Tips on how to Photograph the Northern Lamps (Aurora Borealis)

How to Photograph the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

how to photograph the northern lights

Want to know how to photograph the particular northern lights?

In this article, I’m sharing plenty of northern lights picture taking tips and tricks – so that you can catch stunning aurora shots of your own.

This advice originates from lots of experience; I’ve had the pleasure of watching plus photographing the northern lamps, also known as the aurora borealis, for years (and I still find myself shouting in awe when I see all of them elegantly dancing in the sky! ).

So if you’re ready to become an expert, then simply let’s get started.

How to see the northern lights

The first step inside photographing the northern lighting is, obviously, finding them. It’s simply not possible to find the aurora whenever and wherever you want – you must be in the right region and follow a few simple steps, as I discuss below:

1 . Be in the Northern Hemisphere

The northern lights aren’t visible across the world. As the name indicates, these are a phenomenon visible within the Northern Hemisphere.  

Places such as northern Norway, Iceland, and Alaska are typical areas you can witness the northern lighting.

While you usually want to be north of the Arctic Circle (or close to it), you can witness the lamps further south during great solar storms. But this is not as common and the display is rarely as impressive compared to “northern” northern lights.

When planning your journey to the north, you’ll need to bear one more fact in your mind:

The north lights season lasts from late fall to springtime. After all, northern lights are only visible in the night heavens, and in the Arctic, the sun doesn’t set during the summer season – so there’s no darkness and no northern lights.

the northern lights over the ocean

second . Get away from light pollution

It’s nearly impossible to see the northern lights from the down-town of a large city. You might catch a glance if the northern lights are usually strong, but the display won’t be nearly as impressive as if you leave the city lighting behind.

To improve your chances of capturing the northern lights, you should get away from light pollution and find a location where one can clearly see the stars.

There are a few different equipment you can use to find areas with minimal light pollution.   Dark Sky   is a great website  for this specific purpose; it shows a detailed chart of light pollution.

the northern lights over ice

3. Look for clear skies (and a higher Kp-index)

To be able to see the northern lights, you should see the stars – therefore cloudy nights aren’t great for aurora borealis photography. When the sky is cloudy, you might as well enjoy the comfort of a warm cabin.

Fortunately, when you’re northern of the Arctic Circle, very clear nights typically mean a person will get a glimpse of the northern lights. The display might not always be strong, yet chances are high that you will at least get a nice arc across the horizon.  

Keep in mind that weather conditions change quickly in the Northern Hemisphere. Just because it’s cloudy one particular moment doesn’t mean it’ll be cloudy in an hr, so you should keep a detailed eye on the forecast plus stick your head outside every now and then.  

Furthermore, a quick tip: To estimate the aurora display strength, refer to the Kp-index. Note that the higher the Kp-index, the stronger the display. (There are other factors involved in forecasting the northern lights, but the Kp-index is the easiest and most convenient. )

the northern lights over a mountain

How to photograph the particular northern lights

Once you’ve found the northern lights, how do you really photograph them? It’s simple to get overly excited plus forget about the technicalities – in fact, the northern lights are stunningly beautiful – yet I urge you to study the next few steps to ensure that you’re as prepared as it can be when the sky explodes.

1 . Use a tripod and a remote shutter launch

Photographing at night means that you’re working with long exposures (i. e., slower shutter rates of speed ). It’s for that reason essential that you mount the particular camera on a tripod . This will be sure that your camera stays even now for the duration of the exposure.

You should also consider using a remote shutter discharge when you’re photographing the northern lighting. This removes any chance of the vibrations caused if you press the shutter.

An alternative is to use the particular camera’s self-timer – but sometimes you want to capture the at an exact moment with no delay, which is why I highly recommend a remote release.

the moon and the aurora borealis

2 . Use a wide-angle lens with a large  aperture

I generally encourage photographers to experiment with various focal lengths, but there’s no getting around it: an ultra-wide-angle lens is ideal for shooting the northern lights.  

A wide-angle lens allows you to capture both the scenery and the sky in one shot. That way, you are able to incorporate the northern lamps into a good composition.

Also, when you first go through the northern lights, you’ll understand that they can fill up the entire stones. It’s impossible to capture all this beauty with a filter focal length lens (in fact, even wide-angle cup isn’t always enough! ).

It’s furthermore important to make use of the widest possible aperture . A wide aperture means more light reaches the sensor, allowing for a brighter exposure.

For that reason, apertures such as f/2 and f/2. 8 work well for night time photos. You can get away with f/4 if your lens doesn’t open to f/2. 8 – but you’ll need to boost the ISO or extend the shutter speed to pull it off, neither of which are good for northern lights photography.

aurora borealis over a river

3. Alter the shutter speed plus ISO according to the northern lights

Guides like the 500 rule or the NPF rule are great indicators from the shutter speed you should use meant for night photography – but these do not work for northern lights.


Because the best shutter speed completely depends upon how active the northern lights are. I’ve skilled extreme displays where I am using a 1/2s shutter velocity and an ISO associated with 200, yet I’m still overexposing the sky!

Therefore , you need to adjust the shutter speed to the situation and make adjustments throughout the night. I usually use a shutter speed among 4 and 20 seconds.  

At this point, a fast-moving northern lights display requires a faster shutter speed. The bright light shifting across the sky will quickly get overexposed. But when the screen is slower, you get aside with a longer shutter swiftness.

The ISO also depends on how bright the night sky is. We typically use a value between ISO 1600 and ISO 6400. That said, on uncommon occasions, I go all the way up down to ISO 200.

I’ll admit it does require some experience to get your settings right from the very beginning. But keep an eye on the image preview between every few shots, and you’ll learn precisely what to adjust for great results.

the aurora borealis over a mountain how to photograph the northern lights

4. Use a  cold white balance (3000-4000K)

I am aware that the white colored balance technically doesn’t matter if you’re taking pictures in RAW, but I am someone who prefers to make the photo look as good as possible in-camera.

So when shooting the northern lights, stay away from Auto White-colored Balance or preset  modes. While these often do a great job throughout the day, they’re less consistent at night. You might get some okay results with Auto White Balance, but it won’t constantly work.

I recommend that you set the light balance manually – make use of Kelvin mode and decided on a value somewhere between 3000K and 4000K. This will produce a colder and more natural-looking sky.

(Using values above 4000K makes the green within the northern lights look dull and strange, which is some thing you want to avoid. )

purple and green aurora borealis how to photograph the northern lights

5. Provide something warm to drink!

The winter nights within the Northern Hemisphere can be quite chilly and miserable. It’s essential that you stay warm whenever you’re outside waiting for the particular northern lights. Good clothing (and several layers) help a lot, but it’s also nice to bring a thermos with a warm drink.

Once you get freezing, it’s hard to stay inspired. Especially if you’re planning to aim for a while or make a timelapse.

How to photo the northern lights: bottom line

Now that you’ve finished this article, you should be well-equipped to photograph the northern lights.

Nevertheless, if you want to learn more about northern lights photography – so you can begin creating images like these in this article, fast – We highly recommend my course, Northern Lights Digital photography Made Easy . I instruct all the essentials of capturing and processing stunning images of the night sky’s many amazing feature. So read the course here !

how to photograph the northern lights

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