In photos: Arctic Light breaking through Polar Night


Landscape in the Lofoten Islands

Everyone talks about the Northern Lights, but I want to tell you about something I find much more beautiful yet far more understated, and that is, Arctic light.

In the Arctic during winter, the Polar Night can reign for over a month. During this time the sun never passes the horizon. The further north you get the longer Polar Nights can last, so in Svalbard perpetual darkness reigns for nearly four months. It’s difficult to imagine not seeing the sun for so many weeks, and I suspect, even more difficult trying to brush away the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Polar Nights are strange to experience: on one hand, it’s a novelty and something new, but on the other hand, you have to fight against your body’s urge to sleep. In my experience, as soon as the last whisper of light fizzles away by mid-afternoon there is a part of me that feels frustrated at not being able to see and do more. The Norwegian Arctic isn’t a landscape you want to miss, so it’s easy getting into a hapless race with the fast-moving night, and annoyingly, it always wins.

In the Lofoten Islands the period of the Polar Night lasts around 4 weeks, comparatively this is considered short; a little bit further north in Tromso the sun doesn’t rise for 6 weeks; further up in Alta the wait is closer to 8 weeks. However, even though the sun never passes the horizon it’s not all doom and gloom, something very special takes place: between the hours of 11am – 2pm (approximately) there’s something called the ‘Arctic light’ where the sun, although below the horizon, gives enough light to transform the sky into one incredibly long sunset. The term can also be used in a broader way simply to describe the light in the Arctic.

Rorbuer huts in the Lofoten Islands

The Lofoten Islands during winter

The Lofoten Islands during winter

Lofotn Islands in winter

Ray Lucas, an astronomer, adds more information:

In the Northern Hemisphere winter season, the diffuse glow of the sunlight from the sun below the horizon when viewed from north of the Arctic Circle will be centered on and extending up from the south, whereas the similar phenomenon with the summer Midnight Sun seen from just south of the Arctic Circle will show the extended glow of the briefly-setting sun centered in the north instead of the south (and the same works in the reverse directions in the southern polar region). It is all due to geometry and astronomical reasons. The tilt of the Earth on its axis means that, in its annual trip around the sun, Earth’s North Pole is pointed towards the sun in the Northern Hemisphere summer, and pointed away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere winter, when the Earth is on the opposite side of the sun from where it was 6 months earlier. Ironically, the Earth is closer to the sun in Northern Hemisphere winter and farther from it in Northern Hemisphere summer since the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not exactly circular, but rather elliptical. And it is the long Midnight Sun days of constant illumination of the sun rather than the relative distance from the sun that makes the most difference in warmth and growing season, etc. for the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. It works the same way in the Southern Hemisphere and Antarctica, of course, except the seasons are exactly opposite.

Svolver, Lofoten

Lofoten Islands, Norway

However, the daylight doesn’t always look so light  or dramatic, there are times when it can remain dark (in Svalbard for example) or with a blue tinge known as ‘kaamos’.

Polar nights in the Arctic Circle

Three hours of light is incredibly short, by any standards, but if you alter your perception of the light and treat it by what it looks like for the greater part – a sunset- then it feels longer. Hues of pink slowly stretch into fuchsia then violet; and red clouds expand into a blaze of orange.

At this time, the Polar Night could easily be mistaken for the Midnight Sun.

Twilight in the Lofoten Islands

Twilight in Lofoten Islands, Norway

The Lofoten Islands

Polar nights in the Arctic

Have you experienced ‘Arctic light’ breaking through Polar Nights before?

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

'In photos: Arctic Light breaking through Polar Night' have 18 comments

  1. May 4, 2014 @ 1:21 am Heather

    It’s so pretty! I definitely want to experience this effect once I’m living in the Baltics, though I’ll probably have to go further north. I’m not sure how much daylight there will actually be in Latvia during the winter.


    • May 4, 2014 @ 8:05 am admin

      Hi Heather! Latvia will have quite ‘normal’ hours of daylight compared to the Arctic regions which sometimes sees zero hours (Svalbard), but after living in China for a few years I imagine it’ll still take a while to get used to it! You must be soooo excited! Love the Baltics! Oh, and you’ll be so close to Finland so you could head up there to experience a true Polar Night!


  2. May 4, 2014 @ 10:46 am Lina

    Stunning shots. Love the loneliness in them.


    • May 4, 2014 @ 12:19 pm admin

      Thank you for your kind comment Lina. It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo of the Lofoten Islands, and come to think of it, the Arctic of Norway.


  3. May 5, 2014 @ 4:51 pm Pam | a Blonde around the World

    Shing, these pictures are unreal!!!!!
    I lived in Finland for 6 months, and though I agree with you it’s very hard and a bit frustrating sometimes, the light was something I will never forget!
    In which period of the year did you shoot these? They’re breathtaking beautiful!!


    • May 7, 2014 @ 9:02 am admin

      Thanks Pam! I bet you have many stories from living in Finland! I’m glad you thought the beauty of the light in these parts of the world made up for the dark days, it feels like this kind of light condenses all the different colours which can usually be found in an entire day into just a few, short hours.

      Most of these photos were take in the Lofotens around 28 Dec- 3 Jan. A couple of others where taken elsewhere in the Arctic during late Feb.


  4. May 6, 2014 @ 9:25 am Lizzie

    Oh wow – the colours are fantastic! The world is such b-e-a-yoo-tiful place 🙂


    • May 7, 2014 @ 9:04 am admin

      Oh the world is indeed such a b-e-a-yoo-tiful place Lizzie! 😀


  5. May 7, 2014 @ 5:24 pm Ola

    Ah, it’s so picturesque there! My sister had a chance to witness both polar day and night, it is still before me though (hopefully)


    • May 8, 2014 @ 3:33 pm admin

      I hope you get to experience it too Ola! Where did your sister go?


      • May 8, 2014 @ 7:45 pm Ola

        Finland, she spent there half a year during her studies some years ago 🙂


        • May 15, 2014 @ 11:28 am admin

          It must have been an awesome 6 months for your sister! I’m going to Finland next month which I’m looking forward to!


  6. May 9, 2014 @ 6:00 am Mary {The World Is A Book}

    These are stunning photos, Shing. Great information on Arctic Light and I’ve never heard of it before. Love the scenery and all those colors. What a great experience!


    • May 15, 2014 @ 11:30 am admin

      Hi Mary! I didn’t really know what Arctic Light was until I experienced it. Happy you like the photos!


  7. May 9, 2014 @ 6:41 pm Leigh

    Love these photos!! The Lofotens have been on my wish list to kayak since the mid-90’s. One day I will definitely get there.


    • May 15, 2014 @ 11:37 am admin

      I hope you get to kayak in the Lofotens Leigh! That would be an incredible experience to add to all the other incredible places you’ve already ventured. I once kayaked in the Geirangerfjord which I would highly recommend too… both places have very dramatic mountains.


  8. August 10, 2014 @ 8:29 pm Wesley Pechler

    These pictures are ridiculously gorgeous <3 The Lofoten are now officially very high on my wishlist! But first Svalbard in 8 days ^^ And Copenhagen, Oslo, London & Oxford 🙂


  9. August 17, 2017 @ 10:15 pm Joshua M Garcia

    Do you know if I would have any arctic light in Lofoten in mid December?


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