What ARE the Northern Lights?
The northern lights are a physical phenomenon that occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun hurtle towards the Earth. The light becomes visible when the particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth’s magnetic field directs the particles towards the openings near the North and South Poles, and thus the phenomenon can only be observed near the magnetic poles.
There are many myths associated with the northern lights. Some considered they were an omen of war or plague while others believed they were created by dead, old, unmarried women. People were advised against waving white clothing at them as this would anger them and cause them to remove you from Earth. The Sami people believed that the northern lights had supernatural powers.
The atmosphere on deck 7 was fun as everyone waited for the lights to shine – music to tap your toes to and hot fishcakes were served with tea and rum, which kept you a bit warmer.
Patience was eventually rewarded when – after a long wait in the cold Arctic night – the Northern Lights lit up the sky. It was actually very hard to see them – the steam from the ship’s funnel was easier to see than the lights! They show up better on photographs than they do in real life, interestingly.
How to Photograph the Northern Lights
To get these shots, I had my camera set on a tripod with a wide angle lens, aperture F4, iso 400 (could have gone higher?) and the lens on manual focus set to infinity. I let the camera find its own shutter speed (not confident enough to set it on full manual yet!). It was a good job it was all set up beforehand or I would never have got my fingers to move fast enough in the cold to photograph anything. I was pleased with the results, overall. Hopefully, there will be other opportunities to improve over the rest of the voyage.
The northern lights are present all year around, but you can’t see them unless the evenings and nights are dark. Also, the northern lights are above the highest clouds, which means that you need a clear sky to be able to see them.