The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) are a fantastic natural event and many people travel from afar around the World just to experience them. If you book a trip and want to see the Aurora you really need to plan it in advance and keep in mind the advices I’m going to give you in this post.
Best locations to see the Northern Lights
First of all, you need to be aware of which are the best locations to see the Aurora Borealis. Unfortunately this is an event that doesn’t happen everywhere. The best advice I can give you is to download a free app called Aurora (iOs – Android). This app will show you the best locations to see the Northern Lights. Check the map often ’cause it will change based on the live predictions and forecasts.
The Aurora is easily seen on the North part of the globe so countries such as Norway, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Russia, USA (Alaska) are generally the best choices. If the activity is very strong you can experience the Northern Lights even in other countries such as Denmark, Sweden, UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and more.
When the Northern Lights are visible
There are a various number of factors that affect the Aurora: to simplify, we can say that the 2 main factors are the global geomagnetic activity index (KP) and the cloud coverage. To see the Northern Lights you must have a strong activity (a KP of 3 is sometimes enough but the higher the better) and a clear sky. A KP of 5 means very high probability to see the Aurora but if the sky is too cloudy you won’t see a thing. To check the global geomagnetic activity index just refer to the app I’ve already suggested you to download: the Aurora app (iOs – Android). The app will show you the KP forecasts and the viewing probability percentage in your area.
The camera can see what the eye can’t
Sometimes the Northern Lights are not so strong and you can barely see them with your eyes but a camera is able to record more light so in this case it is easy to see the Aurora with a camera.
How to photograph the Aurora Borealis
Finally the good stuff: forget your phone. To get a nice picture of the Northern Lights you need a proper camera and a tripod. In reality, if you have a tripod for your phone and you can set manual settings on it you can also take some “OK” pictures with it. In regards to the camera, any Mirrorless or DSLR can do but you need a lens with a fast aperture, something like f2.0 or faster (1.8, 1.4, 1.2). You can find cheap fixed lenses with a fast aperture for any camera. I suggest a wide focal length of 24mm (35mm equivalent) or less.
Now onto the technical process.
First of all, compose your image. When you like the composition, set the camera on your tripod. Then set the fastest aperture manually (again: f2.0, 1.8, ecc…) and the ISO at 400 or 800. Make sure to set the focus manually (set it to infinite or check with the magnifier if the sky or your main subject is in focus). After that, you need to try setting the shutter speed. Start with 15 seconds: if the photo is too bright, lower the shutter speed or the ISO (for example if you’re at 800 ISO go to 400 or even 200). If you’re already at your base ISO (200? 100? 64?) and the picture is still too bright (then maybe you need to go some darker place :)) try to lower the shutter speed from 15 seconds to 10 or less.
Photographing the Aurora Borealis: step by step
- Find your composition;
- Set the camera on the tripod;
- Set the fastest aperture you can (f2.0, f1.8, f1.4, f1.2…);
- Set the ISO to 400 or 800 (the lower the iso the less the noise in the image);
- Set the shutter speed (start at 15 seconds and lower ISO or shutter speed if the picture is to bright);
- Click! (better to take the picture with a remote or with the timer on, so you won’t move the camera when pressing the shutter button).
Some Northern Lights pictures
Now that you’ve learn how to shoot the perfect picture, here is some examples of Northern Lights’ pictures I’ve taken around the world: