Photographing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) is challenging, but worth it! The key to stunning images of the Aurora Borealis is choosing the right equipment and settings, as well as knowing when and where you can see the Northern Lights.
Where can you photograph Northern Lights?
The closer you get to the North Pole, the more likely you are to see auroras. In Europe, you have the best chances in Norway, Iceland, Finland, or even northern Sweden. In North America you can see the Aurora in Alaska, Canada and also in the northern states of the US, near the Canadian border, if you're lucky.
When can you photograph Polar Lights?
The best time to photograph the Aurora Borealis is during the winter months, when the nights are longest and the Northern Lights are most active. It's also important to check the aurora forecast before heading out, as the Polar Lights can be unpredictable and not always visible. There are several websites or apps for this, such as Spaceweatherlive.com or My Aurora Forecast. Don't worry, even if only faint activity is being forecast you might experience a great light show!
Of course, darkness and clear skies are still very important. If you are near a big city, light pollution can outshine the aurora.
Tip: If you are not sure if you see aurora in the sky or just some clouds, you can simply take a quick test photo. If you see a green glow, it is the Aurora Borealis and it may be worth the wait for higher activity.
A camera with manual controls is essential for shooting the Northern Lights. You need to be able to set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO completely manually to get the best results. A wide-angle lens is also recommended, as it will allow you to capture more of the sky in your frame. A fast lens with a large aperture (f/2.8 or larger) is ideal, as it will allow you to capture more light and require a lower ISO.
It's best to use a tripod and a remote shutter release to keep the camera steady and avoid camera shake.
Also remember to bring a spare battery or carry your camera batteries close to your body (e.g. in the Mini Photo Bag inside the Haukland 7in1 Jacket), as they can discharge faster in the winter when it's cold.
The aperture should be opened as wide as possible, while the ISO should be kept as low as possible to avoid image noise. You should also be careful to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible to avoid blurring the image, but as long as necessary to capture the play of light from the Northern Lights and expose the photo correctly.
A common mistake when photographing the Northern Lights is using a flash. The flash blurs the natural colors of the Northern Lights and creates unwanted reflections. Instead, use a tripod and remote shutter release to avoid camera shake.
Another common mistake is using the wrong white balance setting. Aurora borealis can appear in different colors depending on the conditions. Therefore, it is important to experiment with different white balance settings to find the one that best captures the colors in your scene. Of course, if you're shooting in RAW you can adjust the white balance in post.
Once you've set all that, set the focus on the lens to infinity (∞) and check the sharpness and exposure in the display or by taking a test photo.
You should also make sure to photograph the aurora at a location with a beautiful foreground. The aurora will look twice as great!
In conclusion, shooting the Aurora Borealis can be a challenging but rewarding experience for photographers. With the right equipment, settings and timing, you can capture stunning images of the polar lights. Remember to use a manual camera, wide-angle lens, low shutter speed, wide aperture, low ISO, and avoid using flash or wrong white balance. And check the aurora forecast before heading out to make sure you have the best chance of seeing the lights. Happy shooting!