Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights

The first time you experience the Northern Lights, your heart skips a little. The Aurora Borealis appears as if from nowhere and can disappear again in moments. Or, if you are lucky, they will linger a while and swirl and dance for you: a miracle in the sky.

And hopefully you will capture some of this miracle on in a photograph or two!

Photographing the Northern Lights is an experience in itself. However, try not to get so caught up in the ‘perfect shot’ that you don’t experience those catch-your-breath moments that come with seeing something as phenomenal as the Northern Lights.

That feeling of staring in awe under a sky filled with the Aurora is never going to be exactly replicated, not even in the most perfect photographic prints.

The experience itself is everything.

 

 

Northern Lights Alaska

 

Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights

 

Be Organised

You never know how long the Northern Lights will be out so you may need to move fast.

Be as organised as possible to make your shooting a breeze. Make sure you are confident with your camera controls beforehand and you have all your gear ready: camera mounted on the tripod, extra batteries and other accessories easily accessible (a jacket with lots of pockets is a good idea).

Get Creative

Put the lights in the sky into context – include the tree-line,  mountains, snow covered landscape, or the Aurora reflected into the river.

 

Northern Lights Alaska

 

Location

Get out of town and away from any light pollution and scout out your area during daylight hours. We found a great spot by the river and tramped through bush tracks to get back there later that night (whilst trying not to think about bears and moose!!)

Cold Weather

Temperatures in the far north can get pretty chilly so you will need to dress accordingly: Thermals, polar/down coats, scarves, gloves etc. Wear some fitted glove liners under your other gloves so you can slip the top layer off when you need to make camera adjustments. Trying to operate tiny camera controls with numb fingers or bulky gloves is a nightmare!

Remember that batteries will drain faster in extreme cold weather. And memory cards may slow down. Have backups of both and keep them deep in your jacket pockets to keep them warm. Switch them out as needed.

 

Northern Lights Alaska

 

Northern Lights Photography Gear Checklist

 

DSLR Camera

Sturdy tripod

Extra Batteries

Shutter release cable: Important so that you don’t end up with blurry shots during your long exposures. Alternatively, you can use the timer on your camera if you are shooting below your camera’s maximum shutter speed.

Wide-angle lens: Use the widest lens you have (10-24 is ideal), but a standard 24-70 lens will work fine.

Head Lamp: Useful for tweaking camera settings in the dark. Be sure to keep it turned off while the shutter is open though.

 

Northern Lights Alaska

Northern Lights Photography Camera Settings

ISO: Depending on the strength of the Aurora choose an ISO of between 200–1600. Avoid going much higher than that or you will start to get a lot of digital noise in your photos

Aperture: Set the aperture as wide as it will go. I try not to go above f5.6.

Lens: Set the lens as wide it as will go (remember to remove any filters).

Focus: Change to manual focus and set it to just shy of the infinity marker.

Shutter Speed: You will need to experiment with shutter speed depending on the strength of the lights. Use your camera’s bulb setting and a remote cable if you want to shoot above 30seconds.

A good place to start would be: an aperture of f2.0, ISO of 400 and shutter speed of 30secs. Adjust accordingly.

 

Northern Lights Alaska

Do you have any tips for photographing the Northern Lights? Where would you most love to view the lights? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments below!

 


Travel Info: Northern Lights in Alaska
I photographed the Aurora Borealis near the town of North Pole on the banks of the Chena River in Alaska . North Pole is approx 25km from Fairbanks. The best time for viewing the lights in the north of Alaska is from September to April.

 

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Comments (4)
  • Avatar

    A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer) Jun 26 2013 - 4:11 am Reply

    Bookmarked and pinned. Great stuff!
    A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer) recently posted..Win a Trip to Thailand From First Choice!My Profile

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    JulietS Sep 18 2013 - 9:58 am Reply

    These photos are surreal! I’ve recently tracked down South to Tasmainia and had my first attempt to shoot the Southern Lights on the East Coast. What I captured was nothing as spectacular as yours but the experience was simply amazing! I managed to see a couple of bright shooting stars while we waited for Aurora to appear, what a bonus :) The thing about shooting in Tassie is that you don’t have to worry about the bears and moose lol.. but I’ll definitely need a more sturdy tripod next time. Feel free to check out my Aurora story on my blog x Juliet Lacenruffles.com
    JulietS recently posted..Starry Starry Night… Stargazing and Chasing the Aurora Southern Lights in TasmaniaMy Profile

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    Jesse Newmarch Apr 2 2014 - 11:24 am Reply

    After a few months of chasing the Aurora up in Yellowknife, NWT, I found it’s very important to take your camera strap off if there is any wind! I had a few pictures ruined when a gust came up and the strap swaying caused just enough movement for a blurry photo. When it’s -40 C (or colder!) you don’t want to spend any more time outside in the elements then absolutely necessary!
    Jesse Newmarch recently posted..Aurora AdventuresMy Profile

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    April Apr 13 2014 - 8:39 pm Reply

    Great photos! I have to take these advices you’ve given so that I can get these kinds of photos when I get to Alaska next week. I just want to go to this place right now and follow everything you’ve shown us on how to capture these bright and beautiful lights at night. I had my first attempt in taking photos of night-lights in Sebring, Florida but I failed because it was so fast that I didn’t capture it well. Now, I know already how to improve it that’s why I’m so excited for next week. Thank you for sharing these great photos and advises.

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