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17 Easy Steps to See & Photograph the Northern Lights Travelling in a Van 2019

Van Life + northern lights

The season is here, northern lights is upon us!

Last night kickstarted our first sight of the natural phenomenon on our current trip up to the arctic circle, and even with a fairly low KP of 2 we managed to spot it with our bare eyes and get some killer shots.



Don't forget to look up 🙌

Nights like these as sunset lingers and the stars pop out brings back memories of our first encounter with the aurora borealis in 2014; camping up in the Lofoten Islands in our VWT4 we had no idea they would be visible at this time of year – but in all honesty all you need is darkness and the will to wait. 

KP Levels found on Aurora Service (Europe)

KP Levels found on Aurora Service (Europe)

The northern lights are visible in the northern hemisphere, depending on geometric activity your chance of spotting them depends on your location in the north and the KP strength at that current time.

Where we are in the far north of Norway (68 degrees north) ensures that anything from a KP 1-2 is visible. The further south you have to rely on a stronger KP level.

KP levels fluctuate constantly, from 0 all the way through to 9. As you can imagine, a KP level of 9 can be visible all the way in Hungary and would be a fantastic display this far north.

Northern Lights in Senja

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Easy guide to spotting the northern lights



Two of our favourite things from the Kungsleden (other than the insane vistas): northern lights & cabins #DistantNorth #LifeInSwedishLapland

  • Cloud coverage – check the skies for clouds. If it’s a clear night your chance of seeing the northern lights is much greater than that of a blanket of clouds. Generally if you can see stars then you’re onto a winner.

  • Darkness – it doesn’t need to be pitch black, but it does need darkness. As you can see in this image we’ve captured them shooting over our van as sunset continued on the other side, so pitch black isn’t necessary but darkness is needed for them to pop.

  • Long exposure – if the aurora is on the weaker end of the KP spectrum (1-2) you may struggle to see it in all its glory with your bare eyes. You will be able to catch wispy glimpses of it, but if you’re able to set up your camera for a long exposure of 15 or more seconds then you can capture the lights when your eyes can’t.

  • Patience – this is probably the hardest part! The aurora doesn’t come out and stay out in the exact same place for the entire night. It dances across the sky, coming and going at will, strong and weak, fast and slow, close and far. You’ve got to be patient and wait. If you can build a campfire that helps to wait around and also adds for some epic photo opportunities too. There were evenings where nothing would happen until past 1am, then others where the lights were already dancing around at sunset!

Useful tools

Predicted Geomagnetic activity from Aurora Service

Predicted Geomagnetic activity from Aurora Service

In 2014 we didn’t have access to internet on our mobiles in Norway (this was when roaming rates were absurd and it cost £3 per day for a couple 100mb which we couldn’t afford for more than a couple days a month), so we relied on websites that we’d check on whatever WiFi we could find. Aurora Service is a fantastic website to check KP strength, solar winds, forecasts and a host of other information regarding the northern lights. 

As for Apps there are quite a few, but ‘Aurora’ is one we’ve been using recently that’s been pretty handy: sharing cloud coverage, KP strength, and even a map of the aurora across the world. This app is also free if you don’t mind the ads!

Here’s the IOS app, and the Android app.

How to photograph the northern lights

I’m fortunate in that my partner is a photographer, so he usually sets up the camera for me and I shoot some rather standard images before he shows me how it’s really done. Anyway…here’s what he said for shooting them on a DSLR.

  • Manual mode: when shooting the Aurora it’s important to be in manual mode on your camera.

  • Don’t trust your light meter: I like to fire of a few test shots before the lights come out so I’m ready. They can change rapidly and get brighter, so it’s important to adjust accordingly so you don’t blow your highlights.

  • ISO: Shoot on the lowest ISO possible for a clean image, but it’s also vital to not have too much of long exposure – anything over 20 seconds can blur the aurora.

  • Shutter speed: I like to keep the shutter speed between 5-15 seconds depending how bright it is.

  • Aperture: keeping to the lowest aperture is highly important to allow more light into the sensor. I normally shoot on an 11-16 at 2.8.

  • Keep it wide: a nice wide lens helps capture more of the aurora in the composition, as well as ensure the stars are nice and sharp.

  • Plan: I always think about what shot I want to achieve before it’s occurred, that way I’m ready if the conditions are right.

  • Patience: for the shot of the church I had to lie in a grave yard and wait on the gravel, but it was worth it. Most importantly: have fun!

Aurora in our Van

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Aurora over Unstad back in September. We loved our time in Lofoten, it felt like leaving home when we finally drove off mid October after arriving there back in August #wewillbeback #aurora #unstad #vanlife #lofoten #auroraborealis #northernlights #norway #visitnorway #stars #adventure #explore #church #lights #travel #roadtrip

If you’re trying to photograph people or your van in front of the aurora, this can be done in a number of ways:

  • You can take some really nice natural looking photos with the help of the moon when it’s out. The light illuminates the surroundings for a really wonderful image. 

  • If there is no moon light I will use my iPhone torch to light paint the object. Light painting can be tricky to make it look natural and a little goes a long way.

  • When photographing people on a long exposure remember to stay still. This may seem obvious, but when you’re excited by spotting the northern lights you can forget!

  • Location plays a big part in capturing the aurora, camping up in as wide open area as possible with little to no light pollution is ideal.

And that’s about it! We’re planning on hanging around in Norway for a couple of months now so hope to see many more displays.

You can follow our journey here where we upload videos every week:

If you enjoyed this post please feel free to share it, and check out ways you can support more content like this.

Easy Ways to Capture the Aurora Borealis

Easy Ways to Capture the Aurora Borealis


🏡Back in March when the lockdown was announced in the UK and the rest of the world had come to a standstill, we took the opportunity to house-sit here in England. It was a massive blessing at the time, as tensions were high and plenty of vanlifers were struggling to find safe and secure places to park up. ⁣
🗺The time has now come to get back on the road - we're SO EXCITED! Any guesses where we're headed?! Comment below!⁣
🎥New video out now, link in bio to watch our shenanigans ⁣
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#roadtrip #ontheroad #homeiswhereyouparkit #ontheroadagain #vanlifediaries #vanlife #vanlifers #vanlifeexplorers #projectvanlife #vanlifemovement #homeonwheels #adventuremobile #overlanding #theindieprojects #alternativeliving #onamission #campervan #camperlife #vanlifestyle #adventurous #roadtrippin #letsgoplaces #adventuring #overlander


Lying in bed looking out to the view of the clear, cool water was pure bliss during the heatwave in Finland last summer! Swipe for a surprise 😉
This beautiful image, along with over a hundred pages of info, tips, advice, locations and more is all available in one beautiful ebook we've just released today: Travel the Nordics! 
It's been a long time coming, since our first exploration there in 2014 in our small VWT4 we've fallen deeper in love with the beautiful countries we've explored. 
Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland are all included in this ebook, and better yet we've created an epic bundle deal which is definitely worth your while - link in bio to grab your copy 😊
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#visitnorway #finland #denmark #sweden #vanlife #vanlifeguide #travelthenordics #vanlifediaries #vanlifers #vanconversion #projectvanlife #vanlifeexplorers #homeiswhereyouparkit #vanlifemovement #letsgoplaces #homeonwheels #adventuremobile #campervan #camperlife #vanlifestyle #scandinavia


🐱Giving this ginger floof a big squeeze, she's such a star. Do any of you travel with pets? If so, what pet? Do they enjoy it? (I know she looks pissed but I'm fairly confident she's happy 🤣)
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We're super fortunate that Ginjey Bear is incredibly chilled out with the constant movement and new areas we explore. We don't know her exact history as she was a rescue, but we do know that she's always been an adventurous soul having come into our lives after she was found trapped up a tree as a youngling!
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We've just dropped a brand new video on our @youtube documenting the prep process for getting back on the road...link in bio or stories ☀️
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#vanlife #vanlifewithcats #vanlifewithpets #vanlifediaries #vanlifers #projectvanlife #exploremore #tinyhouse #tinyhome #ginjeybear #handbuilthome #theindieprojects #vanconversion #offgrid #alternativeliving #winthewilderness #campvibes #sprintervan


Every Sunday at noon we release a video and it’s become a ritual of ours over the years! We asked you over on our @youtube community tab to drop us some questions to answer in our latest video, including what we did before The Indie Projects, what cameras we use, whether we’re credible vanlifers, and a whole lot more. Link in bio or stories to watch 😊🙌


✨The impromptu standstill gave us a chance to clear out the van, clean it, repaint it, tidy up the mess created by Ginjey with the carpet 😭, add curtains, and spruce up quite a few other things. It’s really odd how removing our personal objects such as bedding, kitchenware and sofa cushions stopped it feeling like home. The JOY at putting those thing back in their rightful places was immense; it feels like home again and now we are just awaiting the green light to get back on the road. New video with a tour of our gorgeous van out NOW! Link in bio & stories 🙌


One question we’re asked all the time is what's the paint used in your van? Today, we wanted to share the answer and hopefully save a few of you some trouble! The real answer is we blended up Bee's dress to create a custom colour unique to our van...just joking 😜
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You may have seen on our @youtube channel that we've taken this time during #lockdown to revamp our home on wheels, she's a little weathered now we've been living in her for a while. It's kind of crazy how removing our trinkets, cushions, mattress and kitchen knick-knacks has made the van no longer feel like a comfortable dwelling, and it's such a relief to begin putting everything back in preparation for when we can get on the move again 🚌
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We've just dropped a brand new video on our channel - link in bio and stories!
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#vanlife #homeiswhereyouparkit #vanlifediaries #vanlifers #vanlifeexplorers #projectvanlife #vanlifemovement #homeonwheels #adventuremobile #themountainiscalling #explorewildly #campvibes #our


We are saddened to share with you all the passing of Rena Ose, whom we met whilst filming Win the Wilderness. Our condolences go out to her family at this difficult time. What she did out in Alaska was truly amazing and has shaped many people’s lives. Whilst we only got to meet her once at camp, it was great to hear her stories. Rest in Peace ❤️


What mistakes did you make with your van build? For us, we built our van with Ginjey Bear in mind, but we still made a critical error in regards to the methods we used with the van build, namely using carpet! We’ve been using this lockdown time to work on renovations with our van after living in it since 2018, and it’s been pretty therapeutic to get to work on tasks that you can clearly see a difference in. If you’d like to see more than a picture and spend a day with us through video then click the link in our bio - we’ve just dropped a new video!


She loves me I’m sure 😳 you guys love Ginjey and I’m sure if she could type she’d say you’re kind of ok, have you got a sachet of cat soup? If the answer is yes then she’ll love you forever - or until her bowl is empty. You can follow her shenanigans here: @ginjeybear. She dictates and I type on her behalf (obviously). She’s a savage Bear let me tell you. Also classy, bougie, ratchet 🐈


All three of us (Theo is behind the camera) would like to say hey 👋 to all of you newbies who’ve found us here on IG! We started this account in 2014 to document our new life on the road, and never realised just how fantastic IG would be for connecting with people around the world. Truth be told I was a little scared when people would comment, they were complete strangers to us! Why do they care about little old us? The truth is social media has completely changed our lives, and brought so many wonderful people into our awareness. We’re not extroverts, in fact we would definitely class ourselves as introverts - but social media allows us to engage with people and feel a connection through our phones. How fantastic is that?!

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