The Northern Lights Don’t Look Anything Like They Do In Photos
If you’re an adventurous traveler, chances are the Northern Lights have a spot on your bucket list. With pops of glittering pink, green and purple shrieking across the night sky, this natural phenomenon looks almost too stunning to be real.
And that’s because it is.
When you see them in real life, the Northern Lights aren’t actually very colorful at all. They often appear milky white in color, “almost like a cloud,” and if you’re lucky, you might see faint glows of green, light purple or pink. Only in rare cases do viewers report bright, multicolored light shows. And no matter what you see outside, the real Northern Lights are a far, FAR cry from what you see in photos.
The discrepancy lies in your eye itself: The specific cells we use to detect light at night also happen to be terrible at detecting color, according to Dr. Andrea Thau, vice president of the American Optometric Association. For that reason, auroras often appear only in shades of black, white and gray.
Astrophotographer Mike Taylor made a graphic to show the difference between what our eyes see during the Northern Lights and what a camera shows us afterward:
Taylor has been taking photos of the Northern Lights in central Maine for two years. He says he often sees them as mostly white, with faint hints of red and pink. Only in pictures do other tones emerge.
“Sometimes you can differentiate colors, but for the most part it’s just a little green on the horizon with white spikes shooting into the sky,” he says. “At higher latitudes, in Iceland or Norway, they see lots of green.”