What does a plumber do after work, when he lives in the Senja area? Here is the story of a Northern Lights chase
We asked Kristoffer Vangen from Finnsnes, the town at the bridge to Senja Island, to tell us about a typical Northern Lights trip, and take some photos along with it. One night in early November Kristoffer went with three of his friends to hunt the Northern Lights on the island of Senja. “We knew things were happening in the sky, but the weather was only half-good. We could see some activity, though, so we set off”. Here is how it happened, illustrated with a few of the photos taken.
The outer coast is the best in autumn
Senja’s weather-beaten, rugged outer coast faces the Atlantic. “Before the snow falls, I prefer the outer coast. The cliffs form a great foreground, and then there are pools along the shore where the Northern Lights reflect”. Kristoffer has been out many nights, and a great aurora show just isn’t enough. “I need a good background, not just the Northern Lights. Let’s call the lights an extra spice” he jokes.
Aurora played hide and seek with the clouds
Kristoffer and his friends thus went to Steinfjord along the Norwegian Scenic Route. Here they stopped at a couple of places, before ending up at the Tungenesset viewpoint. Coffee was in the flask, and they were prepared for a wait. They saw that things were happening, but the cloud cover was pretty dense. However, it soon thinned out, and the lights started to glow over the fjord. Kristoffer got what he aimed for, Aurora mirroring in the pools at Tungenesset.
The snow lightens up the inland
Senja is an island of many faces, and the inland is filled with forests, mountains and lakes that freeze in winter, maybe just 20 minutes’ drive from the coast. “The snow lightens up the place” Kristoffer explains “so that you can see the landscape even if it’s pitch dark”. Then Kristoffer and his friends go to inland locations, where trees, mountain contours, remote huts and abandoned farmsteads form the foreground and frame. It’s all about that extraordinary Northern Lights shot.
Kristoffer takes the weather forecast with a pinch of salt
Of course, the weather forecast is important to Kristoffer. But he doesn’t believe blindly in it. “It only takes a brief opening in the cloud cover” he says, “and we might have fantastic lights”. Kristoffer has a day job and cannot go chasing the lights in remote areas inland as some people can. He is therefore willing to go out when others might want to stay home.
Apps are a help, but no guarantee
Kristoffer is no expert on interpreting the various Northern Lights apps. “As I understand it, the kp index that everybody talks about, really only indicates how far south in Scandinavia and Europe the lights can be seen. It doesn’t really affect us so much, since we’re up north” (This is confirmed by our geophysics expert). “I have been out when all the apps have been blinking red, and nothing happened. Other times, I get a pleasant surprise, and see fabulous lights when the apps are pessimistic”.
How much work should be put into the chase?
When the apps say go, and the weather is favourable, Kristoffer prepares for a full night out. He packs his car and expects to be out all evening. He tries to be set up with a tripod by 7, and by then he should also have an idea about how to compose a photo. It’s all about the right background. But if the weather looks dubious, or the activity is low, he might go for a long walk from home or up a mountain. “I can still get lucky and have some good photos” he laughs.
One can’t be up too late on a school night
Kristoffer’s job as a plumber of course doesn’t wait, even if Aurora puts up a show. Therefore, he can’t stay up too late. If he believes the chances are good, he sets off around 6 pm. By 11, he’s home. “I have of course been up into the wee hours at times when things really go crazy. But there is a price to pay the next day”.
A trip to Japan made Kristoffer a photographer
Kristoffer wasn’t all that interested in photography as he grew up. As a young adult, he started to travel, and no tourist travels without a camera. A trip to Japan was like a revelation; the cityscapes, cultural heritage and exotic landscapes of the Land of the Rising Sun was captured, and amazingly he managed to take great photos. After some travelling, he looked at his home area, Senja and the adjacent mainland, with new eyes. Tourist photos from Senja’s rugged coastline made him aware of the beauty that he’d taken for granted.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Senja
Kristoffer runs an excellent instagram account, ig krisvang. The two other you see in the photos also have amazing feeds, consult ig seffis and ig trulsfromnorway
Visit Senja‘s website has accommodation, attractions and tours on their comprehensive website.
Senja sees the same Northern Lights as the rest of Northern Scandinavia, litterally exactly the same, since the lights are so high up. From mid September to around the first of April, you have prime chances. Read more on our Northern Lights info page.