The narrow beam from Peter Rosén’s headlamp illuminates the viewfinder on my camera, which is balanced atop a sturdier tripod I’d loaned from him. I thought my own tripod would be stable enough, but it seemed flimsy that night as it dug into calf-deep snow. He is pressing buttons with thinly gloved fingers, showing me controls, making sure I have the right settings, or rather, the perfect settings for capturing the only other source of light around us: the Northern lights. Green bands like folding curtains shimmer in the sky above and all around us. Peter’s own camera is already wirelessly at work, capturing a time-lapse of the gyrating Northern Lights.
A staple on many travelers’ bucket list, the Aurora Borealis is a fickle apparition. It occurs when solar explosions cause particles from the sun to collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere to create vibrant red, green, and sometimes fuchsia bands of light. And while NASA dutifully monitors these solar patterns, there is still no guarantee you’ll catch a glimpse of the resulting Northern Lights. Even throwing in ideal weather conditions for auroral activity—crispy cold, clear, cloudless skies with little to no moonlight–promises you nothing.
Aurora photographers like Peter, who moved to Abisko 14 years ago and has been photographing the lights ever since, follow NASA’s monitoring website like scripture. They know the strongest auroras appear 24 to 48 hours after a solar explosion. Their gearboxes are always packed and ready with two to three tripods and cameras, several wide angle lenses diligently cleaned each night to remove frost and dust, and enough battery life to beat the threatening cold. They’ve captured thousands of images of these lights, and yet Peter is still out here in a borderline reverent state, making sure my settings are absolutely correct because those lights deserve nothing short of perfection. Then he turns back to the sky, just watching the show, his own camera forgotten in the background.