Is a trip to Iceland to view the northern lights on your bucket list? What you see may be nothing like the photos on the travel site
Wisps of green and purple paint the night sky in this photo of the northern lights featured on the website for Extreme Iceland, an Icelandic travel agency that offers sightseeing tours of the aurora borealis, among other vacation packages.
But the awesomeness of this image may not match what you get to see with the naked eye, as the photo rendering is the result of an 8-second time exposure and not a single moment caught on camera. (An Extreme Iceland spokesperson confirmed this in response to a query by TINA.org.)
Others caution potential sightseers as well.
“The colors you see in aurora photos ARE real but exaggerated because the pictures are time exposures,” Bob King, a self-proclaimed amateur astronomer who maintains the blog
“Astro Bob,” wrote in an October 2013 post titled “Technicolor Auroras? A Reality Check.”
“Often a curtain of green rays will be topped off by red, blue or purple emission recorded with sumptuous fidelity in the camera,” King wrote
. “What does the eye see? Smoky, colorless haze with hints of pink. Maybe.”
The Extreme Iceland spokesperson acknowledged that observing red in person is rare. And while the travel site does note that witnessing any northern lights takes luck, it doesn’t disclose how the photographer captured the alluring photos.
Extreme Iceland is not the only Icelandic tourism site that uses long exposure shots of the northern lights to advertise sightseeing tours. Icelandair also displays
such photography on its site. In response to a query from TINA.org, Michael Raucheisen, a spokesperson for Icelandair, wrote:
Although it can be difficult to photograph the northern lights, depending on the speed and intensity of them, these photographs would have been taken with a long exposure to capture the light, subtle nuances and beauty of what the photographer was actually seeing.
The bottom line for northern lights seekers: If you’re expecting a spectacular light show based on photos you see on a tourism website, you may end up disappointed. To avoid this, find out what isn’t guaranteed before booking your trip.
Find more of our coverage on summer vacations here