How To Photograph Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis, which is otherwise known as the Northern Lights, is a natural light display that consists of breathtaking waves of light across the night sky. 

How To Photograph Aurora Borealis

If you are currently planning a trip to see the Aurora Borealis and you want to capture the moment forever, then you have come to the right place. 

In this guide, you will discover all of the best settings that will be ideal for your camera when taking images of the Northern Lights. Let’s dive right into it. 

The Best Camera Settings For The Aurora Borealis

Despite being absolutely beautiful to witness, capturing the Aurora Borealis can be pretty challenging. 

Let’s take a look at the best settings for your camera when taking pictures of the Northern Lights.

1. Use A Wide Aperture

If you want to capture the Northern Lights, the first setting that you are going to need to adjust your camera to is a wide aperture. 

In order to shoot the Aurora Borealis correctly, it’s important to make sure that you are getting the best exposure possible. One of the best ways to do this is by shooting with a wide aperture.

By choosing to shoot with the widest aperture that your camera lens will allow, you will find that you are able to achieve images that are much higher quality than if you were to shoot with a standard aperture.

In other words, the wider the aperture of your camera, the more quality, detail, and sharpness you will see in the images that you take of the Aurora Borealis. In addition, a wide aperture will also help to reduce the noise or “grain” you see in the images.

2. Set The ISO Setting To 3200-8000

Even though it’s important to make sure that you are using a wide aperture, another vital setting that will help to increase the exposure of your images will be the ISO.

By using the highest ISO that your camera will allow, you will be able to provide optimal exposure with a short shutter speed, which is going to be vital when capturing imagery of the Aurora Borealis.

So, what should the ISO setting be? Ideally, you should make sure that you have increased your camera’s default ISO level to anywhere from 3200 to 8000. But, keep in mind that the optimal ISO can vary depending on a few factors, let’s check them out:

  • The camera you have: The maximum ISO a camera can offer will depend on how it has been designed. Generally, premium cameras usually have the ability to offer higher ISO settings that usually fall between 5000 and 12800.
  • The amount of artificial light: If you have lots of artificial light around you while taking images of the Northern Lights, you will need to use a lower ISO in order to prevent the exposure from being too high.
  • The light of the moon: The amount of light that the moon is emitting will also greatly affect how high your camera’s ISO setting should be. 

By finding the optimal ISO and taking these factors into consideration, you will be able to achieve the greatest quality images that will be sharp, vibrant, and free from any unwanted grain.

3. Adjust The White Balance

How To Photograph Aurora Borealis

If you’re already an avid photographer, you’re likely familiar with using an automatic white balance for the majority of your images.

However, for the Aurora Borealis, you should make sure that you are manually adjusting the white balance to achieve the best color balance in your imagery.

Ideally, it is generally recommended that you shoot the Northern Lights with a white balance of around 3500.

4. Use A Shutter Speed Of Between 1 To 12 Seconds

The final most important setting for capturing the Northern Lights is to use an optimal shutter speed. 

Given the lighting conditions and how unpredictable the light display can be, the exposure time is going to be the most challenging aspect of photographing the Aurora Borealis.

Unlike other types of night sky photography that rely on the stars to determine the ideal exposure time (such as capturing pictures of the Milky Way), the Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon that is constantly changing. 

Due to this, if you want to capture the best images of the Aurora Borealis, you are going to need to make sure that you are adjusting the shutter speed accordingly to the way the waves of light are behaving. 

As a general rule of thumb, the brighter and more intense the Northern Lights are, the faster you are going to want the shutter speed of your camera to be.

This is because you are going to want to “freeze” the movement of the Aurora Borealis to achieve clear, sharp, and bright images.

Here is a quick guide to what shutter speed you should use when photographing the Aurora:

  • Faint lights: If the Aurora Borealis appears very faint or hardly visible to the eye, you should use a shutter speed of between 8 and 12 seconds for the best image results.
  • Visible lights: If the Aurora Borealis is very vibrant and visible to the eye, it’s likely that you’re going to see plenty of movement. Due to this, you’re going to want to use a shutter speed that ranges from between 3 and 8 seconds.
  • Intense lights: If you’re lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis when the light waves are very active and bright, you’re going to need to make sure that you are using as short a shutter speed as you can to “freeze” the Northern Lights in place.

Wrapping Up

Aurora Borealis photography is no doubt one of the most challenging types of photography there is. Now that you have an idea of what settings you should use, you should find that you are able to capture beautiful images of the Aurora Borealis.

Thank you for reading this guide, and we hope that you enjoy your trip to see the Northern Lights!

Laura McNeill
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