Stokksnes - Aurora over Vestrahorn Mountains
Two Aurora Arcs over Vestrahorn Mountains in East Iceland
This month's image was taken at Stokksnes on March 9th, 2017, right after sunset during the "blue hour" and with a predicted and real Kp-index of only 2,33. Vestrahorn are probably the most photographed mountains in Iceland (besides Kirkjufell of course!) and currently the land owner charges 800 ISK per person (approx. 7€/USD) to access the headlands of Stokksnes, where you can get this fabulous view. It is only a stone's throw away from the ring road, located about 10 km east of the town of Höfn (pronounced "Höpp" by the way; with "ö" more or less as the "ea" in early! ;-) ...).
The short (4,5 km) and signed access road starts just west of the tunnel. It is pretty washboarded, but ok for any regular passenger car. You can continue driving along the dike after paying the entrance fee at the Viking Cafe (cash only when it's closed!).
Steffen and I were back in Iceland in March and we experienced some incredible northern lights displays. Even without any major geomagnetic storm and just low solar activity we saw them dancing across the dark skies during 11 nights (out of the 15 nights we stayed on the island!). Up to now we always thought we were extremely lucky when it comes to shooting northern lights, but this time we started to realize that maybe it wasn't just all about luck.
We missed a spectacular multi-day-show with a Kp-index of 6 just two days before we arrived and another one took place just a couple of days after we left Iceland. So that's not THAT lucky...!
But you do not necessarily need a big eruption on the sun, when you are way up north pretty close to the polar circle and right next to the Aurora Oval. The solar winds are constantly blowing and the odds of seeing some northern lights even under unfavorable conditions are pretty good if you are at the right place. That means following the weather forecast is way more important than believing in any of those (pretty unrealiable) aurora predictions.
All you have to do is try to spend the night at the places with the best possible weather. Always! If you have clear skies you might see an aurora arc even with a Kp=1 due to the ubiquitous solar winds. It was truly unbelievable, but this time on two of our best nights in Northern Iceland we just had a Kp=1,33! That's when we saw large curtains all over the sky and falling down on us... for hours!
Note, Kp=1 is supposed to be "quiet" and it can't get any lower than 0...!
And I am talking about the real Kp-values (check here by pressing "Download aktueller Werte"), which can differ quite a lot from the previously predicted.
At the end of our trip, we talked to a guy at the Aurora Museum in Reykjavik and he confirmed to us all that we experienced the days before. Kp=1 might be good enough for a great aurora show in Iceland, even along the South Coast! Of course higher kp-values increase the chances of a peaceful bow turning into a curtain of lights dancing across the sky. But even with a lower kp-index all this magic can happen! Iceland really offers outstanding possibilities of seeing and photographing the Northern Lights!
Therefore, the best advice we could give you after a couple of Aurora Photography Tours:
Try to be totally spontanous in Iceland, avoid non-refundable hotel bookings unless you are sure the weather for that place will be fine. Check vedur.is and belgingur.is. Sometimes they do not match at all, but even then they at least agree about certain areas on the island. And that's the place were you should be heading to, if you really want to see some lights.
That might involve a lot of traveling and not much sleep, but in the end - if you are there just to see the lights - that's defintitly the best you can do. And don't go to bed too early, don't give up! Sometimes you'll have to - like it says in the Daft Punk song - "stay up all night to get lucky..."! ;-)
By the way... Stokksnes is also well-worth a visit during the day. You'll find some nice reflections on the black sand beach (photo) and the dunes are a great place to enjoy the soft evening light (photo).
Image data: 13 s at f/4, ISO 1250; Canon EF 16-35mm 1:2.8 L II USM at 32 mm, Metabones-Adapter MB_EF-E-BT4, Sony Alpha 7R II
Related Links: Our Northern Lights images from Iceland. And if you are interested in more details about "Northern Lights" please feel free to check out our other reports: