Photographing the Northern Lights

Posted by:
Caroline Morley

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On a recent trip to Iceland, I saw the Northern Lights. Like all low-light photography, taking a picture involves patience, even in the freezing midnight cold.

The Aurora borealis in Iceland © Caroline Morley

The Aurora borealis in Iceland © Caroline Morley

There are plenty of online guides for photographing the Northern Lights and I think much of their advice is transferable to photographing other night scenes like cityscapes.

Here is how I got my photo:

  1. Wrapped up warm.
  2. A Tripod. I used a gorilla-pod which is light and hardy.
  3. Set camera to Manual.
  4. Set ISO to 1600.
  5. Set shutter speed to 5 seconds.
  6. Set aperture as wide as it will go. Mine camera was mostly at 3.5.
  7. Frame the shot to include some foreground.
  8. Auto-focus.
  9. Use the self-timer and move away from the set up after pressing the shutter to remove any handshake.
My extra tips/notes are:
  1. We had a full moon and snow so there was a lot of additional light. A darker night would need even more exposure.
  2. Check your histograms on the playback view. This will give you a better idea on the spread of exposure than what you see on the camera’s preview screen. Many of my photos were underexposed because I did not do this.
  3. Use manual focus. My camera’s manual focus is fiddly but I think Manual is the way to go.
  4. Don’t spend all your time looking at a tiny screen on the camera and fussing about the perfect photo. Take time to look at the sky with your naked eyes. It is a majestic view.
It was a dark and cold night but the drama in the sky was amazing. I hope this helps you take better night photos.
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