How to Photograph Northern Lights – Best Settings and Tips

How to Photograph Northern Lights – Best Settings and Tips

A blog about How to Photograph the Northern Lights, best settings and tips for Beginners

Unlocking the Magic of Northern Lights Photography

Have you ever dreamt of capturing the ethereal dance of the Northern Lights? If you’re a beginner looking to photograph this mesmerizing natural phenomenon, you’re in the right place. Northern Lights, also known as auroras, are a spectacular display of lights in the night sky, predominantly seen in the high-latitude regions. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the essential steps and settings to help you take stunning Northern Lights photographs. Whether you’re a photography novice or an experienced shutterbug, these tips will help you achieve breathtaking results.

Understanding the Northern Lights

What Are the Northern Lights?

Before we dive into the photography techniques, let’s briefly understand what Northern Lights are. These captivating lights are a result of charged particles from the sun colliding with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The collision produces a mesmerizing display of colors, including shades of green, pink, and purple, across the night sky.

Preparing for Your Northern Lights Adventure

Choosing the Right Location

The first step in photographing the Northern Lights is choosing the right location. You’ll want to find a spot far away from light pollution, preferably in a remote area with a clear view of the northern horizon.

Timing Is Crucial

Timing is everything when it comes to photographing Northern Lights. The best time to capture them is during the winter months when the nights are longest and the skies are darkest. Check local forecasts and aurora prediction websites to increase your chances of witnessing this natural wonder.

How to Photograph the Northern Lights

Essential Gear for Northern Lights Photography

Camera and Lens Selection

You don’t need the most expensive camera gear to capture the Northern Lights, but certain equipment will greatly improve your results. A DSLR or mirrorless camera with manual settings and interchangeable lenses is ideal. A wide-angle lens with a low f-stop (e.g., f/2.8) is also essential for capturing more light.

Tripod and Remote Shutter Release

A sturdy tripod is a must to keep your camera steady during long exposure shots. Additionally, a remote shutter release or intervalometer will prevent camera shake when you press the shutter button.

Another option is to select your shutter delay of 2 seconds. To take the sharpest images, make sure your camera is on a steady tripod. If it’s windy, you can change the delay to 5 seconds. The reason for this is to avoid any possible vibrations when you press the shutter button.

Camera Settings for Northern Lights Photography

Manual Mode

To photograph Northern Lights effectively, switch your camera to manual mode. This gives you full control over settings like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Aperture and ISO

Set your aperture to the widest available (e.g., f/2.8) to allow more light into the lens. Adjust the ISO to a high value (e.g., 800 to 1600) to capture the faint light of the auroras.

Shutter Speed

Experiment with different shutter speeds, typically between 1 to 10 seconds. Longer exposures will capture more details in the Northern Lights, but be cautious not to overexpose your shots. Also if the Northern Lights are very active and intense, if you choose a longer shutter speed the aurora will be blur.

Northern Lights, Iceland
Select a shutter delay of 2 seconds

Framing and Composition

Finding the Right Composition

Compose your shot with a captivating foreground, such as trees, mountains, or a frozen lake. This adds depth and interest to your Northern Lights photos.

Capturing the Northern Lights

Focus on Infinity

Set your lens to manual focus and focus on infinity (∞) to ensure that the Northern Lights are sharp in your shots.

Experiment with White Balance

Adjust your white balance to the “Tungsten” or “Incandescent” setting to enhance the natural colors of the Northern Lights.

Fjaðrárgljúfur, Canyon, Iceland. Northern Lights, Aurora
Fjaðrárgljúfur, Canyon

Reviewing and Editing Your Photos

Review and Learn

After your Northern Lights photography session, review your shots on your camera’s LCD screen. Adjust settings if needed and learn from your mistakes.

I will recommended to put down the brightness of your LCD screen, in this way you’ll see a more realistic preview and avoid underexposing your Aurora images.

Check your Northern Lights Histogram LCD

To ensure that you’ve optimized your settings for capturing the Northern Lights, follow these steps:

a. Begin by displaying the Aurora image on your camera’s LCD screen.

b. Zoom in on the stars to confirm that everything is properly focused.

c. Examine the histogram present in your Northern Lights photographs. If you’re unfamiliar with interpreting histograms, you can find guidance on how to do so here

d. When reviewing your Aurora images on the camera screen, keep in mind that factors like camera brightness, external lighting, and overall lighting conditions can sometimes deceive your perception. To achieve accurate exposure and capture the Northern Lights effectively, rely on the histogram.

e. Ideally, your histogram should lean towards the left side, but avoid overexposing the dark areas (clipping the blacks). It’s critical to verify that you’re not overexposing the highlights, which is a common issue, particularly during heightened Aurora activity.

Histogram Northern Lights
Histogram image Northern Lights


Consider using photo editing software to enhance your Northern Lights photos further. Adjusting contrast, saturation, and brightness can bring out the vivid colors and details.

Stay Safe and Respect Nature

to finish but not last, before you embark on your Northern Lights photography adventure, it’s essential to emphasize safety and environmental responsibility. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

a. Dress Warmly: Northern Lights often appear in cold, remote locations. Dress in layers to stay warm and comfortable during long hours of shooting.

b. Be Prepared: Carry essentials like food, water, first-aid supplies, and a flashlight with extra batteries. It’s crucial to be self-sufficient when photographing in remote areas.

c. Leave No Trace: Respect the environment and local communities. Dispose of your trash properly and avoid disturbing wildlife.

d. Stay Informed: Keep an eye on weather conditions and aurora forecasts. Safety should always be your top priority.

Northern Lights sky blog

How to read Northern Lights Forecast

If you’re well-versed in the science behind the Northern Lights, you’ll recognize the importance of the KP index. This index plays a crucial role in gauging your likelihood of witnessing the Aurora Borealis at your specific location and the potential intensity of the spectacle.

When a significant solar storm occurs, the KP index tends to rise, signaling an ideal opportunity for capturing stunning Northern Lights photographs.

To verify the current KP index, you can visit websites such as Space Weather Live or NOAA. We also offer a dedicated article explaining how to interpret the Northern Lights forecast.

Should the forecast appear favorable, prepare yourself for a potentially breathtaking experience!

To check it this, visit a websites like Space Weather Live or NOAA.

Another very good app for your phone is Aurora Pro Iphone and Android

My Aurora Forecast Pro
My Aurora Forecast Pro

FAQs About Photographing the Northern Lights

Can I Capture the Northern Lights with a Smartphone?

While smartphones have come a long way in terms of camera technology, capturing the Northern Lights with one can be challenging due to limited manual controls. It’s best to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera for optimal results. but of course you can do, specially with the new IPhone.

Do I Need a Fast Lens for Northern Lights Photography?

A fast lens with a low f-stop (e.g., f/2.8) is recommended for Northern Lights photography. It allows more light to enter the lens and capture the faint auroras effectively. However, you can still capture them with a slower lens if you increase your camera’s sensitivity (ISO) and exposure time.

Where Are the Best Locations for Northern Lights Photography?

The Northern Lights are most commonly seen in high-latitude regions near the Arctic Circle, such as Norway, Iceland, Alaska, Canada, and Sweden. These areas offer excellent opportunities for Northern Lights photography due to their dark skies and minimal light pollution.

Unlocking the Magic of Northern Lights Photography
Oxararfoss, Iceland


Your Northern Lights Photography Journey Begins

Photographing the Northern Lights is an awe-inspiring experience that requires patience and practice. Remember, it’s not just about capturing an image but also about embracing the beauty of nature. With the right gear, settings, and location, you can create stunning Northern Lights photos that you’ll cherish forever. So, gear up, head to a remote location, and let the magic of the Northern Lights ignite your passion for photography. Happy shooting!

Share Your Northern Lights Photos

I love to see your Northern Lights photography adventures. Feel free to share your stunning shots with me in the comments below!

In conclusion, capturing the Northern Lights is a magical journey that can be enjoyed by beginners and experienced photographers alike. By understanding the basics, choosing the right gear, and mastering your camera settings, you’ll be well on your way to creating breathtaking Northern Lights photographs. So, venture out into the crisp, dark night and let the auroras inspire your creativity. Happy shooting, and may your Northern Lights photography dreams come true!

Final Thoughts

Capturing the Northern Lights is a rewarding and unforgettable experience for photographers of all skill levels. Remember, patience is key, and practice makes perfect. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts don’t yield the results you desire; each outing is a learning experience that brings you one step closer to mastering the art of Northern Lights photography.

So, pack your camera gear, bundle up, and venture into the night to witness and capture the awe-inspiring beauty of the Northern Lights. With the knowledge and tips provided in this guide, you’re well-equipped to embark on your own Northern Lights photography journey. Happy shooting, and may your images of the auroras fill you with wonder and inspiration!

If you like this article about of How to Photograph Northern Lights and want to get more inspiration, check out my night photography images here

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