While warming up in the lavvo at the dog sledding facility, a guide came in and said, “Northern Lights outside.” The group rushed out to look, at… what? That smudge of clouds streaking low across the sky? There was no blue, green or other colors seen in brochures or pictures, but guides assured us that this was the Northern Lights, and could strengthen later. Let’s keep fingers crossed!
A hot shower on board ship, wine, and still glowing from the husky dog sledding, it was dinner time. Just in case the Northern Lights made an appearance, most passengers (including us) schlepped cameras into dinner. Tromso receded in the distance when, during the main course, an announcement over the P.A., “Northern lights are visible on port side. Go out on Deck 6.”
Jumped up, grabbed sweater, told waitstaff not to take away our yummy beef tenderloin, and ran up a flight of stairs. The Northern Lights appeared to be the same white smudge seen while dog sledding, and underwhelming. Disappointed, we went back into the dining room to finish dinner. Just as dessert was being served, another announcement, “The Northern Lights are getting stronger.” Leaped up again, left dessert on table with same instructions not to take it away (a delicious brownie with coconut sorbet), and ran up the stairs.
Yes, they were the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and, yes, streaks of green could be seen. But the overall inmpression was a panorama of white cloud patches meeting the sea in an array of white stripes. Where was the bright green and vivid colors seen in photographs? Was this it? Freezing on deck, I ran down two flight of steps, grabbed Gortex, and ran back up onto Deck 6. The serious photographers had tripods, and were happily photographing, showing gorgeous digital results to friends and passengers after every shot. (FYI: All the Northern Lights photographs in this post were taken by Travels With Sheila, no one else.)
I am not a technologically, savvy photographer. That’s why my Nikon Digital SLR is usually set on automatic, no flash, or the little running person. Pick up, point and shoot. Going nuts, not knowing how to set my camera, passengers were giving conflicting advice right and left. “Use manual.” “Expose for 6 seconds.” “Use the ‘sport’ mode.” “Use infinity.” “Set at 800 ISO…1600 ISO.” OMG…what to do, what to do. My photos were pathetic!
The lights vanished. Completely disgusted it was back to the room where I undressed. (By now, it was 11:00 p.m.) No sooner had I gotten naked, another announcement over the intercom, “Strong Northern Lights.” Threw on clothes, ran up to Deck 6, playing with the settings after each shot. Eureka!!! What appeared to be “white” in the sky became green in the photograph. A passenger did try to explain the science of polarizing, yadda yadda, but who cared. I had captured the Northern Lights. A setting of Manual + A + 1600 ISO did it while holding the camera as steady as I could (no tripod) for approximately 6-8 seconds until the shutter released. If that means something to savvy photographers, I’m happy. Just plain, dumb luck to have captured anything.
Northern Light hunters have told me that strong lights in vivid colors can stick around for hours. Hope I get another chance to see and experiment but if not, Steve and Sheila have seen the Northern Lights.
It was Midnight before I finally got into bed with the P1 intercom button depressed to hear announcements just in case the Northern Lights reappeared. Spread clothes on the floor in case I had to dress rapidly, and run out on deck. Perchance to sleep? Forget it. Completely wired from dog sledding and Northern Lights in less than nine hours, who could sleep…