How to Photograph the Northern Lights

(written by Jeff C.)

Photographing the Northern Lights (aurora) is usually high on the list of most photographers.   Here are some tips.

Northern Lights and a Tractor

Where:

-High Northern Latitudes are a must.   Paul’s shots are taken in Northern Maine (about 46 degrees latitude).   If you’re lucky enough to be even higher and possibly in the Aurora Belt, even better!

-Low Light Pollution:  Find a dark spot away from city lights.  Ideally, there should be no lights between you and the northern horizon.   It’s also best to shoot during a new moon.  The darker the better.

When: The Northern Lights are very hard to predict!  But you can improve your odds of capturing them by knowing the following facts.  Aurora activity is directly related to solar storm activity on the surface of the sun.  Watch the news and weather forecasts so you’ll know when the sun is acting up and when the effects of those storms are predicted to reach Earth.   Here are some Aurora forecast resources that may be helpful in planing your shoot:

OVATION Auroral Forecast: http://helios.swpc.noaa.gov/ovation/

Alaska Geophysical Institude: http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast

Northern Lights and a Shed

Aurora behind a farm shed. 30 seconds @ f 1.6, 24mm, iso 500

 Equipment:  To get decent pictures of Aurora, you really need a DSLR with good high ISO capabilities.   This will typically include a full frame system such as the Canon 5D Mark II (soon to be Mark III) or the Nikon D700 (soon to be D800).   Also plan on using a high quality tripod and head with a remote shutter release.  These are absolutely essential due to the long exposure times.  Any camera movement during the slow shutter time will greatly blur your shot.   It’s also good to use a wide angle lens to cover as much of the sky as possible.   Paul typically uses a 24mm or shorter.  The lens should also be fast with a large aperture of 2.8 or greater.   Don’t forget to remove any filters on your lens.  Filters can cause concentric rings to appear in the center of the photo.  Happy shooting!

One thought on “How to Photograph the Northern Lights

  1. You most have Camera in hand 24 Hrs. a Day.To be at the rigtht place at the right time.For some of the Photo’s you send us .Great job!!!!

    Don P.