The Northern Lights | Better in photos or in person?

The northern lights are the main reason we came to Norway in winter. It’s something we’ve wanted to see for years and we have four months to see them while volunteering here so our chances are very high!

It was on our 6th night that we finally saw them. My aurora app said there was 20% chance of seeing them but every time we looked out the window it was pitch black. We went to bed and I couldn’t sleep so I got up for a wee and did one last check out the window “Craig! I think this is the aurora!”, ‘think’ being the main word as they weren’t green, but more of a grey colour. The first shape I saw was a squished circle, like a smoke ring people puff out from their cigarettes. I ran outside into the cold night hoping they would improve in colour. More lines appeared but they were still grey, but when I looked at my photos they showed a different scene, the aurora were bright green. Part of me was like, ‘that’s fucking cool, I captured the aurora!’ while the other part was ‘geez, I hope that’s not as good as they get, what if all photos show this fake green aurora?’.


So I went online and googled ‘is the aurora better in photos or in person?’ and I found an interesting blog. It’s actually all to do with science and the human eyes, so to sum it up in an un-scientific manner: the eyes have two cells, one works in the day-time showing all the colours as they are, and the other works at night, just showing you black and white. If the aurora is really bright it will trigger your day-light cell and reveal the colours. You following? So because the aurora we saw were weak, we only witnessed them in grey, and our camera on a long exposure let in so much light that it saw the true colours.


I was happy that we’d seen them, but I couldn’t tick them off my bucket list with that poor performance. It took another 6 nights for us to see them again and albeit they were much better, they were still a pale greenish-grey. We spent about an hour outside experimenting with our cameras. It still wasn’t a ‘wow’ moment but we were fine with that, they will go wild when they choose to…time is in our favour. We went to bed and at around 1am our host text us to say the northern lights were out. I rushed out of bed and saw a similar sight to earlier…damn, grey. But then they started moving before our eyes, swirling around in circles. Balls almost bounced and zigzagged through the sky like a marble in a pinball machine. The colour wasn’t there but boy were they dancing!! It was a half tick for the aurora bucket list. It was two weeks after we arrived in Norway that we got our best show and I finally declared that they were definitely better witnessed in person! It was like dozens of fishermen were lost at sea and setting off green flares into the sky. I still wouldn’t say they were fluorescent but they were without a doubt, green. Lines curved around the entire sky, from east to west, double lines, sometimes triple lines, and then they’d dance, and join together, spin around, forming green tornado tunnels in the sky. We couldn’t stop saying “WOW WOW WOW!” Especially when on a couple of occasions a pinkish, red colour outlined the green.

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Craig wasn’t taking photos so stayed inside our warm apartment, watching the widescreen view of mother nature’s wildest show from our dining table. I was outside most of the time, awkwardly sitting on the frozen ground and cranking my neck over the edge so I could keep my camera strap around my neck while trying to watch with my eyes. I even did one of the most awkward manoeuvres of my life and got down on my belly, doing an army crawl beneath one camera on a long exposure to reach my other camera. This aurora show lasted from 8pm until midnight. In fact it was still going on when we went to bed but it was weaker.

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The next night we saw them again, and it was the first time where we saw them amongst clouds which was actually pretty cool. A few black clouds lined the horizon and the aurora beamed from behind them. At one point, half of the sky was lit up, and it all reflected on the sea, literally lighting up the entire village. Then it eased and lines shimmied behind the giant mountain range. We even saw shooting stars and the odd miniature iceberg floated along the still waters. I stayed outside for ages and continued taking photos even when the aurora weakened. I’m slowly learning how to use my new camera, even though I studied photography at college, I was more interested in my social life than studying so I barely remember a thing. For 9 years of our travels we’ve just used cheap point and shoot cameras but for this trip I finally took the plunge and bought a just about affordable Lumix with changeable lens. It’s kind of horrible owning a nice camera though, I’m way too over protective of it. But I am having so much fun photographing, and I managed to get some settings which I feel really show the aurora how we saw them. Below is some shots of the aurora when they were bright with interesting patterns, it’s pretty much exactly how we saw them. Then the final photo show them when they weakened, and as you can see, it’s a grey mess!

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We look out for the northern lights every night, and if it’s clear we usually see them – but 90% of the time their really mild. Sometimes we’ll look out, see nothing, then look out 5 minutes later and they are blitzing through the sky for 30 seconds and then their gone again. I wonder how many times we’ve missed them, but we’re waiting in anticipation for the next big show, and we can’t wait!

13 Comments Add yours

  1. jnkbrdg says:

    Beautiful photographs! Glad you got to see what you sought out to

    1. Thank you! We’re so happy we saw them 🤗

  2. Di flynn says:

    Wow, well, I think they look SERIOUSLY impressive. But why would I expect anything else from you darling?!! Thankyou for sharing.

    1. Haha thank you Di! We absolutely love it here 💕

  3. Your photos are incredible !! I saw a small one in Iceland, and one bigger but from the plane ! But not ticking-boxes material aha so I still need to see more ! Maybe I’ll see Southern lights here in New Zealand ? Fingers crossed !!

    1. Yes it’s a shame when it’s not what you expect after seeing so many photos of the sky turning green all over the internet! Good luck for the southern lights! They happened when we were asleep in the South Island…didn’t really know the southern ones existed back then, and the newspapers were filled with pink aurora photos. I was gutted!

  4. moosylicious says:

    Amazing pictures! Hope you will get to see them again. We are hooked 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! They’ve vanished a bit since I wrote that blog post…I’ll have to be patient 🤪

      1. moosylicious says:

        They will come back! I am sure 🙂

  5. YAY! Congrats and very glad you got the good camera for them. Thank you

    1. 😃 so happy! But since writing this we’ve had very low Kp’s and cloudy weather so still awaiting the next big show! I’m like a kid waiting for Santa haha

  6. Amazing that the camera saw the actual colors better…

    1. It’s bizarre! If there’s a faint aurora outside and we’re not 100% sure if it’s cloud or aurora, then I can take a photo and my camera will tell me the answer 😅

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