How to photograph the northern lights
Among the most important things to think about when photographing aurora is to hold the camera still. If you do not have a tripod, place your camera on the ground or anything else steady, direct the lens towards the aurora and take the picture. If your camera has settings for exposure times, allow for as long exposure as possible, 10 – 30 seconds is usually enough. If you have a little more experience and your camera allows for manual settings, try the following tips to capture your aurora image in the best possible way.
Before you set out
- Make sure you take with fully-charged batteries since they quickly run down out in the cold.
- Choose a camera with a wide-angle lens and place it steady, preferably on a tripod. A compact camera will work well, but a digital SLR camera will enable better images. Since all the adjustments are done in the dark, it is a good idea to become well-acquainted with your camera and perhaps read through the instruction book one last time before you set out.
- Take a head lamp with you. The light is convenient when adjusting your camera settings, but also very useful for lighting up a nice foreground. For example it could be nice to light up a person or something else in the image. A flash unfortunately gives an unnatural lighting and can spoil the atmosphere you want to convey in the image.
Out under the aurora
- Set your camera to ISO 800 or higher. With the newer cameras you can set the ISO higher without too much noise in the image. Open the aperture as wide as possible, between f2.0 and 4.0. A wide-open aperture allows for more light to reach the sensor per second.
- If you do not have a foreground, set the focus to infinity to make the stars sharp. With a wide-angel lens you can focus on an object ten meters away and still capture both beautifully sharp aurora and a star-studded sky.
- The exposure time varies depending on your ISO and aperture settings as well as how strong the aurora is. A simple tip is to take a picture, evaluate it on the LCD screen or histogram and make adjustments from there. If the image appears too dark, increase the exposure time. It can be anywhere between 5 – 60 seconds.
- When you are done photographing, place your camera in an airtight bag before taking it inside. Otherwise you risk condensation in the camera. Let the camera warm up inside the bag before taking in out in room temperature.
Do you want to continue exploring your possibilities of photographing aurora? You are welcome to join Peter Rosén’s Aurora Borealis photography courses in Abisko National Park and Kiruna.