I’d been waiting 9 days and had almost given up hope. Each night checking the forecast, each night disappointment. My friends had warned me that I should not get my hopes up. “We’ve been 9 times Jen, and we’ve never seen them”. On day 8 I had posted a slightly desperate Facebook plea asking everyone to do some wishing for me…
But tonight the forecast looks good as the big tour bus takes us out of Reykjavik to someplace colder and darker, where we can get the best view. I wouldn’t ordinarily take part in a big tour group, preferring to go it alone, but I had only hired the car for 4 days, so tonight there was no other option… Not 30 minutes into the journey, a woman at the front shouts excitedly “there it is! I can see a green light”. We all press our faces to the windows and comb the sky for evidence. I don’t see anything. She must be imagining things.
We arrive at our destination. In the dark, I can make out a small farmhouse and a chapel pointing to the sky. The shiny lake in front of us now reflecting what our eyes couldn’t quite believe. Ghostly green streaks, snaking slowly across a sky, already beautiful with glittery stars. We all stood aghast. Eyes drinking in the splendour. For some reason I had always imagined I would be at least 50 years old before I could afford to come and see the Aurora – but here I am 15 years early. I didn’t realize it was down to luck, not money.
I slip away from the crowd gathered at the lake and find a sleeping red tractor. I set up my borrowed tripod in the muddy grass and fix my specially purchased new wide-angled lens on the sky. Hopefully, my research will mean I get some good clean shots of the action. I’ve only had one chance to test out long-exposures with this lens, and that was on the fireworks a few days before the trip, with some pretty awesome results. I knew I’d forgotten something. A torch. It’s so dark, I didn’t notice I was standing in a puddle, my feet are now wet. Who cares, the lights are here!! Glowing green shards, now dance faster in random ribbons. My camera reveals the purple and pink my eyes aren’t quite sensitive enough to see. For an hour I am in photography heaven, experimenting with varying levels of ISO, aperture and shutter speeds.
My batteries are dying and the lights are just coming to life, but the bus decides it’s time to return to town. As we approach the city centre, the aurora shows no sign of stopping, still visible over the cold, fluorescent street lamps. I make a quick pit-stop at the hostel to recharge my batteries and head straight back out onto the freezing, empty streets, doing my best not to topple on the icy concrete. Where is everyone??? The lights are here!!!
I promised a friend I would get a shot of the mighty Hallgrímskirkja church with the aurora in the background… should they appear. I walk up the hill and suddenly realise what must have inspired the design of the church, its concrete shards echoing the shards of light coming down from above. I set up my tripod again, and stand alone, face raised in awe. It’s so quiet, I swear I can hear the lights, whispering their magic, playfully flickering in and out of existence. I feel so small. For one special moment, which I will never forget, the light seems to reach down and touch me. I flinch and for a second I am actually scared. My heart races with excitement and I look around for the comfort of another being. I remember I am alone and sole witness to this spectacle. If I didn’t have photographic evidence, I could probably fool myself into thinking I had dreamed up the whole thing.