Photographing the Northern Lights on a Public Tour
If you are planning on photographing the Northern lights without wanting to pay for a private tour or rent a car, it can be a good way of doing it... if you get lucky.
Although the photo below may not be the best image of the Northern Lights you have ever seen, I'm pretty proud of it. This was taken on a recent visit to Iceland whilst part of an organised tour which was hunting for the lights. These tours are great if you are just trying to see the lights as they take you out in warm coaches to areas where you will most likely see them. The tours only run is there is a good chance of activity, and will invite you back for free until you see them.
The key point is that if your goal is to try and capture the sorts of images you seen in magazines, give up immediately as you will have a miserable time. Failing to do this will result in anger as flashes pop from left, right and center whilst iPad screen backlights bellow across the ground. Also should the Northern lights show themselves, you will be too busy fumbling around to actually see them properly, it's the equivalent of filming a concert on your mobile phone.
Instead you should grab your widest lens, stick it on ISO 1000 at the lowest aperture for 30 seconds, then point it in the general direction until you see it arrive. Assuming this is your first time seeing the lights, it's a shame to see it all through a view finder.
A downside to going on a public tour is the location is very hit and miss. Luckily on our second night going out after being at very windy, cold and uninteresting location the night before, the tour took us to a fjord which was sheltered and had a much better view.
This image was taken with a D90 at ISO1000, 30s at f2.8 with a 10.5mm lens.