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How to Photograph the Northern Lights Like a Professional

how to photograph the northern lights

How to photograph the northern lights?

Perhaps some of the most liked photos on social media are those wonderful pictures of the northern lights dancing. But how can we shoot these lights that always are moving, especially in the dark? If you are ready, let’s gather our equipment and learn the niceties of how to photograph the northern lights.

Must-haves:

  • DSLR camera (with manual mode) (Even if you don’t have a camera, renting is always an option. You can rent it before your trip).
  • Tripod
  • Extra battery

Not musts, but it is better if you have them:

  • Wide-angle lens
  • SD cards with high memorial capacity (otherwise if you take photos in high quality or timelapse, your card will be full super quickly because there will be hundreds of photos)
  • Remote control (or your camera’s timer feature)
  • Headlamp, flashlight, flasher, etc.
  • High ISO performance
  • A bag for your camera (to protect it from the cold)

After completing the equipment in the list, let’s see how we can take these photos:

  1. First of all, find a place that would create a beautiful composition with the northern lights. This could be a lakeside or a place with xxxxxxx. (Make sure to include an object from the ground and the northern lights in the same frame)
  2. Place your camera on the tripod.
  3. Choose the manual setting option of your machine.
  4. Turn off autofocus. (Turn off Image stabilization and noise reduction too, if they are activated)
  5. Use your lens’ an infinite focus option. If it doesn’t have that option, choose another object in a distance as your base point for focus settings.This could be a tree, a rock or a horizon line. If necessary, mark that point on your lens with a pencil or a knife, and you can adjust the focus quickly by bringing it to that point in the dark.
  6. Choose a wide-angle and fast lens.
  7. Open the diaphragm as far as possible. (F1.4, F2.8, F4)
  8. Take a long exposure. (But set it to 30 seconds maximum)
  9. You can use high ISO value (2500, for example). This causes your shutter count to be decreased, allowing you to take more photos (But if there is light pollution in the environment you’re in, you can lower the ISO value).
  10. For white balance; Choose either “Fluorescent” or “Incandescent” in the settings.
  11. Press the shutter button using the remote or set the timer.
  12. If you want to be in the picture as well, keep your phone’s light or your flashlight on in front of your camera (Thanks to this light, you will be seen in the dark). Go to the place where you will take the photo and wait without moving. Press the shutter button on your camera and done! Your photo is ready with the northern lights over your head.
  13. If you want to take a video of the northern lights, all you have to do is take photos in “timelapse” format. After manually adjusting the settings of your camera, (settings that are mentioned above), you can take photos using the timelapse feature and then combine these photos on a computer to have your video.
  14. If you are a photographer or someone who knows his/her way in this kind of stuff, you can shoot your photos in RAW format for better editing later.

If you don’t have a DSLR camera and you are wondering whether you can take pictures of the northern lights with your cell phone, the answer is: Yes! (It won’t be the same just fyi?)

how to photograph the northern lights
Aurora Borealis over a village in the north of Sweden

So how should you photograph the northern lights with a mobile phone?

  1. First, spot a dark location.
  2. You must have a tripod to stabilize your phone (If you don’t have a tripod fix your phone somewhere).
  3. Then turn on the airplane mode so that your phone doesn’t vibrate with messages or calls. You can even turn off the unnecessary apps.
  4. Clean your lens thoroughly with a microfiber cloth.
  5. Switch to manual adjustments on your camera. Otherwise, download apps that can help doing that (ProCam, Nightcap, Northern Lights Photo Taker, Cortex Camera etc.).
  6. Use night mode if available.
  7. Turn off the flash.
  8. If the lights are dim in the environment, set the ISO to 800 or more.
  9. Touch the screen and focus on the northern lights.
  10. Use the long exposure setting (15 seconds is ideal for phones)
  11. If available, use a voice command to take the photo.
  12. Edit the photos you take with Photoshop applications as you wish.
how to photograph the northern lights
Multicolored Northern Lights

If you don’t have a mobile phone or a camera, or if you feel like you can’t take the pictures even if you have those, worry not! You can find northern lights photographers easily online. You can work with those photographers and they can take your photos/videos for a fee, and you can have immortal frames thanks to the experts of this business.

Final Thoughts

You should definitely examine your camera beforehand and learn how to use it thoroughly. We would not want you to miss the lights while looking at your camera settings instead of looking at the lights. You can also find many videos by searching “How to take a photo of the northern lights” on Youtube. Also, don’t forget to take a look at creative travel photography tips too if you are a beginner in photography.

Written by Melih

An ordinary person who did something extraordinary. Just kidding! Wonder, discover and be a storyteller… That’s all

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