Europe Iceland Roadtrips

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO PHOTOGRAPHING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Seeing the Northern Lights is on everyone’s bucket list, and if it isn’t on yours, that needs to change. This beautiful solar phenomenon, known scientifically as the Aurora Borealis is hard to catch a glimpse of in the best of circumstances, so there’s a little bit of luck involved, but hey you can always try and make the forces work in your favour.

A few quick #protips – drive out to the middle of nowhere so it’s pitch black, turn off your headlights and cellphone torches as any light will interfere with your photographs, and finally, track the Aurora online to make sure you’re driving out at the optimal time to catch them (some links at the end of the post)!

Once you see them though, you’ll realize that they’re subtle shadowy cloud-like streaks in the sky and the colors you normally see in photographs aren’t visible to the naked eye. You do need a DSLR to get those colours through and make your own postcard-worthy pictures – and here’s how you do it!

Your Must-Haves :

DSLR Camera

Tripod – This is VITAL to your photography here, and no I’m sorry, you cannot get a good shot without one! (I used the JOBY Gorillapod for my trip this year)

Wireless / Wired Remote – I don’t believe this is necessary to get a shot but it definitely helps with your image stability

Wide Angle Lens – The lights span across the sky so you need a wide angle lens to capture the whole phenomenon (I’m currently swearing by the Tamron 18-200 Lens!)

Camera Settings & Terms :

Before you start with any of the settings below, there are a couple of things you need to do :

1- twist your focus on your lens to the infinity (∞) sign and move your settings to MF (Manual Focus) – there’s both the knob on the camera body and a switch on the lens that you need to move to MF

2- change your image format to RAW or a combination of RAW and jpeg (your camera will be shooting in jpeg by default) to give yourself the broadest editing opportunities

ISO – Your ISO determines the sensitivity of your camera to light. At night therefore, you’d want your ISO to be a higher number, but you want to find a perfect balance because an excessively high ISO can make your image too grainy and blurred. For the Northern Lights, an ISO of 800-1250 is your sweet-spot range.

Shutter Speed – This is why you’ve moved your settings to MF and why you NEED a tripod. Slide your shutter speed dial to bulb mode or keep it between 6 – 15 seconds. On the tour, the locals will recommend a shutter speed of 6-8 seconds to capture the lights, but I personally found it quite fun to experiment between 8-15 seconds – keep an eye on how fast you see the Aurora moving and adjust your speeds accordingly. Your camera will take that time to capture the image, so you definitely need a tripod because in those temperatures, it’s near impossible to hold your camera steady for that long!

Aperture – On your wide angle lens, aim for a minimum aperture of at least f/2.8. I shot most of mine at f/3.5 with an ISO of 800-1250. However, your images definitely get better the lower your aperture gets and f/2.8 is definitely the sweet spot to hit – even lower if your camera allows for it!

Aurora Forecast Service

Space Weather Prediction Center

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