How to Take Aurora Borealis Pictures

The Aurora Borealis, also known as Northern Lights, is one of the unique phenomena that attack many photographers to take pictures for it. Yet, many think that is it hard to take Aurora Borealis pictures and it requires special equipments as well as expensive trips to the polar areas.

Actually this is not true. Once you understand what is the Aurora Borealis and where to see it can help you get to predict the phenomena and where to find images of Aurora Borealis (also check Fun and Effective Night Photography Tips).

The first questions, what is the Aurora Borealis? it occurs when the sun sends the charged particles to the Earth through the solar winds. Once the particles collide with the gases in the upper atmosphere are affected with the collision and release photons of light.

The Oxygen produces the green aurora, while the Nitrogen produces the pink aurora.

The sun particles usually hit all the atmosphere. However, the magnetic field is the weakest on the polar areas, this is why the Aurora Borealis is mostly seen in the polar areas and the cities near the north or south polar such as Iceland, Canada, Russia…etc.

Where to see Aurora Borealis?

The best places to see images of Aurora Borealis is above 55° N latitudes during the fall and winter months from October to March. One of the best places to take Aurora Borealis pictures is in Iceland especially when the sky is clear. The best time to take Aurora Borealis pictures is at night before the dawn.

images Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis activity (photo by KennethSolfjeld)

How to Take Aurora Borealis Pictures?

As mentioned above, you do not need a fancy equipment to take the Aurora pictures. All you need is to be prepared week for these shooting conditions. Below are the gear that you need to bring with you before taking the Aurora Borealis pictures (check Winter Photography: A few basic tips ):

  • A DSLR camera with wide aperture lens, the wide angle lenses can help you to get a wider view for the sky while taking the shot.
  • A tripod for ensuring steady shots
  • Shutter release trigger to help you control the shutter open period and have stable shots as well.
  • Charged batteries and enough memory cards
  • Light source and heavy clothes or the cold dark weather

After being prepared for the shot, you need to consider some the following tips in order to get the best Aurora Borealis pictures:

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis activity (photo by KennethSolfjeld)

Focus on the Aurora

One of the problem that you usually do not see what you are trying to focus on. With this darkness, ti is hard to place the camera position properly, there for you may need a guide light such as the moon or far house to help you identify the place of the Aurora and how it will look like in the camera shot. Of course, you will go with the try and error route, but at least these guides can save you some time and effort (check Low Light Photography Tips).

aurora borealis Iceland
Aurora Borealis showed up around an abandoned house at North of Reykjavik (photo by Porbital)

Camera Settings

You have to set the best combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO in order to get a good shot. Usually, you need to reduce the shutter speed or set it to Bulb in order to keep the shutter open and get the larges amount of light (Understanding Camera Exposure).

Aurora Borealis Canada
Aurora captured about 40km from a small town called Fort Smith near the Alberta/Northwest Territories border (photo by Thomas Koidhis)

The aperture needs to have a wide value, low F stop number, in order to help exposing the light along with the shutter speed. The ISO is one of the critical settings, because the high ISO can increase the light in this shot, but it will produce grainy images on the other hand. So, it is a good practice to focus on the light coming through the slow shutter speed and wide aperture rather than the ISO (Understanding Camera ISO).

aurora Borealis pictures
Aurora in Sørkjosen, troms county, northern Norway (photo by Trichardsen)

Taking Aurora Borealis pictures is a practical experience and you need to be ready with the right gear. do not expect to get the best shot from the first time, you will need time to experience different camera setting and focus points in order to get the best results.


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