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Iceland Mag


The Northern Lights: Pretty but fickle

By Sara McMahon

  • Ocar Bjarnason captured this photograph in Straumsvík, just outside Hafnarfjörður town. The photo took 2nd place in the prestigious Hamdan International Photography Award in 2012. Photo/Oscar Bjarnason

Although modern science has explained the phenomenon that is the Aurora Borealis, the spectacle still stirs up feelings of awe and admiration within those who experience that magical and otherworldly green curtain that dances lightly across the starry winter skies.


For the Aurora Borealis to be seen, conditions have to be ideal; a dark but clear sky. Typically the Aurora appears either as a diffuse glow or as “curtains” of light that evolve and change constantly. The phenomenon occurs in Iceland all year around, given that the auroral zone is situated above country, however it can only be seen between the months of September and May because of the bright summer nights.

Oscar Bjarnason is a photographer and graphic designer who enjoys taking pictures of the Auroras in his free time.

According to Oscar the Auroras are a difficult subject to capture. “It can be hard because the Auroras are a bit unpredictable,” says Oscar, adding: “I use apps and websites that predict solar storms to help locate the Northern Lights, but you can’t trust this information one hundred per cent; you can get a lot of activity even when these apps have predicted none and vice versa. The absolute worst is when you know there is a lot of activity, but it’s cloudy and nothing to be seen. In the end it all depends on your own determination - if you go out night after night and wait patiently, you’re bound to see them.”


Oscar Bjarnason

The whole sky lit up
Oscar has photographed the phenomenon for four years now but admits he still gets awestruck when he catches a glimpse of an Aurora, especially when they are, as he describes them, “strong and dancing”. “The most magnificent one I’ve witnessed was at Þingvellir National Park a couple of years ago. The whole sky lit up and it went on for about an hour or so,” he recalls.

As mentioned before, the Northern Lights are extremely fickle and therefore a difficult subject to photograph. In order to snap the perfect picture, photographers need to be very, very patient. Luckily, Oscar was willing to share some tricks of the trade.

“The photo was taken at Straumsvík, just outside Hafnarfjörður town. It was awarded second place and won me a trip to Dubai for a week with all expenses paid,"

“Go somewhere where it is dark, Þingvellir is always popular. I usually go when there’s snow on the ground or when the moon is full. It’s also good to stand near a lake to get some light on the foreground. A tripod is a must as well as a bright, wide-angle lens. Depending on your gear, shoot at iso 800 to 3200 and keep the exposure at max 20 sec. Any longer, and the stars will start moving and get fuzzy,” he advises.

Oscar took part in the prestigious Hamdan International Photography Award (established by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum) in 2012 and took 2nd place. The photograph was of an Aurora Borealis.

“The photo was taken at Straumsvík, just outside Hafnarfjörður town. It was awarded second place and won me a trip to Dubai for a week with all expenses paid,” Oscar concludes.



Northern Lights in Iceland, by Garðar Ólafsson


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