful stage show, the aurora borealis appeared quite suddenly, intensifying in colour by the minute. Slow and gentle at first, then faster, dancing gracefully, the Northern Lights ran across the whole sky, transforming first into a dragon, then a tree and then into a thousand other hazy figures.
The clicks of the self-timer shots continued throughout the long minutes, until the green light disappeared into some dark corner of the sky and the great silence of the north returned…
Leo and Vero
Leo and Vero are two tireless travellers who love to discover the world by bicycle. After ten months cycling through Southeast Asia, they returned to Italy, but still dedicate their every spare moment to cycling, travelling and photography. They have travelled far and wide but are convinced that the best journey is always the one they have yet to make… “Because travelling is to remember the past, live the present and dream of the future.”
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