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In today’s post, I want to share with you some tips for seeing the northern lights in Tromso, Norway. Usually, I try to showcase the best photos of my adventures to show the beauty of each trip or experience. However, this post will be a little different.
That’s because I want to show some bad examples of photos taken during my northern lights chases during my trip to Tromso. I want to explain what you can do to avoid them. I make sure to touch on how to keep warm, how to set your camera settings, and not to have the wrong expectations.
Don’t worry though.
I will have another post dedicated to some of my favourite shots so you can see the best of both worlds and really see the beauty of the lights!
So, let’s have a look at some of my top tips for seeing the northern lights in Tromso!
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What’s so special about Tromso?
Tromso is the northernmost city in Norway. It is located in the arctic circle at 69.6492° N, 18.9553° E. One of the main attractions found here is the dancing, green aurora borealis. Every winter between October and February on a clear night, the chance of seeing the northern lights is very high.
This Norwegian city is located on an island surrounded by mountain ranges in almost every direction. There are countless activities to do here so even when you’re not looking for the lights you’ll have some other excursions to keep you entertained!
Check out these activities to plan your Tromso trip!
- Whale safari Tromso: A day out at sea
- Comparisons: Whale-watching tours in Tromso, Norway
- Tromso Cable car hike: Sherpatrappa (Sherpa stairs)
- Unique reindeer farm and Sami experience in Tromso
- 26 interesting Things to do in Tromso in winter
Tips for seeing the northern lights
Know that they are not always visible
One of the largest misconceptions of the northern lights is that they’re visible every night in the Arctic circle like Tromso. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
All across the Arctic there are many different factors that determine whether or not you can see the Aurora. This includes the weather, the aurora’s energy and the light pollution in the area.
This is typically why it is known as a “northern lights chase” as you will need to chase the gaps in the clouds to find a clear part of the sky.
Things to do to improve your chances:
If it’s your first time looking for the northern lights in Tromso or elsewhere in Norway, it’s advisable to join a tour group. Each tour guide is able to explain the multiple things needed in order for us to see the aurora.
They often follow weather stations that give regular updates as well as a few specialist apps that can notify you of the estimated predictions for the upcoming days.
Be aware that the aurora predictions are not guaranteed, as understanding them is not yet an exact science.
Give yourself enough time
So many people will travel to a destination in the hopes of seeing the northern lights, but they don’t give themselves enough time. Consider how every chance of seeing the lights depends on the perfect weather conditions.
If you only go for 4 days, and all 4 days have thick cloud coverage, you’re unlikely to see anything. This can be extremely disappointing – especially if the aurora is the main purpose of your trip.
Helpful tips for the best chance:
Try to book your trip for at least 1 week. Since it is difficult to predict the weather far in advance, you just need to allow yourself as many days as possible at your destination.
This way if you have the first 4 days of your trip with no visibility, you still have another 3 chances before your trip is over. Even this method is not guaranteed, but you’ll certainly have a much better chance of seeing the lights at least one time.
Pro tip: Always try to see the lights at the start of the trip. If you’re unsuccessful, you’ll have the rest of the trip to try again.
Make sure to wear enough layers
Considering you need to be in or close to the Arctic in order to see the lights, many people underestimate how cold it will be. Since the northern lights are only visible at night, it is understandable that it will be even colder than in the daytime.
One of the main mistakes people make when looking for the northern lights near Tromso is they don’t bring enough layers to wear. This means you’re more likely to struggle to keep warm throughout the night.
Luckily for us, the majority of Tromso northern lights tours include extra clothing layers. Before you book a tour you’ll be able to see what is included so you can make an informed decision on the right tour for you.
Or if you choose to do an independent chase without a tour, just make sure that you take multiple layers. It’s better to have too many and not need them, instead of not having enough when you do need them!
Wear the right materials
Let’s say you did remember to bring extra layers but you’re still cold. It’s likely because you don’t have the correct material for each of your layers.
This is a mistake many people make when looking for the northern lights in Tromso and other places. Not every layer is made equal and some materials are much better suited to extreme cold than others.
It is often recommended to wear wool-based items, rather than cotton. This can include woolly socks, a wool base layer (like thermals), woolly hat etc.
Plus, since you will be walking around assumably in snow, it’s worth wearing waterproof footwear if your tour doesn’t have any available to borrow.
Don’t stick with only one tour or location
If you’re just a temporary visitor to Tromso, you’re unlikely to know all the best places to see the northern lights. Due to the cost, many people opt only to go on one tour during their trip which means they only get one chance to see the lights.
By trying out at least one more tour, you get multiple chances to see the aurora as well as see how different tour guides set up their experiences.
What should you do?
Try out multiple tours and companies for your northern lights chasing in Tromso. By doing so you’ll be able to get a unique experience each time as each tour typically offers something different.
Not only will you get to see the aurora over different views, but you’ll get an all-around different experience to enjoy.
Prepare your camera in advance
So many people make the mistake of not preparing their cameras or photographic devices in advance. This means when the northern lights become visible, you might not be able to get a picture quick enough before it disappears again.
Since the Aurora Borealis requires very specific camera settings to be clearly captured on camera, it can take a few minutes to set them up. Many aurora only lasts a few minutes so they might be gone by the time you are ready.
What should you do?
Make sure to put your camera in the appropriate settings before you start your tour will save you a lot of time. That way you will be able to jump out and take pictures as soon as necessary once the lights are in view.
Many tour guides are happy to give advice on the right settings to use and can even set your cameras up for you if you are unsure how to do it.
Visit at the right time
As we already know, many people think the northern lights are always visible. However, there are definitely times you should plan to visit, and other times you should avoid if you’re looking for the Aurora.
Although it doesn’t have to be cold for the Aurora, that’s normally given when you visit during the right season.
When should you visit?
Make sure you book your trip for the right time of year. There is little point in visiting Tromso or the Arctic during the summer months since the sun barely sets and it will be too light.
The best time to visit is between October and late February, however, the weather is very harsh in December, January & February, so be prepared. In some instances (if the weather cooperates) you can even see the aurora as early as September or as late as March.
Bringing spare devices or batteries
You’d be surprised how many people end up with uncooperative devices when it’s extremely cold outside. In Tromso and other areas where it’s freezing and you’re standing outside all night looking for lights, your electronics can start to lag and even stop working.
Not only this but even if they do continue to work, they seem to lose battery significantly faster when it’s cold. This means you run the risk of having flat cameras when you’re trying to take photos of the aurora.
Not only should you make sure your devices are fully charged before you begin your tour or lights chase but also bring a battery pack. My battery pack can hold up to 4 full charges from empty and is small enough to fit in my bag or coat pocket.
If you are using an official camera instead of just a mobile phone, consider bringing fully charge extra batteries that you can simply swap out when they go flat. You’ll be thankful you were prepared.
Bring a tripod
When it comes to taking photos of the aurora, you will need to have your camera set to the correct settings as discussed above. This includes a slow shutter speed and long exposure.
But the settings that you require also need the camera to stay still for the entire duration of the long exposure. If you don’t have a tripod these pictures will end up extremely blurry.
Using a tripod will allow you to keep the device still when capturing your photos so that the only thing moving is the aurora. This is what gives you the effect of the lights across the sky while everything else in the foreground is perfectly still.
If you have a lightweight tripod or it is windy outside, it can often be worth stabilising the legs to prevent it from wobbling.
Extra tip: To prevent your hand from shaking the tripod when you click “capture” it’s sometimes worth setting the camera to take a picture 2 or 3 seconds after you click it.
Final thoughts: tips for seeing the northern lights
Although this list can seem like a lot, the actual preparation shouldn’t take you long. By following these tips you’ll be seeing the northern lights through your camera in the best way and will be in awe of the dancing aurora.
The northern lights should be on everyone’s bucket list and included in many gap years, they’re a well-deserved addition!
Do you have any tips I might have missed?