I have been a landscape and seascape photographer for 15+ years. However, my experience with Northern Lights photography was limited until I spent hours and hours researching the best settings and techniques.
I want to save you from having to research the “hows and whys” of Aurora Borealis photography, by providing you with all the info you need if you’re about to set out and don’t have time to read in-depth guides.
So here’s your super quick tips for getting the best Northern Lights photographs.
Use the fastest f-stop your camera will allow. Ideally, you should use a lens that is at least f2.8.
8-seconds is the sweet spot. Adjust this up or down, depending on how bright the Northern Lights are in the sky.
400-800 is the ideal ISO to capture the Northern Lights. If you have a very high-end camera with a full sensor, you can punch this up to 1600+. Mirrorless cameras can get too much noise/grain if you go higher than 800.
If you plan to process a RAW photo, then just leave it at auto (AWB). If shooting JPEG, then somewhere around 4000k is a good starting point.
Set your lens to Manual focus. Adjust the focus to the “Infinity” symbol ∞, but then dial it back just a little. This is best done during the day so you can focus on something very far away during daylight. Remember this manual setting.
The widest one you own. The sky is pretty big! Anything wider than 25mm should be good, but even if you have just a 50mm, you can still get some good shots.
Yes, ideally. You need to keep your camera as still as possible. However, if they are super bright in the sky–enough to use a shutter speed faster than 1/30 then you may be able to hold your camera steady to get the shot.
No. A UV filter is often used to protect the glass on your lends, but when shooting at night, it can create all kinds of distortions on your photos.
That’s a great idea! You can also just set your self-timer to 2-seconds and achieve the same shake free Aurora photo.
You have two options. Bring a spare battery or, if your camera can be charged by USB, then bring a battery backup and use electrical tape to mount it to one of your tripod legs. Either way, just turn your camera off when the lights take a break.
No, you don’t. I’ve captured the Northern Lights with a smartphone and a GoPro. Just be sure to either attach to a tripod or place/brace it on a wall. You’ll see more noise/grain, but it will still look good enough to show your friends and family the photo on your phone or tablet. If your compact camera has a “night” or “fireworks” setting, this is your best chance of photographing the Aurora.
If you have any other questions you think I should answer, please leave a comment. You can also read this guide to finding the Northern Lights for great advice on how to find and time your quest for the Aurora Borealis!
You know the scene.
You. Your loved one. And the perfect sunset. Perhaps on a beach in Hawaii?
You grab your camera, hand it to the nearest passer-by, and ask them to take your picture. They oblige, hand you back the camera, and are gone in a blink of an eye. Unfortunately, you look down at the screen and realize that, while the sunset looks great, you and your loved one look like black blobs.
Something like this…
Now, don’t get me wrong. Silhouettes can make for some stunning photographs, but you probably want to be able to show your friends that it was indeed you on that beach. So, how did this happen and what’s the fix?
It’s quite simple.
Your camera “sees” the entire scene and determines that it’s very bright–after all you’re pointing it at the sun! So, the camera adjusts its exposure time to capture the beautiful colors of the sky…and not your smiling face.
The solution really is quite simple. TURN ON YOUR FLASH! No, not the auto-fire setting. That won’t work, because your camera will determine there is plenty of light. You need to turn your flash to “always on,” “manual,” “force fire” or whatever your camera calls it. This will result in your camera still capturing that beautiful sunset, but the flash will also fire just long enough to light up your smiling faces.
It should look something more like this:
So, the next time you take any kind of photo of people in front of a bright object–like the sun–if their face is not facing said bright object, it will be in the dark, unless you turn on your flash.
The single best thing you can do to improve your photos is to crop them.
Often we simply share the picture we took right out of our camera. Most of the time, those photos include areas of “distraction” – debris, people, lampposts etc. By cropping, you focus the viewer on the subject and create a more compelling image. Take a look at this before and after shot.
Bonus tip! Maintain a 4×6, 5×7, 5×5 or 8×10 aspect ratio if you plan to print your images, or you’ll have a hard time finding frames to fit. 😉