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