Photographing the Northern Lights

Are you looking to photograph the Northern Lights this Winter, if so here are some handy tips (apart from wear warm clothes 😉 ! )


When taking photographs of the Northern lights here are a few things to consider and experiment with.

1. Find a very dark area with no ambient light sneaking in the sky (between mountains is a good start). Near a road can be interesting as you have front and rear light trails to play with. Also, lakes can be amazing as the lights are caught in the reflections.

2. Use a sturdy tripod, if it’s windy you may need to weigh your tripod down to keep it stable.

3. Choose a wide angle lens 35mm of less (full frame, you may need wider if using a cropped sensor).

4.  Use fast glass. This is probably the most important one to consider, depending on what you want the results to look like. I.e. If you want the stars in focus, without any trails, then you will need to keep the exposure under 6 or so seconds. To do this, you will need fast glass (F2.0 or below, ideally F1.4 or F1.2).

5.  Choose manual focus and set the lens to infinity (usually represented by the infitinity symbol (to small circles joined in the middle).

4. Set the ISO to give you the lowest shutter speed (under 6 seconds or so, determined mostly by point 4), be careful of going to high, remember the higher the ISO the more chance of colour noise in the shadows.

5. If you want star trails, then go over the 6 or so seconds, You can use Tv (time priority) on your camera to apply a restriction on the time, however you may need to use the BULB setting to go over 30 seconds (depending on your camera).

6. I would strongly recommend a locking cable release to start and hold the exposure, or use a 2 second delay with or without mirror lockup mode enabled to reduce the amount of vibration and shake.

7. You may not be able to see anything through the view finder so you will have to guess on what you are shooting, you may also want to block off the view finder, as this could cause light leaks for long exposures.

8. Don’t forget to look around the sky, the Northen Lights are very unpredictable, if there is nothing going on in the front of you, there maybe something going on behind you. Also, if the lights are white in the sky (i.e. not very active (maybe a 2 on the activity scale),don’t panic, the camera will see the vivid colours and will record the different appropriately.

9. For a different effect and breaking rules, try hand holding the camera and go for something shaky. Or maybe zoom into the lights to get a “Zoom effect”


There are also some good sites for planning your shooting activity, after all, you want to be able to maximise your time when in the cold and in the night skit, but also pick the best location for the weather.

Alaskan Aurora Forecast – (this site has a short term forecast as well, as well as different types of maps, depending on where you are).

If you are heading to Iceland, this is a great site, as it shows the cloud cover, so you can plan your trip

There are loads of other resources around the web, when i find more links, i’ll update this post.




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