The next day, we reversed direction and drove back to the famous DC Plane Wreck that we had already been forced to skip twice due to weather.
Not only were we able to photograph this otherworldly scene with a full moon rising, but we also witnessed the Aurora Borealis for the first time with our bare eyes.
The gratification was immeasurable, as was the value of the lesson we were mindful enough to realize:
We cannot afford to hope opportunities simply lay in our path. Rather, we must be willing to chase them down!
We arrived back at the campervan sometime after midnight. There was too much adrenaline to sleep now, though!
Instead, we drove a short distance to the mighty Skogafoss Waterfall. This was our first time witnessing a “moonbow” (a rainbow created by moonlight) as it shimmered in the spray of the massive waterfall, while the aurora swayed slowly above.
Now things felt right! The only question we suddenly had to consider was, “where to next?!”.
There was one particular scene that I had wanted to photograph with the aurora more than any other. Before ever getting to Iceland, I had daydreams of one image in particular. And I had told Sophie multiple times throughout the trip that if we only got one good night in all of our 30 days in Iceland, I wanted it at Mt Vestrahorn…
Vestrahorn is located in the Southeast corner of Iceland… the direction we had just come from. We checked the forecast… clouds.
The clear skies for the next couple days were all the way in the Northwest region of the island, about as far from where we were as we could get… but if that’s where the promise is, then that’s where we’ll go.
From then on, we seemed to get “lucky” with the conditions in every single place we visited. Each morning was started with unbelievable sunrises, each day ended with fiery sunsets, and the Northern Lights showed up for at least a moment during each night we were out shooting. But our trip was coming to an end and we still hadn’t been to the one place I wanted most: Mt Vestrahorn.
On March 9, with just 5 days left on our trip, we found ourselves near enough to the area and had a promising forecast for clear skies. Now, we just had to hope the Lady Aurora felt like dancing.
We spent most of the day at Mt Vestrahorn, scouting compositions and admiring the landscape. What makes this location so fascinating to me is the way the mountain almost looks like an island! I also love the golden grass and rolling black dunes that set the stage, not to mention the nearby ocean shore that allows an opportunity to photograph reflections in the wet sand.
In short, it is just a very special place to shoot.
The sun was setting and putting on quite a show of its own. We swore that we could already detect a bit of green faintly showing up in some photos… could this be the night?!
Sophie and I decided to split up for the evening as we had two compositions in mind. Sophie would keep her perpetually cold feet on dry land while I would battle the icy incoming wave sets to try and capture some reflections in the sand.
As it got darker and darker, the shade of green got deeper and deeper in each frame. A modest wisp of cloud began to slither along the skyline, growing longer and longer with each snaking wiggle.
Within minutes, the sky began to dance… slowly at first, but quickening its pace rapidly!
I don’t think I can explain the spiritual elation I felt as I watched my daydream come to life. Every time the camera finished an exposure, I would hit the playback and lose my breath. This was the moment we had wanted, and it was somehow better than I even expected.
Mt Vestrahorn loomed majestically, kissed with snow and surrounded by the shimmering polar lights. The entire scene was reflected in the volcanic black sand from an outgoing tide.
We were worried the display of Aurora would pass within minutes as it usually had. Instead, it got stronger and gained vibrancy with each passing minute.
After an hour, it was beginning to resemble a green tornado. The lights circled above the mountain, dragging and swirling like a neon cyclone!
While all the adrenaline and dopamine was flooding my system, I paused to realize that, even though I was standing alone, my best friend was just a short distance away getting once-in-a-lifetime captures of this moment as well. We were apart, but completely together. Where I might usually be saddled with a sense of urgency to run around getting every shot available before time ran out, now I could relax. I could sit and appreciate the moment, knowing that she had it covered. I realized with clarity that while I was standing alone, I was part of a team.
After hours of shooting, we rendezvoused in utter amazement and ethereal bliss. We were confident we had everything we could possibly want from this scene and decided to drive around the nearby region while the sky was still moving and see if we could squeeze any other photos in before the show stopped.
Unsure of where exactly to go, we visited the Viking Village, then just drove around photographing the triangular white mountains under a vibrant green and purple sky. It was now something like 2am and the color was still there!
We had photographed everything we could find in the area nearby and now I found an unshakable desire for one last photoshoot… I realllly wanted to try and capture the icebergs of Diamond Beach as the dancing light passed through them.
Of course, that meant Sophie would have to make a long night drive in the wrong direction from where we were going. Worse yet, there was no way of knowing whether or not the display would last — it could literally fade any minute. On top of that, we had barely slept in days having been so diligent in trying to photograph the night skies… and I knew Sophie was running on fumes already.
Having been a solo traveler for so many years prior to meeting Sophie, compromise was not something I was good at. But I remembered how good it felt just hours ago knowing she was just down the beach from me, watching the sky explode over Mt Vestrahorn. She was there alone in the dark, undoubtedly captivated by this natural miracle we had just witnessed while freezing her ass off and getting incredible photos for us.
It had finally sunk in that I had found someone who shared my passion so deeply. I couldn’t be frustrated at the possibility that we may have to skip our only opportunity to photograph the Northern Lights over Diamond Beach — all I could be was grateful for a person whom I had met less than a year ago that was willing to share a tiny campervan in arctic Iceland in the dead of winter, living off of hot dogs, pasta, and passion. This was the only person I had met that truly loved this hectic lifestyle as much as me, and this was a time for appreciation.
I had accepted that it was bedtime as we got back in the car and collectively exhaled.
“Tired?” I asked.
“Not really… I mean, I’m sure if I laid down I’d fall asleep, but I’m not really thinking about sleep… I know its far, and if you’re tired we can definitely go to bed… but I was thinking about driving down to Diamond Beach…?”
Though March 9 is not marked on our calendar, it is a special day.
It is the day I knew I was truly in love for the first time.