As I do a couple of times a year, earlier this month I was cruising the coast of Norway chasing the Northern Lights – successfully!
One of my “retirement gigs” is to serve as a lecturer for the educational travel company Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) on some of their aurora cruises along the Norwegian coast on one of the Hurtigruten ferry ships.
This time, as I was last autumn, I was on Hurtigruten’s flagship coastal ferry, the m/s Trollfjord.
Our tour group was treated to five fine nights with auroras, an unusually good take out of the 12-day round trip cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen. Our first look, above, was on February 27, but through cloud.
But after we reached the top end at Kirkenes and turned around for the southbound voyage, skies cleared remarkably. We had a wonderful four clear days and nights in a row, all with Northern Lights.
The best show was March 1, and when we were in port in the northern coastal village of Båtsfjord. The Lights danced overhead in the best show I had seen from Norway.
The next night we got a good show while we were in the port of Skjervøy.
As we continued south we emerged out from under the auroral oval zone, placing the Lights to the north, back in the direction we had come from.
A self-portrait on the back deck of the ms Trollfjord, southbound out of Berlevag this night and under the Northern Lights.
Aurora photographers and observers on the rear deck 9 area of the Hurtigruten ferry ship the ms Trollfjord on the southbound voyage along the Norwegian coast, on March 2, 2019. This is a single 1.6-second exposure at f/2 with the 15mm Venus Optics lens and Sony a7III at ISO 6400.
Curtains of Northern Lights over the Hurtigruten ferry ship the ms Trollfjord on March 1, 2019. This is a single 1.6-second exposure at f/2 with the 15mm Venus Optics lens and Sony a7III at ISO 10000.
A low arc of aurora late in the voyage south on March 4, 2019, our last sighting for the cruise, after we crossed the Arctic Circle. A single exposure at ISO 10000 due to the large motion of the ship. The smoke from the ship is at top, illuminated by the funnel lights that were not turned off this night.
An example of multiple concentric auroral curtains, here over the Norwegian coast on the southbound Hurtigruten ship ms Trollfjord on March 2, 2019. This is a single 1.6-second exposure at f/2 with the Venus Optics 15mm lens and Sony a7III at ISO 10000.
Equally spectacular in my mind were some of the sunsets and twilight skies we enjoyed as we sailed through the Lofoten Islands, including on our visit to the narrow Trollfjord fjord for which the ship is named.
On our aurora nights I mostly shot “real-time” video of the Lights, using the low-light capability and 4K functions of the Sony a7III camera. The result is a music video linked to below.
The Northern Lights At Sea from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
I hope you enjoy it. Do view it full-screen and at 4K resolution.
The skies of Norway provided superb nights of Northern Lights as I sailed the coast.
As I did last autumn, I was able to join a cruise along the Norwegian coast, instructing an aurora tour group from Road Scholar. We were on one of the Hurtigruten ferry ships that ply the coast each day, the m/s Nordnorge, on a 12-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes at the top end of Norway, then back again to Bergen.
In all, we had three very clear nights, with good auroras on two of those nights. Several other nights had bright auroras but seen through broken cloud.
All observing and photography is done from the ship deck as we sailed among the fjords and sounds along the coast.
The best night was an all-sky display on March 14 seen from north of Tromsø as we sailed back south from our farthest north of 71° latitude.
Earlier, on the trip north, we had a great night as the aurora danced over the Lofoten Islands and we entered the Trollfjord. There is no finer scenery on Earth for framing the Lights.
As is the custom, the captain enters the fjord by searchlight, a scene depicted below.
I shot very few time-lapses on this trip (unlike my trip in October 2017, which you can see in a music video at a previous blog post).
However, here’s a short music video of two clips I did shoot, including a time-lapse of us approaching the Trollfjord entrance.
As we sailed south, we left the aurora behind. Our last look was of the arc of the auroral oval across the north, seen from south of Rorvik.
However, for several nights prior we had been under the auroral oval and the Lights had danced for us over the sky.
Norway is one of the world’s best sites for seeing the Northern Lights – the “nordlys” – and taking a Hurtigruten cruise along the coast is a great way to see the Lights and incredible scenery that changes by the minute.
I present a music video of time-lapses of the Northern Lights from Norway, shot from the ship the aptly named m/s Nordlys.
The Nordlys is one of many ferry ships in the Hurtigruten cruise line (the name means “fast route”) that ply the Norwegian coast, with daily departures from Bergen (at latitude 60° N) to Kirkenes at the top of Norway (at 71° N). At the top end of Norway you are under the auroral oval and almost always see some level of auroral activity, if skies cooperate.
This 11-day cruise was blessed with five clear nights with active auroras. I was serving as an instructor for a tour group of 30 from the U.S.-based Road Scholar tour company.
Sailing to the Northern Lights from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
The final sequence is of the ship entering the Trollfjorden – a narrow fjord often entered in darkness under searchlight. This was a dramatic sight with the aurora dancing overhead.
For a selection of still images from this trip and from the second cruise I did immediately following, see my previous blog post, The Nordlys of Norway.
All exposures were about 1 to 1.3 seconds only, to minimize blurring during each exposure, shot with the Nikon D750 at ISO 6400, and with mostly the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8.
One sequence is with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye at f/2.8. Intervals were 1 to 2 seconds, providing a rapid cadence.
In assembly I applied a 4-frame blur to smooth the frame-to-frame motion. All processing with Adobe Camera Raw and assembly with the Mac app Time-Lapse from MicroProjects.ca (an app no longer available – a pity).
Music is by the Hollywood soundtrack artists AudioMachine, and is used with permission under “social media” licence. It is the track “Above and Beyond” from their album Tree of Life.
For the past three weeks I chased the “nordlys” – the Northern Lights – along the coast of Norway up to a latitude of 71° North.
As I type this blog our ship, the Hurtigruten ferry the m/s Nordlys, is rocking and rolling as we cross the Froy Sea off the southern coast of Norway on the way south to Bergen.
We’re completing a cruise up and down the Norwegian coast, the second of two consecutive 11-day cruises I took this autumn as an enrichment lecturer on aurora cruise tour packages offered by the U.S.-based Road Scholar tour company.
It’s been a superb chase up and down the coast – twice! – to catch the Lights. We got a total of 8 clear nights of aurora out of 22, not a bad tally for this time of year.
Here’s a gallery of images, all shot from the ship using a fast lens and high ISO speeds to keep exposures down to about 1 second to minimize blurring from the ship movement.
A participant in the Road Scholar aurora tour in October 2017 watches the Northern Lights from the aft deck of the m/s Nordlys on the Norway coast. The Big Dipper is at centre
Aurora tourists watch and photograph the Northern Lights from the deck of the m/s Nordlys in October 2017 on the coast of Norway.
Watching the Northern Lights from the deck of the m/s Nordlys on October 24, 2017 from the coast of Norway. This is a single exposure of 1 second with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
The Northern Lights exhibiting the classic pink colour on the lower edge of the curtains from glowing nitrogen molecules, in addition to the main green tint from oxygen. Taken from the Hurigruten ship the m/s Nordlys north of Tromsø on October 24, 2017. This is a single 1-second exposure with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400. Taken as part of a time-lapse sequence.
The aurora boralis over a bridge in Norway, as per the legend of “Bifrost,” the bridge between heaven and Earth in Norse mythology. Taken from the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys on October 23, 2017, on the journey between Svolvaer and Tromsø. Taken with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400 for 1.6 seconds, as part of a 450-frame time-lapse.
The sweep of the auroral oval from a latitude of 70° north in the Barent’s Sea off the north coast of Norway, on October 26, 2017. The curtains exhibit a lower pink fringe from nitrogen. Taken from the forward deck of the m/s Nordlys This is a single 2-second exposure with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Auroral curtains from the deck of the m/s Nordlys on October 25, 2017, looking northeast toward the Big Dipper at centre. Arcturus is setting at left.
Auroral curtains from the deck of the m/s Nordlys on October 25, 2017, looking northeast toward the Big Dipper at right. Arcturus is setting a left of centre.
The Hurtigruten ship the m/s Kong Harold sailing south and apparently into the aurora, on the Norwegian coast, as we passed the ship as we sailed north.
The scene as the m/s Nordlys exits the narrow Trollfjorden fjord, with the ship’s spotlights lighting the walls of the narrow fjord and with the aurora dancing. Ahead lies the winter sky with Taurus and the Pleiades rising. This was a magical moment indeed, one of the best of the Norway cruise. This is a single 0.8 sec exposure with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Aurora in the moonlight from a nearly Full Moon over the Barent’s Sea off the north coast of Norway, November 5, 2017. This was a very weak Kp 0 to Kp 1 display, yet still showed up in the moonlight. The Moon was in Taurus, with the Pleiades at above the Moon and the Aldebaran to the left of the Moon. This is a single 0.5-second exposure with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400. Taken from the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys.
A dim but photogenic aurora on November 7, from the coast of Norway on the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys, in a view looking south to Pegasus and Andromeda, and over off-shore islands. The rising waning Moon off frame to the left illuminates the sky and landscape. This is a single 1-second exposure with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Aurora in the moonlight from a nearly Full Moon over the Barent’s Sea off the north coast of Norway, November 5, 2017. This was a very weak Kp 0 to Kp 1 display, yet still showed up in the moonlight. The Moon is off frame to the right. The Big Dipper is left of centre — we are looking almost due north. Taken from Deck 5, port side, of the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys This is a single 0.5-second exposure with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
A wisp of aurora appears in a break in the clouds as the m/s Nordlys enters Trollfjorden fjord in the Lofoten Islands in Norway, on November 8, 2017. It was actually raining when I took this shot but a major auroral storm was underway and we got a brief glimpse of a curtain as we entered this spectacular and narrow fjord. Then the rain clouds closed in. The bright lights are the ship’s searchlights lighting the walls of the narrow fjord. The white at top is the ship’s smoke. This was from the aft deck looking astern. This was with the 12mm Rokinon fish-eye lens at f/2.8 for 1.6 seconds with the Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
One of the most memorable nights was on the first cruise when we sailed into the narrow Trollfjorden fjord in the dark with just the ship’s spotlights lighting the fjord walls only metres away from the ship. Above us, the Northern Lights danced. Unforgettable!
The Hurtigruten line operates daily sailings up and down the coast, from Bergen to Kirkenes, up into the auroral oval, which in this part of the world lies at a high latitude above the Arctic Circle. However, the warm gulf stream current keeps the water from freezing and the coast far milder than would be expected for such a high latitude.
This is a trip that should be on the bucket list for all aurora chasers.
My 10-minute video captures the Northern Lights in real-time video – no time-lapses here!
I hadn’t tried this before but the display of February 12, 2016 from Churchill, Manitoba was so active it was worth trying to shoot it with actual video, not time-lapse still frames.
I used very high ISO speeds resulting in very noisy frames. But I think the motion and colours of the curtains as they ripple and swirl more than overpower the technical limitations. And there’s live commentary!
Select HD and Enter Full Screen for the best quality.
Scenes have been edited for length, and I did not use all the scenes I shot in the final edit. So the scenes you see in the 10-minute video actually took place over about 20 minutes. But each scene is real-time. They show the incredibly rapid motion and fine structure in the auroral curtains, detail blurred in long multi-second exposures.
I used a Nikon D750 camera at ISO speeds from 12,800 to 51,200. While it is certainly very capable of shooting low-light video, the D750 is not optimized for it. A Sony a7s, with its larger pixels and lower noise, would have been a better camera. Next time!
The lens, however, was key. I used the new Sigma 20mm Art lens which, at f/1.4, is the fastest lens in its focal length class. And optical quality, even wide open, is superb.
The temperature was about -30 degrees C, with a windchill factor of about -45 C. It was cold! But no one in the aurora tour group of 22 people I was instructing was complaining. Everyone was outside, bundled up, and enjoying the show.
It was what they had traveled north to see, to fulfill a life-long desire to stand under the Northern Lights. Everyone could well and truly check seeing the aurora off their personal bucket lists this night.
For more information about aurora and other northern eco-tourism tours offered by the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, see churchillscience.ca