Anyone with a camera and extreme adventure could dream of photographing an aurora. The elusive northern lights make for a spectacular view of the sky, but the phenomenon is most commonly seen from busy, crowded cities in remote, cold regions. Aurora is very difficult to track, but capturing it on camera is an added challenge.
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To help increase your chances of finding lights—and get the best photos of them as soon as you can—we’ve put together a beginner’s guide. Below you’ll find tips on the best places to photograph aurora and the best camera settings to photograph aurora and what you should bring with you.
For more detailed advice, check out our guide to the best equipment for aurora photography, including our recommendations for cameras, lenses, and tripods. Or – if you’re caught gazing up the night sky – check out our beginner’s guide to astronomy.
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To capture the Northern Lights, you take long exposure photos using a DSLR or mirrorless camera in manual or bulb mode (further down) for the sensor to feel as light as possible. The same full-frame and modern crop-sensor cameras capture the best northern lights. The Canon EOS RAW was a camera for astronomical photography, but it was discontinued. Top choices include the Nikon Z6 and Sony’s A7 III.
You’ll also want to pack a wide or extra wide angle quick lens, which are great lenses for aurora photography. 10-35mm is preferred as these focal lengths allow the entire scene and sky to be captured. A fast lens is one that has an aperture f-stop of 2.8 or less, which allows a lot of light through to the camera. The SIGMA 14mm f1.8 DG HSM Art Aurora is the best lens for photography
In addition to the above, you will definitely need a tripod. You will have a long exposure, so your camera should be quiet and durable. We recommend something like the Monfrotto BeFree Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod which weighs in at 1.1kg. Useful if you are traveling abroad and want to keep the weight of the luggage to a minimum.
Aurora forecast apps, dark sky maps, and are useful to use as a phone camera trigger switch when you want to take Aurora selfies or reduce camera vibration. They are useful if you need to call in an emergency. Don’t leave it at home.
A head torch frees up your hands. A red-light headlight protects your night vision for seeing in the dark. Avoid bright/white light when looking at or looking at the northern lights as the aurora is difficult to see.
Bulb or Manual for Best Camera Settings for Aurora Photography
Full control of the system requires you to shoot through the bulb or manual hole. Allows your lens to shine on the lowest possible sensor. F3.5, f2.8, f2.0, f1.8, 1.4 are best for night photography. At fewer stops, you get more light with your longer exposure.
It depends on the brightness of the northern lights, but is generally better between ISO 800-2500. If the aurora is too bright, go to 800 and raise it up to let in more light as needed. The higher the ISO, the more sensor your camera will amplify the light. When you change the ISO, noise is produced, which you can see in the picture as a grain of digital decay. If you don’t like this noise then avoid firing till 3200 at night. Shoot RAW so you get the maximum amount of data per shot, and then correct any noise or other processing issues. (For more tips on this issue, read our guide to how to reduce noise in astrophotography.)
It’s really a personal choice as to the style of the photographer. As a rough guide, the daylight system will create photos with a more pale green color, while the tungsten system will reduce light pollution and provide a cool blue/green view. Both can be cooled or heated in the latter process.
duration of encounter
Shutter speed in Aurora Photo varies. It depends on how active and bright it is – don’t want to wash out the whole scene by over-exposing one. Try short exposures of 3-8 seconds for bright, fast motion shots and long exposures, 8-20 seconds, low brightness, slow motion, auricular curves.
Shutter speed is also affected by the camera lens and sensor. In astrophotography, you usually want to avoid blurry and ‘retreating’ stars. We can achieve this by using Rule 500 as a guide for measuring the maximum exposure time for the length of the focal lens.
For full frame sensors, we use the following rule: 500 = optimum shutter speed for the focal lens length. Using a carved sensor, you need to multiply the focal length by the crop factor before splitting, so the rule is: 500 (crop factor x focal length) = optimum shutter speed. For example, the Canon ABS-C80D camera has a crop sensor factor of 1.6, so if we had a 14mm focal length lens it would work as follows: 500 (1.6 x 14mm) = 22 seconds.
Familiarize yourself with these settings by training your camera and manipulating it after dark. You should practice focusing in the dark manually – if you have one, try using the live camera screen and looking at a star, planet or distant street light to check the clarity of your focus Concentrate.
Additional Tips for Extreme Temperatures
The silica gel bags affixed to the underside of the elastic band around your lens make an excellent inexpensive anti-fog/frost system for filming when wet or cold while releasing moisture from the lens glass.
You might want to keep your camera battery in your pocket until you set it up. Extreme cold causes faster battery life. This applies to Aurora Apps and any chocolates in your mobile phone
bars! Keep them close to your body’s heat to keep them from freezing – there’s nothing worse than a frozen chocolate bar when you really want an astro snack.
Do not touch the metal with the bare skin of your tripod or kit. If it is in arctic conditions, it will burn you. Avoid wearing a water-based moisturizer in the winter as it can lead to frostbite.
Be patient. It can take a while for the show to start, the Northern Lights won’t play on a table, and you can stand in for a cold moment—but it’s always worth the wait.
Great Places to Take Aurora Photos
Aurora can be thousands of miles long on an active night, so to give you the best chance of seeing nature’s wonders, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to shoot the Northern Lights. These areas have dark skies and low light pollution, but they are close to easy transport links and comfortable shelters.
The land of fire and ice was famous for its breath reflecting northern lights. With regular flights across the country and a good quality ring road, you have many wonderful sights to watch as a tour guide or dance above your lights. Iceland enjoys magical dark skies away from city lights and expensive places to stay and days at spas to spend many days in hot tubs, soaring waterfalls, fiery skating and tour guides. The night light follows.
Northern Norway is renowned for its reliable aurora viewing possibilities. Located almost directly in the Auroral region, Troms has excellent transport links, regular flights and the northernmost distillery in the world! With weak weather due to the Gulf Stream, Norway is the most accessible part of the Arctic Circle as temperatures rarely drop below -15C. You can fill your days with snowmobiling adventures, museum tours, and the Felhausen cable car overlooking the island of Trems. Lofoten and Senza become Tromso’s celebrities for their aurora views, spectacular fjords for boat trips and mountains dotted with deer herds.
North of Finland
In the north of Finland, you can find the snow-capped town of Rovaniemi, where you can cross the Arctic Circle, meet reindeer and dance under the Northern Lights on the same day! Yes, on the same day, the polar night when the sun does not shine above the winter horizon and auroras can be seen at 3 p.m. Pale pink daylight Icy blue twilight, stars emerge and green glitter ribbons and loops in the sky. North of the city of Inari to Finnish Lapland, this vast frozen desert is home to a small population, with this vast frozen lake known for dog riding tours, snowmobiles, and native Sami. The sky here is dark and one of the most magical in the world but with temperatures as low as -40C, some of the best areas are accessible for tourism.
While much of northern Canada is a major destination for northern lighting, the province of Alberta contains 8 of the 17 dark skies maintained by Canada (a designated area protected from light pollution). Jasper National Park is the second largest black sky in the world, offering dark breath, unpolluted skies and is celebrated every October with the Dark Sky Festival. Situated in the Canadian Rocky Mountains with all the amenities and plentiful wildlife, Jasper National Park offers mountaineering, skiing and cross country skiing, a planetarium, guide service tours, suitable infrastructure and many more rooms, hotels and lodges.
The most accessible place to see Alaska’s northern lights is Fairbanks, a city with many day activities and great views. But if you’re looking for an immersive adventure, head farther north with Alaska Arctic Getaways: a Coldfoot-based travel guide. Located within the Aurora Zone, it is one of the few Alaskan communities above the Arctic Circle that is accessible via Goldfoot Road. Here you can hang out with some people under a clear night sky – the nearest city is 240 km away, so there is very little pollution. Enjoy snowfalls, bitter mashing or hot springs under the northern lights behind Brooks Mountain. Due to the distance of the area, a guided tour is recommended as it requires few guided trails and background expertise.
New Zealand – Southern Lights
You can also see the southern lights called the aurora astralis. Aurora visits may be absent in New Zealand or Tasmania, but if you get a clear view of the south on a dark night in the fall and early spring—and the sun’s activity is strong enough—you’ll find the elusive light to the south.
In most of these countries, you can hunt aurora alone, but before you go you’ll need to research each location and learn how to walk in dark and frosty areas. Make sure you have the right kit for the environment to protect you from extreme cold. Learn to read aurora forecast apps, check local weather and find the northern lights. Or you can join a guidance service located locally or through your residence, which means you should explore the area with someone who knows the best local places to keep track of the lights.
Why these places?
The source of these amazing lights is our nearest star, the Sun. At the center of the Sun, temperatures of about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit form a continuous cycle. This generates the nuclear fusion reaction, which emits large amounts of energy and light, which travel from the center to the surface of the Sun.
Through the lightning of charged gases, magnetic fields are created within the Sun, and in some places the magnetic fields slightly cool the surface, creating sunspots larger than Earth’s size.
An electric current called the plasma bubble reaches a magnetic field some distance from the surface of the charged gas, which breaks up and is released into space. This process, called a solar storm, occurs when one of them encounters Earth—and when it reaches the planet’s protective magnetic field—a little magic happens. Charged gases travel along our magnetic field lines at Earth’s magnetic poles and interact with atoms in our atmosphere, which excite and emit photons, which we call aurorae. .
This is why the best places to take pictures of the northern lights are at high latitudes, often in the vicinity of Earth’s magnetic poles, where color photons surround the ground pole with a ribbon. We call this the auroral zone. In the Northern Hemisphere it includes Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Russia, Scandinavia, and Iceland. You have the best chance of seeing auroras every clear night between autumn and spring, depending on how much sunlight you have, within the Oval Band.