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How to Photograph the Northern lights

Basic settings on the camera

Focus. You need to put your camera and lens on manual focus. It varies how you do that, so you must be familiar with this before you go out. You could do this during the day and focus on something far away and then mark the point on your lens. If you are already in the dark, point your camera to a bright star, and if you have a live view on your screen, you should be able to adjust it until you see the star is petite, like a tiny pin dot. If the star is clumpy, it is out of focus. If you don't have a star to point to try some light source in the distance. Make sure to check the focus now and then as it is easy to go a bit off on it.

Iso. Find out how to change the iso settings on your camera. Start with iso 1600. The night sky is not always the same. Higher iso means a brighter picture, but try to be as low as you can as the quality of the picture is better when lower. Also, when lights are powerful to much iso could overexpose the northern lights.

Shutter speed. To photograph the Northern lights, we need to use long exposure; a good starting point would be 8 seconds. However, this varies on how strong and how fast the northern lights are moving. Slow or non-moving lights, you can have longer exposure time. One very vivid and fast-moving lights sometimes 1-2 seconds are the best. As if the lights are moving fast and you have 10-15 seconds exposure, you won't get any detail in the lights as they move to fast for your exposure time. So lower the exposure time when the lights are moving fast if the picture is too dark, then keep the exposure the same and higher the iso a bit.

Aperture F Stop. Use the lowest f stop your lens has. f1.8-f4 if your lens can't go lower then 5, it is like a blind pirot in the dark, and your picture will be too dark.

Tripod. With long exposure photography, you need a sturdy tripod

shutter release. You need a shutter release to take the picture without touching the camera. As any movement will most likely destroy the picture. There are many solutions to this; you can buy a shutter release with a caple or sometimes your camera an use an app on your phone, for example.

Metering mode. Many people use Evaluative or matrix metering mode. This won't make or break your picture.

Image format.Shoot your picture raw, or both fine jpg and raw.

in short

Focus to infinity

ISO 1600

Shutter speed 8 seconds

Aperture, as low as you can go.

Camera equipment

Most new cameras are capable of doing an excellent job of photographing the northern lights. It is in general better to use a wide-angle lens 14-23mm and with a low f-stop.

I am currently using a Fuji Xpro-2 with a 23mm lens that has worked wonders for me however a wider lens would do me favors. Nikon-Canon do well, but probably the most popular is the newer Sony cameras with the high iso so that you can video graph the lights as well. The popular lens is as well the sigma art 14mm f2 or f1.8. But many do very well; it is much more the person behind the camera then the camera.

In my next blog, I will go over how to photograph northern lights with people in the foreground


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