Why Waiting Is A Good Idea


Aurora borealis, the northern lights, admired by the watcher and captured by the photographer.


Patience. One of the best skills to have if you want to see the Northern Lights.

I constantly try to improve my ability to be patient. It's definitely one of the reasons I have managed to see some great aurora shows.


On January 25 I had to practice my patience. But not only in the way you would assume, because the night started with a minor car accident. Please read on!


I had called out my aurora watching course students for some practice because the chances to see the northern lights were good this night. Here in Ostrobothnia, on the west coast of Finland, you need to take the opportunity when it comes because the aurora doesn't always stretch its green lines all the way here. And it's often cloudy.


I had a 30 minute drive to get to this awesome beach, called Fäboda, where we would watch the show together. The shortest way for me to get there is to take a very small road through the forest. The road was free from snow but very icy. And not much traffic since there are mainly summer cottages in that area and this was a Tuesday night.


Car stuck in the snow on a small, dark and icy road.
I got stuck in the snow after sliding off the road.

I suddenly lost control over my little car. The tyres lost the grip and I tried to regain the control but wasn't able to before the car glided sideways off the road and stopped with half the car pointing straight into the forest. I was ok, as was the car. But I couldn't get it loose by myself. The only thing I could do was to wait patiently for someone to come by. It was now 7.30 pm.


After 15 minutes a very helpful couple appeared and worked with me for more than half an hour to get the car back on the road. I am very grateful to those two who graciously took time to help me. (A heartfelt Thank You, J & N!)


Aurora behind clouds
Faint activity at arrival.

At arrival the northern lights were blurry except for the parts closest to the horizon, which in turn were partly hidden by clouds. I feared my students would be disappointed if the show would be ruined by those clouds. But it got better. We waited for more activity and eventually it started happening. The aurora rose higher on the sky and the cloud situation got better.


Aurora arch over a snowy landscape.
4 photos made into a panorama image to get the whole arch in one picture. It looks like a green rainbow, doesn't it.

From being a blurry line the aurora now got a distinct shape. It was so wide that my wide angle lens could not fit it into one single photo. I took 4 photos and turned them into a panorama in the post processing.


Me sitting and watching the northern lights among ice cubes on the rocks.
Ice cubes for big drinks. ‘On the rocks’ got double meanings.

On the rocks close to the waterline were a bunch of big ice cubes. The ice had pushed smaller ice floes onto the rocks and then warm weather had almost melted them down. When it became cold again they froze on the rocks and were impossible to remove. What a fun foreground to the arctic activity on the sky!


Aurora borealis forming an eye-like shape.
Like an eye in the sky.

Two silhouettes in front of the northern lights.
Sitting on the rocks and having a hot drink is always a pleasure. Even more so with this view.

The aurora had now broken up into several lines which started bending and moving slowly. We were 7 people walking around on the ice watching the green lights and the stars. Lots of shooting stars were seen as well. A hot drink on the rocks after the walk on the ice felt perfect.


Northern lights above the frozen sea.
The northern lights split into different shapes reflected in the ice.

Me standing with storm lamp on the ice with a green background made by the aurora borealis.
One of my last pictures before heading home. Typically the aurora starts like a bow, then splits into shapes and ends by being blurry and without shape or movements.

There was a spot on the ice had been flooded and when it froze again it became smooth and shiny, like a mirror. I spent the last 45 minutes there with the aurora reflecting beautifully in the ice. Soon after midnight I decided to head home. The northern lights were fading and I felt quite satisfied. My students seemed satisfied with the outcome.

 

Can you imagine how different a place can look on a winter night and a summer day?


Here's a fun and fascinating poster with 8 photos where you can see an aurora photo and the exact same spot in the summer. Please check it out. The bottom right photos are taken at the same beach I visited in this blog post.