Photographing the Northern Lights | Katelyn Phillips

Photographing the Northern Lights is something a lot of travel photographers have on their bucket list. The Northern Lights are a beautiful feat of nature, and knowing how to correctly photograph them will allow one to capture an equally beautiful photo.
Using the proper camera settings will ensure a properly taken photo.

Dave Morrow, a landscape photographer, provides advice on gear, exposure times, and ISO sensitivity levels when taking a photo of the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights in Sweden

A DSLR camera with a high ISO capability will prevent significant noise from entering the photo. Apertures of f/2.8 – f/4 are recommended to allow the most amount of light into the camera, allowing a lower ISO to reduce grain. A large number of batteries is needed to last through the night, as batteries die faster in the cold.

“I rotate 7 batteries in my pocket when shooting at temps of below -10 degrees Celsius,” Morrow says.

Gates of the Arctic - Norway by Dave Morrow on 500px

A longer exposure time allows more light to enter the camera’s sensor which allows for a lower ISO. It will also provide a better looking aurora. An exposure of 5-25 seconds is recommended depending on how fast the aurora is moving through the sky.

“The shorter the exposure time, the closer your photos will resemble what your eyes actually saw,” Morrow says. “Experimentation is key.”

Sól's Tempest - Norway by Dave Morrow on 500px

Morrow recommends starting out with a lower ISO of 400-800 if possible to produce the best picture with the least amount of grain. If the photo is not bright enough, increase the ISO until it is. An ISO of 800-4000 is recommended depending on the situation.

“You will want to expose your photos for the brightest parts of the picture,” he says. “The rest of the photo will look dark! That’s okay; you can recover these dark areas in post processing.”

-Katelyn Phillips


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