Iceland Northern Lights, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Búðir

In March of 2017 my wife Liz and I went Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) hunting in Iceland. It’s a popular destination for chasing the Northern Lights hunting, but the results are often mixed. We were in Iceland for 8 days but only saw the lights twice, and only one of those was particularly memorable. Iceland can be cloudy for a week, and unless it’s a clear night, you just will not see them.

We caught a fabulous display on our second to last day in Iceland. We stayed at the Hótel Búðir which I highly recommend. The Hotel is just two hours drive from Reykjavik. It’s situated on a lava field next to the ocean and there are plenty of sightseeing activities in the area.

All of these shots were taken right on the hotel property.

Feature Image Details

For these images, I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens: If I had to pick one lens and one lens only, this lens would be at the top of the list. I see things from a wide angle perspective.

The exposure on most of these shots was 13 seconds at F4.5 at 16mm, ISO 2500.


In the image immediately above, you should be able to spot the constellation Orion on the lower left (it is setting). Also, see if you can find the Big Dipper in the upper right. In the feature image the bright light above the volcanic cone is the setting crescent moon.

It might not look like it but I brutally underexposed all of these images. It is very easy to do at night. The display viewfinder looks good, but it isn’t. Trust the histogram, now what your eyes see.

I could have used at least one more stop of light on these shots. Instead of 13 seconds, I should have done 20 seconds.

Night Rule

The longest exposure you can take without stars trailing (looking like streaks instead of pinpoints is governed by this equation.

  • ET = 400/FL
  • ET = seconds
  • 400 is a constant by observation
  • FL is the focal length used in mm

In this case, I was at 16 mm so I could have gone about 25 seconds. That would have really brought out the shadow details much better. Also, I could have bumped the ISO a bit, to say 3200. A combination of 20-25 seconds at ISO 3200 would have been about right.

Obviously, you need a tripod for this.

Underexposed images looked really blotchy but I used Topaz Labs Denoise to smooth out the colors. The tradeoff is a loss of sharpness.

Long exposures at night are typically not extremely sharp (think wind, moving lights, very dark shadows, etc). Northern Lights are also moving. If they are moving fast, and the exposure is too long you will get a blurry mess. Thus, there was merit in attempting to keep the exposure time down.

A faster lens can help, but that is at the cost of depth of field. Everything is a tradeoff.

Equipment List

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.


Iceland is a fabulous destination. I have an entire series called Iceland in 16 days.

Scroll through my Mish Moments Home Page until you find them. I discuss where to go, where to stay, and what to see. I also have photo tips on many of the best locations.,

Interested in visiting Iceland?

Please see my Iceland Guide. It lists our complete itinerary for a 16-day summer solstice trip.

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8 thoughts on “Iceland Northern Lights, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Búðir

  1. Wonderful pic Mish. We were in Iceland a month after you and stayed in Stykkisholmur about an hour from where you stayed. Beautiful area, but (as you said) cloudy for the 3 nights we were there, so no Northern Lights. Missed them too in Denali by 1 night. Will try Finland next !

  2. You’re lucky. We were there on a 10 day photo trip in October and never saw them. Every single night was overcast anywhere within an hour drive of where we were staying each night. But at least now I have an excuse to go back!

  3. Great shots, thanks for sharing. I was hitchhiking around the world in 2004 and flew from Amsterdam to Calgary, Alberta. The people at customs took so long accepting my story and pawing through my backpack that I got a very late start getting out of the airport on foot. The lady at customs refused to believe I had flown all that way so I could be in Canada just for a day, and that I hadn’t booked a hotel. I told her that was all the time I needed to thumb to the US. She finally said my story was so bizarre that it must be true. Anyway, I didn’t get too far that night and was crashed out in my sleeping bag along a fence in the highway right-of-way. I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and the Northern Lights were putting on the most amazing show that is giving me goosebumps even now as I write this. I thought to myself, “Hey Customs Lady, THIS is why I don’t book hotels!”

    Iceland is still on my bucket list.

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