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Aurora Borealis dancing on the night sky above Hamnøy in Lofoten
Ina Cristine Helljesen

Ina Cristine Helljesen

Author
3 mins read

Tips for northern lights photography

Watching the green lights dance across the night sky is a magical sight. If you are like most of us you probably want to document the sight.

Taking northern lights photos using the wrong settings will result in dark images not showing any of the magic you have witnessed. Having the right manual settings are key to properly capture the northern lights. 

While some of the steps below might sound technical at first glance, fear not. Once you have the right settings and the focus is set properly - all you have to do is admire the sky and click on the shutter release button. 

5 tips for camera gear

  1. Smartphone cameras are getting better, but for sharp high resolution photos it is still recommended to use a DSLR, ideally a full frame DSLR. Use a sturdy tripod that doesn’t shake or slip over a 10-20 second exposure.
     
  2. A wide angle lens with a fast aperture will get you much further (max f4).
     
  3. Battery life tends to run low in cold winter temperatures. Bring a spear battery or two, and keep them close to your body to best protect them from the cold.
     
  4. Bring a wireless remote or cable release. This has two great advantages. It eliminates any camera shake as you don’t have to touch the camera at all, and you can include yourself in the photos.
     
  5. If you use a smartphone, invest in a good phone tripod. It is key that your phone doesn’t move when the shutter is open.

5 tips for camera settings 

  1. Set your camera and lens to manual. If your camera is equipped with a built in flash - make sure it is turned off.
     
  2. Use RAW Image format. Shooting in raw gives you higher quality and better ability to correct errors after shooting.
     
  3. Many lenses struggle to focus in low light. The best results for photographing the northern lights are usually found when using manual focus. Some lenses are equipped with ‘infinity’ focus, which will be marked on your lens with the ∞-symbol You need to test the ‘infinity’ focus before you head out to find and mark the sweet spot for your particular lens. If your lens is not equipped with infinity focus, try to find a brighter point to focus on, like a house or a lit road in the distance.
     
  4. As a rule of thumb you want a fast aperture, slow shutter speed and a higher ISO. A lot depends on the speed and brightness of the auroras you see, so be prepared to adjust your settings along the way.
     
  5. Here are some general settings, which will be a good starting point:

General Aurora settings

Aperture: F/2.8-4.0

Shutter speed: 10-20 seconds 

ISO:1,600-3,200 

White balance: 3,000 Kelvin

Important about shutter speed 

This setting highly depends on how fast the lights are moving. If they are dancing across the sky you want to keep the shutter speed shorter, at maybe 5-7 seconds. If the lights are moving slowly try setting the exposure time to 10-25 seconds.The goal is to capture vivid colours and nice detail where the patterns stand out.

Important about aperture 

A fast aperture is great to secure high quality images when shooting night sky. An aperture of f2.8, it will do wonders for your photos.

Make sure to check weather forecast 

Now there are a few things to watch out for in terms of the weather as well:

  • Clear sky
    Check the local weather and find a night with cloud cover between 0 and 20%.
     
  • Dark sky
    Find a location with as few lights as possible to avoid light pollution making the lights weaker.

And last but not least: happy aurora borealis hunting and shooting!