How to Photograph the Northern Lights

As the Sun heads south for winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the days develop longer and the alternatives to catch the northern lights, or the aurora borealis, will increase the additional north you reside or journey.

Aurorae happen when charged particles (principally electrons and protons) in the solar wind sneak previous Earth’s magnetic protect and collide with atoms in the higher ambiance. As the ionized oxygen and nitrogen molecules return to their “ground” state, they glow, very like a neon gentle does when electrical present runs via it. The outcomes are awe-inspiring, and for those who’ll forgive the metaphor, magical.

If you get an opportunity to see an auroral show, I extremely advocate taking a while to simply stand there and watch and let the expertise wash over you. But then, in fact, you are in all probability going to need to take some footage.

Aurora Hunting

While on a household journey to Fairbanks, Alaska, a couple of years in the past, I gained the proverbial northern lights lottery. We have been handled to a tremendous outburst of exercise on two nights at our snowy lodge. The lodge proprietor mentioned individuals come from throughout the world and keep for a week at a time, however nonetheless don’t catch an outbreak like this one. Beginner’s luck!

Aurora over Grizzly Lodge
A spectacular Aurora show in early 2015 captured from simply north of Fairbanks Alaska.
Richard S. Wright Jr.

Although the polar ring the place aurora usually seem typically favors far-northern latitudes, worldwide journey is not required for U.S. residents. Fairbanks is sort of an accessible and inexpensive choice for aurora seekers in the age of pandemic journey limitations. Of course, there are extra unique choices, like journeys to Iceland, Norway, and even aurora cruises in the North Atlantic.

The uppermost of the contiguous 48 states are sometimes handled to good auroral shows too. Canadian readers could make weekend journeys to attain a little bit farther north when there’s a good auroral forecast.

Aurora forecast graphic
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric and Administration points space climate alerts like this one which you should use for short-term planning.

“Did you say forecast?”

Yes, solar climate is carefully monitored and the Space Weather Prediction Center places out alerts. You may also look ahead to updates at or subscribe to their alert service for a small month-to-month price.

The aurorae you see are about 80 to 500 kilometers up (50 to 300 miles) and could be seen from space as effectively. They are principally green due to oxygen atoms, however actually energetic shows can get nitrogen in on the act, glowing pink or red. Sometimes seen to the bare eye, these colours present up extraordinarily effectively when photographed.

Aurora Photography Tips

Aurorae are easy to {photograph}, and lots of of the newer sensible telephones (when held regular) can seize stills and even video of the motion. Check your smartphone to see if its digicam features a evening mode that allows you to report exposures of a number of seconds or extra. Adding a tripod with a smartphone bracket and a Bluetooth shutter set off will enhance your outcomes.

Fast Lenses Help

For only a bit greater high quality, you may go for a digicam with a quick, wide-angle lens. Just like nightscape pictures, the quicker your lens is the higher it’s for the topic, and also you solely want about ISO 1600 throughout a typical show. On my Fairbanks tour, I shot 8-second exposures at ISO 3200 utilizing an f/4 lens. Often nightscapes on a tripod want at the least f/2.8 and even higher, however the northern lights could be fairly vivid, so you will get away with a slower lens and simply lengthen your exposures or enhance your digicam’s ISO setting.

Use Short Exposures

Aurorae usually change form and are surprisingly fast, too. They appear to be a slow-motion movie of an enormous, glowing flag flapping in the wind. Although a barely blurred picture continues to be wonderful and does nonetheless appear to be the precise aurora show, the shorter you’ll be able to expose is sort of all the time higher. Make certain you employ a distant shutter-release cable, or use the digicam’s timer to guarantee there is not any shaking at the starting of your publicity. I all the time focus manually, then begin the 10-second timer and preserve my fingers off of the tripod.

Aurora reflections
This vivid auroral show added green and pink highlights to the white snow under.
Richard S. Wright Jr.


Just like when taking pictures the Milky Way, together with a little bit of the foreground could make for a extra attention-grabbing composition. On my journey there was thick snow cowl at our scenic location that contributed to some nice compositions. What I did not notice till afterward was that each the green and pinkish forged from the aurora was mirrored on the white snow under. Not solely did the aurora gentle up the entire sky, however in addition they offered a very good bit of sunshine to seize the foreground objects as effectively.

Prepare for the Cold!

Aurorae have a tendency to occur extra in the colder months late at evening — the evening of my journey, it was -25°F and I stood in snow effectively above my knees. I can’t stress sufficient that you simply want to gown warmly and in layers. When the temps are excessive, for those who should expose your pores and skin and fingers in any respect, accomplish that for very quick intervals.

Your gear is not going to like the chilly, both! My digicam stopped working after about half-hour (rechargeable lithium batteries drain quicker in chilly temperatures). Before bringing your digicam indoors, make sure to put it in a plastic bag and squeeze all the air out of it first. When I’d return into the lodge, my tripod would frost up like a calming beer mug — one thing I are not looking for taking place to my digicam, as a result of this can happen on the inner surfaces in the digicam as effectively.

In truth, I did lose one among my SD reminiscence playing cards due to the excessive circumstances. So as quickly as your digicam has warmed up, dump your newest batch of photographs earlier than going again outdoors.

And sure, you want to return outdoors.

Pink-Magenta Aurora
Especially lively aurora may also embody Nitrogen atoms which is able to glow a pink or magenta shade.
Richard S. Wright Jr.

Of course, it’s not going it will likely be that chilly for you for those who catch an auroral show, however all the time be aware of your gear in chilly temperatures and listen to any warning indicators your individual physique could begin to ship you.

The days are quick, and the nights are lengthy . . . so pleased searching!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart