How to Take Pictures of the Northern Lights (2022)

How to Take Pictures of the Northern Lights (1)

Kristina Ziauke

|September 13, 2019

Kristina has been writing for the internet of things since 2010. She enjoys writing about adventures in nature just as much as embarking upon them herself.

The Northern Lights top many travelers’ bucket lists. Stargazers from all over the world travel north for that rare glimpse of the phenomenon — and to snap a picture or two. So read on and find out how to take pictures of the Northern Lights with a digital camera or even your smartphone!

Sadly, many travelers get home and realize that their carefully planned Aurora Borealis photos are too blurry and don't do it justice.

This ultimate beginner’s guide will help you plan, prepare, and nail Northern Lights photography on your first try. Find out where and when it’s best to see the Northern Lights, read up on equipment, and discover tips and tricks on setting up the shot.

Best Places to see the Northern Lights

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The Northern Lights are only visible in Earth’s northernmost regions. This is because Earth’s magnetic field sends solar particles towards the North Pole. Those solar particles then collide with molecules in the atmosphere, and bam! A magnificent light show.

The best places to see the Northern Lights are anywhere between 66°N and 69°N latitude, also called the Aurora Zone. This includes Iceland and northern Canada - the most magical places to visit during the winter!

For total darkness, get away from the city lights. Luckily, the more north you go, the less light pollution there is.

Reykjavik is one of the very few cities and the only capital in the world where you can observe Northern Lights in the city center.

It's also a great base to park your suitcase while you head out on a Northern Lights tour in the countryside.

Best Time to See Northern Lights

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Did you know that the Northern Lights are present year-round? We don’t see them during summer because of the long daylight hours. The best time to see the Northern Lights is between September and April, when the sun sinks into the horizon and the nights are dark and long with clear skies.

The light show lasts anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and may show up once or a few times during the night.

(Video) HOW TO Photograph the Northern Lights / Auroras 2022

Can I take pictures of the Northern Lights with my Smartphone?

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Yes! Great Northern Lights photos can be also snapped with your smartphone! To get those aurora shots perfect, follow these few easy steps:

  • Turn off the apps and take the load off your phone. I’m sure you have plenty of apps running in the background, turn them off for better performance.
  • Full battery power - on! Make sure your phone isn’t on battery saving mode.
  • Use tripod and landscape mode. Yes, there are tripods for smartphones too, so buy one, it’s worth it. Then, mount your phone on it and rotate it to landscape mode.
  • Set to manual. Your smartphone camera has a manual mode, set it to that and adjust all the settings as mentioned above.

Don’t listen to those naysayers who swear by using only digital cameras. Your smartphone can work too and, on top of that, you can edit and share your magical Northern Lights photos in a blink of an eye.

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Top 3 Best Northern Lights photo apps

1. Cortex Camera (Apple iOS / Android). This camera app is fantastic for low light. It combines 100 frames of video to create one high-quality still photo. All photos are aligned perfectly in mere seconds, so you don't really even need a tripod!

2. NightCap Pro (Apple iOS). This app specializes in time lapse photos, a gold mine for low light and night pictures. Its virtual slow shutter function is ideal for capturing wind, moving people, and yes - those Northern Lights.

3. Northern Lights Photo Taker App (Apple iOS). Though just for iOS, this app does one thing and one thing only -- help you take better photos of the aurora!

Digital Cameras

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If you still feel like the smartphone won't cut it, investing in some top-notch gear can go a long way.

High-quality equipment is key to your Aurora photography trip. A better camera means better photographs.

Here’s the essential gear:

  • Any camera with ‘manual’ mode works. DSLR or SLR are fine as long as you can manually change the settings.
  • Use a tripod. You don’t want blurry pictures, which is likely to happen if you hold the camera in your hands.
  • Wide-angle lenses are best. They allow you to take in as much of the activity as possible.
  • Remotely controlled shutter. Your finger on the shutter will cause blurry pictures. Set the self-timer function and step back.
  • Flashlight. Turn off the flash - it's useless. Shine a flashlight only if you're taking pictures of people in front of the Northern Lights.

Best Camera Settings for Northern Lights

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To shoot the Northern Lights might seem easy, yet it’s challenging even to the best hunters out there. So let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the basic camera settings forNorthern Lights you need to master:

  • Manual. Set your camera and lens to manual mode. Turn off flash and image stabilization — you won’t need them.
  • ISO. ISO controls light sensitivity. You’ll take Aurora Borealis photos at night when there won’t be much light available, so ISO setting should be 1600 and above.
  • Aperture, or f-stop. Aperture controls how open the lens is. You'll want it as wide as possible - set the aperture to f-2.8 or even lower.
  • Shutter speed. Shutter speed refers to the amount of time that your lens is open and absorbs light. Adjust this setting based on the lights. If the colors of the aurora are bright, your shutter speed should be set to 1-5 seconds. If the lights are slow and dim, set your shutter speed to 20-30 seconds.
  • Focus. Can be tricky at night. One trick: zoom in on a star or moon, set your focus and zoom out.

Editing Tips & Tricks

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Now that you’ve snapped great shots of the Aurora, it’s time to enhance them with editing tools.

The proper editing techniques heavily depend on the quality of the picture. If you think the picture is perfect without any edits, just leave it as it is!

Here are a few tips and tricks to enhance your Northern Lights pictures:

  • Crop it. You were shooting at night and maybe couldn’t compose your photos perfectly. Readjust the balance of the shot and crop.
  • White Balance. Apply warm or cold tones to darker objects in the picture. Adjusting the white balance will create a more dramatic look.
  • Contrast. Adjusting contrast in your picture will enhance the lines of the Aurora. They will look more defined and less fluid.
(Video) BEST Settings for Northern Lights lights Photography | Beginners Guide

Northern Lights Forecast

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The Northern Lights are one of the world’s most unpredictable natural wonders. It’s pretty much impossible to know when and where the aurora will appear, but a few websites have mastered it quite well.

Your best bet is to browse local Northern Lights forecast websites for the country you’re in. Those websites list the exact location and strength of the Northern Lights predicted at least a few hours in advance.

For general prediction and information on the Northern Lights in the Arctic region, visit the University of Alaska Aurora Forecast website.

If you’re in Iceland, check out this local Northern Lights information website.

What to Pack for Aurora Photography Tour?

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Weather conditions in and around the Arctic can be harsh and unpredictable, especially in winter. Warm, woolen base layers, a fleece or sweater and softshell pants are always a good idea.

  • A windproof jacket and trousers will come in handy during rainy days and windy nights.
  • Warm winter gloves, a scarf, and a hat are must-have items in the Arctic at all times.
  • Of course, don’t forget to pack your Aurora photography gear!
  • Pro Tip! The cold tends to eat up battery life, so if you're staying outside for a while, bring an extra set of batteries.

Best Northern Lights Tours

Photographers love Northern Lights hunting tours. The tours take you directly to the best spots to view and photograph the light show.

Our Northern Lights tours in Iceland and Canada can be a single evening experience or a multi-day adventure. Our tour guides are also kick-ass photographers and will capture a free photo of you with the aurora in the background.

(Video) How To Photograph The Northern Lights | EXPOSED

Northern Lights Tour from Reykjavik

Head out on our Northern Lights hunt just outside of Reykjavik. The tour will take you into the rural Icelandic wilderness, away from the city lights.

Drive off the beaten path to hunt the green auroras.Join our expert guides in a minibus or super jeep for a night you'll remember forever.

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Aurora Borealis Viewing from a Wilderness Lodge

In Canada, admire the Aurora Borealis from a private wilderness lodge in the Northern Territories. Venture deep into the Arctic Circle at Yellowknife.

Sometimes it's best to cozy up in a lodge with a cup of hot cocoa under the Northern Lights. The forested wilds of northern Canada are prime real estate for viewing away from light pollution.

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(Video) 5 Rookie Mistakes and How to Avoid Them - Northern Lights Photography Tips

Or combine the search with a South Coast and Snaefellsnes sightseeing tour.

These multi-day tours are great to maximize your time and chances of viewing. Every night, we put you up in a hotel in the countryside, so you have multiple chances to spot the aurora.

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Hooked and ready to snap that perfect Northern Lights shot? Pick a Northern Lights tour in Iceland and cross this magical light show off your bucket list!

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Iceland

(Video) Essential PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS to capture AWESOME NORTHERN LIGHTS photos

FAQs

What are the best settings for photographing the Northern Lights? ›

A good starting point when photographing the northern lights is: aperture f/2.8, ISO 1600 (increase if it's very dark) and 15 seconds shutter speed. Keep in mind that if the aurora is very active (i.e. dances quickly), you need to shorten the shutter speed.

Can you take pictures of the Northern Lights with a phone? ›

Set your phone to manual mode

Alter the exposure near 10 seconds and ISO to 800 to start with and freely adjust it if the aurora's intensity is not as bright as you want it to. Taking Northern Lights is very challenging as the aurora is always moving and sometimes it moves fast!

What direction do you face the Northern Lights? ›

The best way to see the northern lights is to head north. Most of the molecular activity that causes the northern lights happens near the Earth's magnetic poles. For that reason, the Arctic region is an ideal location for hunting the aurora. In fact, some of the best light shows happen near or above the Arctic Circle.

Can iPhone camera pick up Northern Lights? ›

Taking photos

Turn on Stars Mode (a green icon means it's turned on). You're now ready to take a photo – just tap the shutter and wait about 15 seconds. If the lights are faint, try turning on Light Boost too, it can really help bring out them out. The “sun icon” button turns Light Boost on.

Why do Northern Lights look green in photos? ›

The majority of auroral displays are predominantly green for two reasons, the first of which is that the human eye detects green more readily than other colours. This is why photographic images of the Northern Lights will often show colours that were not visible at the time to the naked eye.

What size lens is best for Northern Lights? ›

A wide-angle lens allows you to capture vast landscapes with the northern lights overhead. I recommend minimum f-stop values ranging from f/2.8 to f/4 for northern lights photography. Full frame focal lengths between 14mm and 30mm are recommended. Crop sensor focal lengths between 10mm and 25mm are recommended.

How do I turn my iPhone into star mode? ›

Tap the star icon at the bottom of your screen and choose Stars Mode. To enable light boost, which will increase how much light hits your camera's sensor, tap the sun icon. Tap the settings icon to set the exposure and noise reduction levels. Set ISO Boost to High.

Do you need good camera to capture Northern Lights? ›

Smartphones really won't cut it for the northern lights. You can definitely use a compact digital camera, but a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera is even better. Add on a “fast” lens of around F2. 8 or less, and you're on your way to getting professional-grade photos.

What camera do you need to capture Northern Lights? ›

The Nikon D810, D850 and Z7 are some of the best cameras for Northern Lights photography, as are the Canon EOS 5DS R and the Sony a7R IV. More affordable options such as the Sony Alpha A6000 and the Nikon D3500 should still meet the needs of non-professional photographers when used with the right equipment.

Do I need a tripod to photograph the Northern Lights? ›

You'll just need one thing: a phone tripod. You need a tripod to take northern lights photos because you'll need a long exposure time to take photos in the dark, and if you move your camera at all during the exposure your photos will come out blurry.

Will 2022 be a good year for Northern Lights? ›

"There will continue to be aurora viewing opportunities in 2022," Steenburgh said. "The solar cycle is indeed ramping up and as solar activity increases, so do the chances for Earth-directed blobs of plasma, the coronal mass ejections, which drive the geomagnetic storms and aurora."

What are you not supposed to do at the Northern Lights? ›

Don't whistle at the Northern Lights

The biggest faux pas you can commit while viewing the Northern Lights is to wave, sing or whistle at them. Alerted to your presence, the spirits of the lights will come down and take you away.

Do Northern Lights look better in photos? ›

The photos do often show an exaggerated version of what was there, because they are taken with long exposure. But when there is decent solar activity then you truly do see those glowing bright colors.

Can you see Northern Lights with bare eyes? ›

The simplistic answer is because human eyes can't see the relatively “faint” colors of the aurora at night. Our eyes have cones and rods – the cones work during the day and the rods work at night. Thus the human eye views the Northern Lights generally in “black & white.” DSLR camera sensors don't have this limitation.

What month is best to see the Northern Lights? ›

November through to February offer the darkest skies and longer evenings for maximum sky-gazing. The strongest lights tend to appear between 9pm and 2am, though the best sightings often occur between 11pm and midnight.

How do you guarantee to see the Northern Lights? ›

Know When To Go

You should also look for clear skies on the weather forecast, and avoid rainy or snowy nights. To increase your chances, spend a few nights searching for the lights rather than just one.

Is there a Northern Lights app? ›

Aurora Alerts is an app designed to monitor real-time auroral activity and push alert to let you know if there may be aurora borealis (northern lights) visible tonight. Whenever you are home or away, Aurora Alerts will notify you if the possibility of seeing the northern lights exists.

What is the rarest color of the Northern Lights? ›

On rare occasions, sunlight will hit the top part of the auroral rays to create a faint blue color. On very rare occasions (once every 10 years or so) the aurora can be a deep blood red color from top to bottom. Pink hues may also be seen in the lower area of the aurora.

What is the true color of Northern Lights? ›

Most Northern Lights are green in colour but sometimes you'll see a hint of pink, and strong displays might also have red, violet and white colours, often seen by aurora chasers on Northern Lights trips. The reason for all these colours lies in the composition of our earth's atmosphere.

What do Northern Lights look like in person? ›

[Aurora] only appear to us in shades of gray because the light is too faint to be sensed by our color-detecting cone cells." Thus, the human eye primarily views the Northern Lights in faint colors and shades of gray and white. DSLR camera sensors don't have that limitation.

Is 18 55mm lens good for Northern Lights? ›

For the night photography, wide-angle lenses (16mm-24mm) with an aperture below F3. 5 work good. Standard lenses added to the set with SLR cameras (the so-called kit 18-55mm F3. 5-5.6) should be enough when exposure is extended enough.

Which iPhone can capture stars? ›

You can capture Portrait mode photos with Night mode on iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Can iPhone 13 take stars shot? ›

As for the camera, newer phones like the iPhone 13 Pro or Pixel 6 Pro have built-in night modes that can capture surprisingly good shots of the night sky without having to dial in custom settings.

Can iPhone capture Milky Way? ›

Here's how to take beautiful Milky Way shots using NightCap: Open NightCap on your iPhone, tap the star icon, and choose Stars Mode. Tap the sun at the bottom of the screen to enable light boost, which will increase how much light hits your camera's sensor. Attach your iPhone to a tripod and frame your shot.

Do you use a flash for Northern Lights? ›

Your flash, however, is a harsh light pollutant and will wash out the Northern Lights and temporarily blind everyone around you. Make sure your flash is set to OFF.

Should you whistle at the Northern Lights? ›

Thought to be the souls of the dead, the Sámi believed you shouldn't talk about the Northern Lights. It was also dangerous to tease them by waving, whistling or singing under them, as this would alert the lights to your presence. If you caught their attention, the lights could reach down and carry you up into the sky.

Do the Northern Lights affect WIFI? ›

Substorms from the Aurora Borealis create an electrical current in the atmosphere that is echoed at ground level. Localised changes in the Earth's magnetic field can disrupt power lines, electronic and communications systems and technologies such as GPS.

How long do Northern Lights normally last? ›

The length of the display also varies depending on the solar activity. Generally, you can expect a good light show to last between 15 and 30 minutes. And if you're really lucky, it may go on for a couple of hours.

What 2 months are the best to see the auroras? ›

January to March

These are probably the three most popular months for Aurora hunting because they bring long dark nights and plenty of snow to play in during the daylight hours while you wait for darkness to fall.

How long do Northern Lights last? ›

They don't usually exhibit for long – they may only show for a few minutes, then glide away before returning. A good display may last for no longer than 15-30 minutes at a time, although if you're really lucky, it could extend to a couple of hours or longer.

What does the Bible say about Northern Lights? ›

The northern lights is also mentioned in the Bible, in the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament. In the 2,600 years old description it says:” I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north–an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.”

Can you sleep under Northern Lights? ›

Thankfully, there are many hotels, cabins, and lodges where you can sleep and stay cosy while aurora-spotting. These are some of the best, and most unusual, places to stay while watching the polaris throughout Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and even Greenland.

Do pilots see the Northern Lights? ›

Some pilots on intercontinental routes see the lights several times a year from the cockpit. But, no matter how many times you see it, it's always special.

Which is the most flattering source of light in taking photos? ›

Take advantage of one of the best light sources around: the sun. Photos that are taken outside take advantage of one of the best light sources around: the sun. Sunlight tends to be rich and warm, which makes everyone look good.

What lens do I need to photograph the Northern Lights? ›

A wide-angle lens allows you to capture vast landscapes with the northern lights overhead. I recommend minimum f-stop values ranging from f/2.8 to f/4 for northern lights photography. Full frame focal lengths between 14mm and 30mm are recommended. Crop sensor focal lengths between 10mm and 25mm are recommended.

What kind of camera do you need to capture the Northern Lights? ›

Smartphones really won't cut it for the northern lights. You can definitely use a compact digital camera, but a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera is even better. Add on a “fast” lens of around F2. 8 or less, and you're on your way to getting professional-grade photos.

What is the 500 rule in photography? ›

Term: Description: The 500-Rule states that to obtain a clear image of stars without trails, take the number 500 and divided it by the focal length to get your exposure time. For example, a 20 mm lens would call for an exposure of about 25 seconds and theoretically, still obtain the stars without trails.

Can you only see the Northern Lights through a camera? ›

In fact, reddish colors are most often only captured with cameras and not the human eye. So the short answer is yes to both: some you can see as clearly as the moon, others you can see more vividly with a camera.

What do the Northern Lights look like without a camera? ›

Our naked eye can most easily see the green-yellow part of the spectrum where the sun emits most of its light. Green is the most common color observed but the Northern Lights can also appear white-gray. And a cloudy night if you've never seen them before, you might not even be entirely sure of what you're looking at.

Do you need Flash for Northern Lights? ›

You will need a friend and a strong flashlight, or ideally a manually operated camera flash (don't attach it to your camera, just hold it behind the camera and shoot manually). Use all the same settings as above for the Northern Lights. And then the aim is to freeze the subject, you, in motion.

What month are you most likely to see the Northern Lights? ›

November through to February offer the darkest skies and longer evenings for maximum sky-gazing. The strongest lights tend to appear between 9pm and 2am, though the best sightings often occur between 11pm and midnight.

Which month is best for Northern Lights? ›

The best time to see the Northern Lights is on clear nights around midnight during the Aurora season starting at the end of August and finishing by mid-April. However, if you are at a lower latitude and there is a big solar storm, you can enjoy the Aurora even during the summer months, like June or July.

What months are the Northern Lights most visible? ›

The winter season in the Arctic lasts from late September to late March/ early April. During this time, the Arctic sky is dark enough for the Northern Lights to be visible in the right conditions. The aurora is at its most active around the equinoxes in March and September.

Can the iPhone 13 take pictures of the stars? ›

Although the iPhone isn't nearly as powerful as a telescope, it's still able to take good night sky photos. Here's how to get started with it.

Videos

1. How to photograph the Northern Lights // Sony GMaster 14 mm f/ 1.8
(Hendrik Morkel)
2. HOW TO: TAKE NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS LIKE A PRO!
(Simon Braeck)
3. What Camera Settings to Use When Photographing the Northern Lights
(Visualising Scotland with Kim Grant)
4. How to Photograph the NORTHERN LIGHTS! Basic to Advanced
(Science Filmmaking Tips)
5. Photograph Northern Lights with ANY Camera
(science out there)
6. STEP-BY-STEP -- How To Photograph The Northern Lights
(Jeff Schultz Alaska Photography)

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