Capturing the Moments…Without the Phone

Two weeks from today, I’ll be on a plane to Iceland. It’s my second trip there and this time I’m doing things a little differently. Again, at the top of my list of things to do is to experience the Northern Lights. I saw them last time I was there and they were wonderful! However, for part of the light show, I was a little distracted. Actually, the truth is, I was A LOT distracted. I was focused more on capturing the experience for social media than to experience them the way I intended in the first place. With my own two eyes. I’m going with two family members who do REAL photography as a hobby…and they have REAL cameras and tripods! Which means, we can capture the experience AND watch at the same time.

I learned quite a bit about distraction on that last trip about three years ago. It was a first for me. My first trip abroad and my first solo trip…ever. I stayed in the town of Keflavik about 10 minutes from the airport and my room at the bed and breakfast was within walking distance of everything I needed for my stay so there was no need to rent a car. I took several tours of Iceland through a small company run by a local named Ossie and his son. Their trips were about half the price of the major touring companies and were more personal in my opinion. I rode along with Ossie and his son every single day. I got to see most of Iceland, but my main goal was to see the Northern Lights. It was at the VERY TOP of my bucket list. I yammered about it the whole time! About day three, Ossie said he no longer considered me a tourist, but a very annoying and fun friend. Okay, I’ll take that! HAHA! He explained that the lights just don’t pop out just because you want to see them. They are a natural phenomenon and conditions must be right for them. I knew that! But still, I believed in my heart that I would get to see them before I went home.

The first, second and third nights were a blow out. Cloud cover, rain and snow dashed my hopes and I whined about that all over social media. The fourth night, we made a go of it. We chased for about three hours and nothing. Not one light. Fortunately for us, the tour guide’s guarantee was if we didn’t see anything, we could come back the next time for free. I took them up on that and at 7 pm the following night, Ossie picked me up at the B and B as promised. My experience of the lights was mediocre. I mean, I got to see them. Sort of. They weren’t as beautiful as I had seen in pictures, but I did see them. I was okay with it, but still disappointed. I decided that I had fun chasing the Aurora and that was the important thing.

I made plans to take one final tour the next morning to see geysers and waterfalls. It was my last full day in Iceland and I wanted to take full advantage of it. I was the only one on that tour, so I got more for my money. We stopped for a buffet that served Icelandic specialties so I could try everything. We stopped for homemade ice cream. There were large windows to the barn so we could see the cows that provided the milk. Best ice cream I ever ate! Later that afternoon, we stopped for an early dinner of an Icelandic favorite, lamb dogs! Thank goodness we had done a lot of walking that day! That was a lot of food to enjoy! About 4 pm, I was dropped off at the B and B.

I had made plans to go to the local pub at meet up with some new friends so I could say goodbye. An hour after Ossie dropped me off, he and his son returned extremely excited, shouting, “It’s going to be a NINE tonight! A NINE!!!” I asked them what that meant and they told me that it was almost positive that the Aurora was going to be spectacular. I told them that I had made plans to go to the pub and I had already seen the lights. Ossie said, “Not like this.” So I asked if they could pick me up from the pub. They laughed. And that’s where they got me just before 8 pm. Fortunately, I only had one beer. 😉

I wasn’t expecting much except for more of the same and another night of freezing my butt off for nothing. The bus was nearly full. There was a couple from England who finally got a babysitter so they could take a trip together. There was a family of 6 from Japan who was heading back home the next day after 14 days in Iceland. There was another young woman from England and like me, taking her first trip somewhere new…alone. I made instant friends. We shared contact information so we could share our Aurora pics if any of us took good ones. Ossie then told us that just a regular cell phone camera would not capture the Aurora well. We would need to download an Aurora app that slows the shutter speed. I wished I had known that earlier. Cell service was sketchy so it took forever to download the app. Ossie explained that taking camera phone photos and videos of the Aurora were almost like taking pictures of the moon. The only way you could really tell its the moon is if you told someone it was the moon. That was saddening. I really counted on making a Facebook live video. I kind of promised my friends. Even still, if the lights were anything like they were the night before, it would be no big deal anyway.

It was a long ride. I just stared out the window. Soon, a flash caught my eye. And then another one and another. I asked Ossie to slow down. “Is that what I think it is?” The next thing I heard was “Oh my god” coming from the children on the bus. They jumped over to the seats behind me. The sky got brighter and more colorful as Ossie said, “we got Northern Lights!” Soon, he parked in a dark remote area and we got off the bus. This spectacular light show was nothing like I saw the night before. It took my breath away! I watched the lights as they danced across the sky and showed no signs of stopping any time soon. God was putting on the show of all shows and I was in the audience. It was awesome. Pictures could never do justice to what I was witnessing at that moment, but I had to capture it. I had to share it. RIGHT THEN! So I ran back on the bus to get my phone and opened my handy dandy app and started shooting.

I whined a little because the pics, even with the app, didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. I hadn’t noticed, but my eyes and attention were more focused on my phone than the big show in front of me, but I still had to get that “perfect” pic!

See? Not so hot.

Then, a few others on the tour did something I never saw coming. They politely called me out on what I was missing in front of my face.

I had been taking pics for quite awhile when Ossie said, “I’ve spent the last few days with you. All you’ve talked about were these lights. You’ve taken enough pictures now. Put the phone away and just experience them.” He was right. I was there with the most awesome experience in front of my face and I was wasting it trying to take pictures for the rest of my time there. The father from Japan had set his professional cameras up on tripods as soon as he got off the bus, and as the photos were taking themselves, I noticed how he was enjoying the experience with his family without fiddling with cameras. Just then, the man walked over to me and said that he would share his best pics with me to post on social media if I’d put my phone away. He also said he just wanted me to enjoy the show. That was so sweet of him! I couldn’t believe how wonderful these people were to remind me of what was important. I wasn’t even mad! If they hadn’t spoken up, I could have missed the depth and story of this natural phenomenon. Experience BY FAR was way better.

And speaking of better, the dad from Japan’s pics were definitely superior to mine!


I put my phone back on the bus and just enjoyed. For nearly 3 hours, those lights danced for us. I didn’t even notice how cold it was anymore! Ossie served hot chocolate. He told us stories of when he was a young boy how much he hated the lights because in those days, there wasn’t cable and the lights interfered with their TV reception so he had to miss his favorite shows. But now, he loves them. Not just because he has cable now, but because he gets to witness the wonder from people who have not been as fortunate as he, and it made him feel like he is providing a God given service. The Northern Lights tours are his favorite tours. He says it breaks his heart when they’re not as spectacular as we saw and his clients are disappointed, but he does his best to remind folks that they’re visible only when the conditions are favorable.

I reminded Ossie that he said that these conditions were a 9 out of 10. What is a 10 like? He said he hopes I could come back to experience it and hopes that I have enough pictures from this trip to leave the cell phone on the bus the next time.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this time…and again, I’ll be praying that the conditions will be right to view them. By the way, I have a grown up camera for this trip, but I’ll be using it sparingly…for waterfalls and geysers. Hopefully, my family will be able to capture the Aurora for us. They’ve got a great plan in place to do so and it doesn’t involve a lot of distraction. And I have to add this: even when we’re fortunate enough to capture beautiful photos, nothing…and I mean NOTHING takes your breath away as witnessing the real thing.

Sometimes, we just have to know when to put the phone away and enjoy the experience. – KW