Do It Before You Die: The Northern Lights

The very first of our Do It Before You Die blog series. Aimed at taking you to the corners of the Earth to introduce you to must visit places, unique events and magical natural wonders that are a must for any adventure travel enthusiast.

Panorama Eric Bennett thisworldexists this world exists northern lights aurora stars milky way

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Northern Lights. In October last year (2014) I was backpacking in Northern Europe. I decided to add Iceland to my trip because I had heard and seen amazing things. Iceland is known for its beautiful waterfalls, landscapes, mountains, volcanoes, coastlines, lakes, canyons, and lava fields, but what always stuck out the most to me were the photos I had seen of the Northern Lights. Ever since I first saw a National Geographic photo of them I decided I needed to experience them in real life.

Northern Lights Eric Bennett thisworldexists this world exists things to do before you die

I flew to Iceland directly from Scotland. On the plane I realized I had no idea what I was doing, but that I was determined to get some photos of the Northern Lights. I showed up to my hostel and talked to some people that had driven around the island the past couple of weeks. None of them had seen the Northern Lights the whole time they were there. I felt discouraged, but a couple from Manchester, England told me they were going to walk down to the lighthouse to wait and hope to see some Aurora Borealis and they invited me to go with them. I doubted we would see anything but decided to go with them as I had nothing better to do.

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We walked for at least an hour to get away from the city and out to the coast. I was really tired and I started to think this would be such a waste of time and I would be so zorched the next day. We got down to the coast and began to walk along the sidewalk out towards the lighthouse. We were looking up at the party cloudy sky, hoping we would see something.

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All of a sudden I noticed a weird, white streak of light up above us in the sky. I stared at it for a couple minutes before I mentioned it to my friends. I told them and we all said almost in unison: “Is it….? Could it be....? Wait no…. It can’t be….” And then the streak of light got brighter and turned an intense color of green. We all screamed at once “IT’S THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!!!” We all started screaming and jumping around, like little kids at Disneyland. The three of us grabbed each other and jumped up and down, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Northern Lights Eric Bennett this world exists thisworldexists photography iceland things to do before you die

Quickly setting up my tripod to begin taking photos, the three of us stared at photo after photo in absolute disbelief. The camera captured it even more vibrant and intense than our eyes could see. We took a few more pictures and then ran down to the lighthouse to take more. We sat on the rocks, freezing our butts off as the bitter Icelandic wind swirled all around us on a below freezing night. We didn’t care though, nothing could take our gaze off the sky. We all sat there in amazement until enough clouds rolled in that we couldn’t see them anymore. We returned to our hostel with grins from ear to ear. I still talk to that couple today and we always bring up this moment each time we talk.

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There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on the nights I spent in Iceland, gazing up at a sky of greens and purples, swirling and spiralling around the night sky. It’s truly a magical experience.

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Recently I was reflecting on this while I was at the Grand Tetons. I was explaining to my friends how amazing it was to see the Northern Lights and how I never saw the sky the same way since I saw them. That night we were out shooting the Milky Way at the famous location, Mormon Row. The 'Air Glow' which is often captured in photos here has something to do with Aurora but it isn’t exactly the same as the Northern Lights.

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But this night it was different, the green in the sky was so intense and it was all around us, in every direction we shot. Shooting the Milky Way I was facing South, but I was working on a panorama when all of a sudden I found myself facing North and taking the last exposure, and to my amazement there was a huge, red glow on the horizon. I took a few more photos to figure out what it was and noticed that there were beams of light moving, there was no mistaking it, it was the Northern Lights. That same childish excitement came right back to me as I began to yell at my friends to shoot towards the North. They were also ecstatic to see the lights for their first time.

Mormon northern lights eric bennett stars night photography thisworldexists this world exists things to do before you die

We shot photos all night long as they got more and more intense and we began to see different hues of Yellow, Purple, Pink, and Green, all over the sky. To the naked eye it looked like big purple spot lights moving all over the horizon. The next night we headed to Yellowstone where we also got to shoot some photos of the Aurora. It was such an incredible moment at such an unexpected time and place. I am truly grateful I have been able to experience this phenomenon and I truly recommend doing all you can to see them at least once before you die.

By Eric Bennett, thisworldexists adventure ambassador


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