Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway

Watching the mesmerizing Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis was on my bucket list for a long time.

Preparation for Chasing Northern Lights in Tromsø

Be aware of wildlife crossings!
Be aware of wildlife crossings!

Heading into a winter adventure means tackling logistical hurdles, especially with bulky camera gear. On my recent trip to hunt the Northern Lights in Tromsø, I wrestled with hauling 40 kg of luggage, pushing airline limits. Especially the decision to bring along a camera slider to create motion timelapse, or so-called hyperlapse, proofed heavy. As I finally settled into my airplane seat, relief washed over me, and everything miraculously sorted.

However, Thaisa, my pilot friend, had arranged a surprise: A couple of minutes after take-off, a stewardess told me that my board luggage was left behind due to weight restrictions. Disheartened, I didn’t challenge the misinformation, just to be let in on the joke by her.


Very funny.

Moose family crossing the road in Tromsø, Norway.
Moose family crossing the road in Tromsø, Norway.

Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø

The Story

Arriving in Tromsø, I spent the first two days stationed in town, exploring the nearby northern islands. Claudia, a friend of Larissa studying marine biology in Norway, was kind enough to host me during this time. She lent me here room and even prepared some snacks – or Kvikk Lunsj – to get me going straight away chasing the Northern lights. Tuusig tak Cludi! After dinner and a quick nap, I headed out.

Although the aurora forecast wasn’t good at all (KP 1-2), the clear skies convinced me to give it a go anyway. You know, make it count while it lasts, and forge the iron while it’s still hot kind a thing.

The KP is a measure used by scientists to quantify geomagnetic activity caused by solar storms and other space weather events. The KP index ranges from 0 to 9, with 0 being very little geomagnetic activity and 9 indicating a major geomagnetic storm. Scientists and amateur astronomers use the KP index to predict when and where auroras might be visible in the sky. Higher KP values indicate a greater likelihood of seeing auroras at lower latitudes and with more intensity.

Leaving Tromsø northwards, the temperature was the opposite of hot and dropped to -6°C. Considering the geographical altitude of 69°N, the cold was surprisingly moderate. However, the streets were covered by a thick sheet of ice. Luckily, I had received an upgrade from the rental car company Enterprise. Instead of a Skoda Octavian two-wheel drive, they supplied me with a brand-new Toyota Rav4 hybrid with steering wheel warmer – what a treat. Moreover, all cars in Norway have either tyre with spikes or heavy ribbing to get good grip on the ice.

Rental Car Toyota Rav4 hybrid with steering wheel warmer.
Rental Car Toyota Rav4 hybrid with steering wheel warmer.

Going further and further north, I passed several tour groups with their typical sprinter vans. Taking the road conditions into account, they were driving at crazy speeds. The lack of places to stop due to the snow drifts on either side of the road was also a bit worrying. Eventually, I came by a bus stop cleared from snow and parked in the bay.

My gaze met a diffuse greenish haze moving across the sky in undulating waves. At times gentle and fluid, then electric and pulsating – the aurora flew across the sky. The longer I watched, the stronger they appeared, perhaps also because my eyes adapted to the dark. It was a spectacle hard to fathom. Indescribable.

First time seeing the northern lights in Norway.
First time seeing the northern lights in Norway.

The following night it didn’t work out and only my camera was able to see a faint glow of green in the distance. That’s how it is – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.



After two nights in Tromsø, Larissa also arrived in Norway. Together with Cludi, the three of us bought groceries and drove to Rotsund, where I had booked our accommodation for the week. The ride took us about 3 hours, and we spotted even a moose on the way. We spent a relaxed weekend, during which Larissa and I went dog sledding – or mushing. Cludi didn’t’ take part because she had already done that before. Otherwise, we frequently watched weather and aurora forecasts to make plans where to go. I found this depiction of the general weather systems around Tromsø very helpful to plan the stay:

General weather patterns around Tromsø
General weather patterns around Tromsø, helpful to find clear skies for Northern Lights depending on prevailing winds.


Instead of describing each day in detail, here is some first-hand advice about chasing the northern lights.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights

Top Ten Advice for Seeing the Northern Lights

  1. Plan Ahead: Schedule your trip during phases of new moon and in the months between November and March. Scout for prime aurora viewing spots in advance, considering factors like light pollution and foreground elements (fjords, mountains, trees, etc.) for captivating shots. For the latter, Google Street view is a neat way to do it. Furthermore, Facebook groups are a good source for information on real-time visibility and activity. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact real-time display of the cloud cover around Tromsø. The best bet was to consult the information about the “astronomical seeing” in Meteoblue for different locations. Additionally, I used the local weather forecast such as YR. Moreover, you can find many webcams on Windy, which is also a great source. Here’s my favourite webcam (for the weather ;-)).
  2. Be Vary: Form your own opinion based on your observations. Don’t let yourself be dissuaded from going out chasing the aurora, even if the app predicts a low KP or it is unclear whether the sky will be clear. You have to be in it, to win it.
  3. Technical Mastery: Familiarize yourself not only with your camera but also with other equipment to navigate low-light conditions seamlessly. There’s nothing more annoying than missing out on some great aurora shots because of that.
  4. Stay Vigilant: Keep an eye out for unexpected wildlife encounters, such as moose crossing your path in the darkness. This is also a huge danger when driving – be careful!
  5. Be Flexible: Embrace the possibility of failure and adapt your plans, accordingly, knowing that nature operates on its own timeline.
  6. Treasured Spots: Mark locations like mountains (Otertinden, Stetind, etc.), Sommaroy, and Kvaløya for future visits, ensuring you don’t miss out on their splendor.
  7. Pause and Ponder: Take breaks during long drives to soak in the serenity of the northern landscape, remaining open to serendipitous aurora sightings.
  8. Stay Close to your Subjects: The aurora surprised me on various occasions. It appears suddenly for less than an hour and then it’s already over again. If you have a certain foreground element in your mind, stay close and be ready to seize the opportunity.
  9. Technicalities: Change the color space of your cameras from sRGB to Adobe RGB for more detailed hues of green and red. Your lens can’t be wide enough nor bright enough. I wish I had lent a 14mm F1.4 but made do with the 20mm f1.8 and the 14mm f2.8 (latter was not bright enough to capture fast aurora outbursts). The Aurora can quickly move all of a sudden, so shutter speeds as fast as 3 seconds are sometimes demanded to get crisp shots.
    For comparison, this milky way shot worked with a 15s exposure at f/1.8 and iso 3200.

    Comparison night photography usually depends on long exposures, northern lights can move very quickly (exif: 15s f/1.8 iso3200)
    Comparison night photography usually depends on long exposures, northern lights can move very quickly (exif: 15s f/1.8 iso3200)
  10. The Thing about the Colors: Be aware that your camera captures colors in low light much better than your naked eye. Therefore, you can use it to search the sky for faint auroras. In my case, I was slightly underwhelmed at times because the original colors of the aurora popped less than what was on my camera or on social media. However, I was much more captivated by the mesmerizing movements of the aurora.


  1. Rest and Enjoy the Show: It can be overwhelming to photograph auroras through the night, just to realize there is a beautiful sunrise. Then, the low angled sun makes for amazing sidelight which is perfect for landscape photography. Next thing you know, you skipped sleep for too long and can’t enjoy the experience. Prioritize and allow your body to rest.

Chasing or Being Chased

As you can tell by the fact that I drove 1’500km in 9 days on icy roads – I really like driving. Instead of chasing the aurora yourself, you can also book a tour. The operators sure know where to go and sort out all the driving and finding of the northern lights. However, I liked the thrill of hourly checking weather apps, forecasts and seeing my efforts – sometimes – bearing fruits. For me, personally, chasing the aurora together with Larissa and Cludi, took the experience to a whole new level. Nonetheless, for people less keen on driving and the adventure, a tour is definitely a great way to experience the aurora.

Surprised by the northern lights while driving - seize the opportunity.
Surprised by the northern lights while driving – seize the opportunity.

What Else to Do in and around Tromsø

Here are some other things to do in and around Tromsø besides photographing the aurora.

In the middle of February, the Sami week takes places in Tromsø. All over the town there are special events and activities. The highlight of the week is the reindeer race, which costs a small entrance fee. Funnily enough, like in horse racing, it’s the reindeer and not the skier that wins. However, to be qualified, the animal must arrive with its jockey who is pulled behind.

Another once in a lifetime activity was dog sledding, or mushing. The strength and excitement of the dogs is contagious and impressed me. There are many companies offering those tours, we chose this one because the others were fully booked. Some places also offer snowmobile riding and more activities such as ice fishing. Provided you can see the sun already, Norway is a lot about enjoying the arctic scenery with the low-angle sunlight – just photo-licious.


Photo-licious. Low-angled sun in February while dog sledding in Norway.
Photo-licious. Low-angled sun in February.

Final Thoughts on Northern Lights

In conclusion, chasing the Aurora Borealis is as much about embracing the journey as it is about capturing the spectacle. Sharing this memory with Larissa and Cludi, made it even dearer to me. While logistical hurdles may abound, they pale in comparison to the awe-inspiring beauty of the Arctic night sky. So, reach out to friends, prepare for the unexpected, and embark on your own adventure under the northern lights!

Wishing you good light and clear skies!

Claudia, Larissa and ExpediTom
Claudia, Larissa and ExpediTom

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