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How to Photograph the Northern Lights

people watching northern lights3Taking pictures of the northern lights is more complicated than snapping away with your digital camera.

But follow these tips and you will have some impressive holiday snaps to share with your friends and family.

Tips for taking pictures of northern lights

Remember that if you are after good northern lights photographs you will be spending a lot of time out in the freezing arctic winter – so dress like it.


Bring spare socks, gloves and a warm thermos of tea to keep you going into the night. There is nothing more annoying than having to give up because you can´t move your fingers!


Find Northern Lights Holidays in Norway

Equipment for Taking Northern Lights Photos

1) SLR Camera

There is in most cases no point in trying to take northern lights photos with your normal compact digital camera – the settings and manual functions simply aren´t good enough to let you do what you have to to capture the Aurora Borealis.


Most photographers rave about the Canon digital SLR range, for example the D50, but Nikon also offer some great cameras which will deal well with northern lights photography.

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ISO capabilities are essential, and ISO settings from 400 to 1600 can deliver some great results.


2) Lenses

An appropriate and good quality lens is alpha omega in northern lights photography.


You will need a wide angle lens, with a large aperture (f/2.8 or wider).


Anything between 10-50mm is good, but it depends on your motif.

Find lenses.


2) Tripods

The better tripod you have, the better pictures you will get. With long exposure times and high ISO a wobbly tripod will ruin all your images. Ballheads are preferred over pan/tilt heads.


Manfrotto has a wide range of sturdy tripods that will give great results.

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Camera Settings for Northern Lights Photos

  • Set your camera to Manual
  • Set the focus to "infinity". Do this on your lens, not on the camera.
  • ISO should be between 400 and 1600, and you will ned to try different settings to see what works best. The more ISO – the more grainy picture you get, but it all depends on other light around and how strong the Aurora is.
  • The aperture should be as open as you can get it (2.8, 3.5 or 4.0)
  • Shutter speed of anything from 2-60 seconds, but try your way forwards for the best results.
  • If possible, use a remote release for your camera, so you don´t have to touch the camera when taking your photos. Alternatively use a self-timer.
  • Take your photos in the RAW-format. That way you can touch them up in Photoshop afterwards.

Other things to think about

  • Find a place where light pollution is a minimum. Street lights can make the snow look both red and orange.
  • Moonlight and snow can make a big difference to your photographs. No light will make the landscape dark, but if there is moonlight the night skies will be blue and you will be able to see the landscape on the ground. Try reducing the ISO and the shutter speeds.
  • If on the night the northern lights are fast moving and have a lot of "spikes", you should try a shorter shutter speed and higher ISO for the best effect. If the northern lights are slow moving and more hazy, you can up the shutter speed and play around with the ISO.
  • You are not likely to get it right the first time. Northern lights photography takes both patience and a lot of trying and failing. But you will be rewarded if you keep at it!

Find northern lights holidays this winter.

Check the northern lights forecast.

Read our top ten tips for seeing the northern ligths.