Tag Archive | Arctic Circle

A sky full of stars (Northern Lights 3)

I know several people who have had seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) on their bucket list for many years waiting for the opportunity to visit a likely location. Some people are lucky enough to see them on their first attempt, others are not so lucky and despite all the planning, come home disappointed. I also know some who have seen them multiple times and all I can say is that success is a bit of a lottery!

Having said that, it is possible to accurately predict the appearance of the Northern Lights. It’s all to do with the geo-magnetics and solar activity and scientists who analyse solar activity are able to identify not only when the Aurora will be most prevalent but also how strong it will be. On our cruise, Mr Maclean told us that, having consulted with his colleagues, the solar activity was very good and, if the weather conditions are in our favour, we would see a spectacular sight.

So, although the presence, likelihood and strength of the Aurora can be predicted (good news) the bad news is that however amazing the Aurora is, you won’t see it on a cloudy night. The weather is something that cannot be accurately predicted and Borealis spotters are at the mercy of the elements.

Monday evening, cruising between Alesund and Tromso heading North, was a “perfect” evening for catching sight of the Aurora. The sky was clear and full of stars. It was also extremely cold on deck so I ventured outside looking like Nanook of the North dressed in thermals, winter jacket, woolly hat, snood, thermal trousers, thermal sock and walking boots. I also put a hand-warming pack into my pocket, not only to keep my hands warm so I could operate the camera, but also to keep the batteries warm in the cameras I wasn’t using. (batteries wear out quickly in cold weather) For two hours I was the only person out on deck and to be honest, I was getting a bit fed up. I’m not the most patient of people and was on the verge of giving up and going back to my nice warm stateroom when I spotted a grey-green fuzzy cloud in the sky. Another thing I learned from John Maclean’s brilliant talk was that a lot of people missed the Aurora not realising what they are looking at. The human naked eye cannot see the spectrum of colour that the Aurora produces BUT when you point your camera at a grey-green fuzzy “cloud” in the night sky, you might just see this;

At which point, although the image wasn’t that exciting, I clearly was not looking at a dull grey-green cloud but the beginnings of the Aurora Borealis. I abandoned all thoughts of going back to my stateroom and continued to take photos as the lights developed.

I am particularly fond of this last photo as it shows the different colours which can appear during a solar storm and if I never see the Aurora Borealis again, I am content that I have seen a spectacular sight and I will cross it off my Bucket List.

Something will need to replace it……..


We are sailing….(Northern Lights 2)

After 2 days and 3 nights at sea, we have survived the euphoria of Sail Away, the Black and White Gala evening (which we avoided) and the disturbing consequences of opening our balcony door at the same time as the Stateroom door, to arrive at our first port of call, Alesund.

Alesund is known as the Art Nouveau town and walking around it is clear why. The consistent architectural style of the buildings came about due to the fire which devasted the town in 1904. Buildings made mostly of wood were susceptible to fire and, along with a prevailing wind which helped to fan the flames, the town was destroyed leaving 10,000 people without their home.

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany helped to rebuild the town in the Art Nouveau style prevalent at the time and as the building was completed between 1904-1907 the Art Nouveau style dominated. Even the drain covers reflect the Art Nouveau period!

After lunch and a crafty afternoon snooze I went up to the photography desk for guidance on how to set up my cameras to photograph the Northern Lights. Before I watched John Maclean’s invaluable talk onboard about the Northern Lights, how they are formed, when they appear and how to photograph them successfully I thought it was a case of “point-and-shoot”. How wrong could I be?!

To understand how to take successful photographs of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), you need to get to grips with some of the science. It sounds daunting but its actually very interesting and helps to get the best out of your cameras.

Roxy, the amazing photo desk manager gave a comprehensive understanding of our camera functionality; f-stops; aperture settings; shutter-speed and ISOs all came together in a fail-safe way to get that once-in-a-lifetime photo. Before leaving the session, Roxy helped me to set up my cameras ready in case I should spot the elusive Lights; My fuji; Canon and i-phone were now on full alert and I wasn’t going to change the settings until I saw the Lights!

Earlier that day the Captain confirmed that we had sailed into the Arctic Circle and the chances of seeing the Northern Lights were increasing the further we travelled north.

Me and my cameras were ready.

(To be continued)