How to shoot the Northern Lights
Are you travelling to see the Northern Lights, or do you just live in close proximity to them? Either way, here are a few tips for photographers who want to capture the aurora borealis phenomenon.
How to shoot the Northen Lights with Stian Klo
His photos are featured by Apple, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, BBC Travel and Nike to only mention a few. We met Stian Klo, the award-winning photographer on the deck of MS Vesterålen, an evening in October.
“You find yourself at a loss for words”, he says, watching the green, flaming sky dance above us. Stian grew up in the Harstad area and is used to seeing the Northern Lights, but the winter night sky magic still impresses him.
“The nature around us is extremely beautiful, but even more so when touched by Aurora Borealis. I especially enjoy working onboard Hurtigruten. I then get far away from shore, where no streetlights compete with the spectacular lights on the sky”.
If you are in Northern Norway with Hurtigruten in winter, you are almost guaranteed to see the aurora.
Photo: Stian Klo
Stian Klo shares his tips on how to succeed shooting the Northern Lights:
- Avoid towns and other light sources. You will be able to capture the Aurora better when you are out in the dark
- When onboard, you need to account for the ship’s movement. To ensure sharpness, be certain the shutter speed is no slower than 1/200th sec
- Use a tripod or monopod to secure stability
- Use a fast lens
- Set the camera at a high ISO value to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible
- Set your lens to infinity focus and start shooting
Read more about Stian Klo, whose excellent photos of northern Norway and the aurora borealis keep impressing his almost 300k followers on Instagram (@stianmklo)
10 photography tips for beginners
Photographing the Northern Lights isn’t an exact science; there are a lot of variables to consider. All cameras and lenses will give different results, so a bit of trial and error is needed to find out what works best for you. It’s also important to remember that no two auroras are the same. This means that settings which work one night may not work the next. But don’t let that put you off; experimenting with different settings and seeing the range of results they produce is all part of the fun.
To get you started, we’ve put together some tips that will help you take some great photos of the aurora borealis. We hope they help you capture some incredible memories that you can treasure!
1. Manual setting
First, you need a camera with a manual setting. It is important to be able to control the different settings when photographing the Northern Lights. Remember to turn on manual focus, and turn off the flash.
2. Be steady
As the Northern Lights are constantly moving across the sky, you will need a tripod to keep your camera steady. A tripod allows you to take sharp pictures with a longer exposure time, which is particularly effective when you are onboard Hurtigruten.
You also need extra, fully charged batteries. Batteries drain faster in cold weather, but if you have a few ready in your pocket, you will still have the chance to take the winning photo even if you run out of battery.
4. Memory card
Make sure the memory card has a large storage capacity, or bring several memory cards. There are two good reasons why it is good to have extra storage space:
- If you plan to edit the images, you should take them in RAW format. This gives you the opportunity to capture all the data in the sensor, but the disadvantage is that RAW uses a lot of storage space.
- It may take time to take the perfect photo, but if you have several memory cards you will at least not run out of space until you have the winning photo.
5. Camera lens
A wide-angle camera lens allows you to capture as much of the sky as possible, and thus more of the light show. For this, a camera lens with an aperture of at least f4, ideally f2.8, is recommended.
Other equipment that may be good to have:
- The newer your DSLR camera is, the better. Newer cameras have higher ISO settings.
- With an external trigger, you can control the camera from a distance. This will reduce the fuzziness that can occur when you press the shutter manually.
To capture the Northern Lights dancing across the sky you will need to adjust your focus. Many camera lenses have an infinity symbol (∞). Start with this setting and then adjust the focus as needed.
Tips from the pros:
- Try to focus the lens during the day. It is much easier to adjust the focus in daylight when you can see more of the landscape.
- If possible, point out a star or planet in the night sky and use it as a marker when you focus.
There is no ideal ISO when capturing the Northern Lights .It all depends on how much extra light you need and how the ISO affects other settings, such as the shutter speed and aperture. The higher the ISO, the more light you capture, but remember that the photos also get grainier with a higher ISO.
8. Shutter speed
You’ll also need to find the shutter speed that works best. This is the biggest variable because you won’t know the speed or brightness of the lights until you actually see them. As a rule of thumb, if the aurora you see is bright and active, try a shutter speed between 5 and 10 seconds. Between 12 and 20 seconds is a good place to start for a slow-moving aurora, and for a faint aurora, you could take the shutter speed up to 20 or 25 seconds.
When taking photos in the dark, you want your lens to be as wide open as possible. For the best results, set your aperture (f-stop) to at least f4 to let in enough light to capture the aurora. If you can adjust the aperture on your lens to f2.8, choose this setting instead, but avoid going any lower than this or images can become ‘noisy’ or grainy.
10. White balance
The white balance should be set to “daylight” to ensure the light in the photos isn’t too yellow or blue.
Looking up at the incredible spectacle of the Northern Lights is a magical experience and there is no substitute for seeing them with your own eyes. Remember to take a few moments to step away from the lens and take it all in. But if you want to capture the moment, don’t worry too much about the details. Just snap away and adjust your settings as you go.
And if you don’t manage to capture the perfect photograph, you’ll still have some amazing memories of watching them dance above you.