Photo Tips: Shooting the Northern Lights
Tonight the northern lights will be very active due to a large solar flare that is impacting the earth. Most northern latitudes in the United States should be able to view the display, as long as clouds hold off. The northern lights are a great nighttime treat to watch or capture on ‘film’.
If you plan on photographing the ‘Lights’, here are some tips that may be useful:
- Be sure to use a tripod to stabilize your camera, this is critical.
- Use a lens that has a large maximum aperture. A f/3.5, f/2.8, or f/2.4 lens would be ideal. If you aren’t sure of what the maximum aperture size is for one of your lenses, it usually is printed on the lens. The smaller the number, the better.
- Use a slow shutter speed. Primarily, I use a 30 second exposure speed (or faster) and usually have the aperture set wide open (f/2.4 in my case because that is my lens’ widest aperture). Anything above a 30 second exposure may reduce details in the ‘lights’ and cause motion blurs from movement of the Earth. Shutter speed is quite subjective to the light conditions. If the Aurora is very bright, you can get away with a with a faster shutter speed and lower ISO.
- Depending on the speed of your lens & how bright the aurora is, you may need to bump up (or turn down if the Aurora is very bright) the ISO. I usually try to shoot at 1600 ISO or maybe 3200 ISO. But remember, the higher the ISO the more grain that will appear in the photo. Also, the higher the ISO, the faster your camera will pull in light. This setting is also subjective to the brightness of the aurora.
-If it’s very bright, a lower ISO & faster shutter speed can be used. If it’s very dim, a higher ISO (in combination with a slower shutter speed) will be needed to capture the light of the Aurora.
- Set your lens/camera to Manual focus. Make sure your lens’ focus is turn to Infinity (which looks like this on the lens ∞ )
- Make sure to bring a flashlight.
- If you don’t capture the ‘lights’ in your first image, don’t get discouraged. Adjust your aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings until you start to see the lights in your image.
If anyone has any specific question, feel free to email me your questions via firstname.lastname@example.org
These are the tips I keep in mind when I shoot the northern lights. Keep in mind that there are different methods to capture the lights on film. So if you find a different method that works for you, then certainly keep shooting!