How to photograph Northern Lights

This guide teaches you in easy steps. It will help you to take high quality photographs of the Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis.

How to take photograph Northern Lights?

Northern Lights photography is easy when you know how. A few things are required to photograph Northern lights. The Basics covers a basic list of knowing when a storm arrives and links to information so while a storm is happening you can track numbers to do with the strength, density etc. Scout out locations in the daytime with a good view north and foreground features.
Always check your Northern Lights photography equipment before you set out. I have forgotten twice memory cars but I do keep a spare in the car.

The guide works best with a DSLR camera. I use mainly Canon equipment. Manual mode or Aperture priority mode will be the easiest way of getting results.

Basic set up and Equipment needed to photograph the Northern Lights

Tripods are essential for long exposures when you photograph northern lights.
Intervalometers and timers help with star trails and time lapses.

How to take photograph Northern Lights. Foreground example.
The foreground gives scale to the Northern Lights.

If its a mild storm create a star trail image.

How to take photograph northern lights. Star trails
A tripod and an intervalometer
  • Wide Lens. Set focus to infinity. GUIDE
  • Lowest Aperture possible. (Some lenses perform better at a slightly higher aperture, eg: f2.8 try this then the next stop up and then the next stop. Look at the edges of the image for vignetting.)
  • Exposure. This is controversial. Effected by ISO. I start at 4 seconds and pending on ISO up to 12 seconds. With a long exposure and high ISO you can over cook an image. People who travel to see Northern Lights are often disappointed it does not look like the photographs they have seen. The main thing is to keep stars sharp. The 500 rule for full frame cameras and 600 rule for crop sensors. has a useful calculator.
  • ISO. Will change based on your exposure time. Start at 800. The main thing is check your images. The higher the ISO the more chance Noise will appear in the photograph. Fortunately some newer cameras are pushing the limits and behave well at high ISO’s eg: Sony A7sIII and the A7sII can not only photograph northern lights it can video them as well.
  • Tripod. Because of the length of time you are taking photographs hand shake is an issue. To reduce camera shake further look in to buying an intervalometer or an app that works as a trigger or the inbuilt software timer

This is a very basic and simple on how to take amazing photographs of Northern Lights.
A basic manual setup to photograph Northern LightsF4 – ISO 800 – 10 seconds.
Checking the images for focus and being sharp will improve the quality of the images for printing.
Adjusting the ISO and Exposure time will change how bright the Aurora is.
A few led torches can be used to light up objects in the foreground. You could even use coloured film to add effects to the lighting.

How to photograph northern lights. Selfie
How to take amazing photographs of northern lights – aurora borealis

All of the above and a good foreground will produce amazing photographs of Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis.

Night Noises

This is a new side note. Night noises. A few times I have been out and I hear noises. Mainly small animals. But I have heard elk thudding around and heavy breathing. Foxes and owls can often be noisy at night.
One final caution Finland has bears. They usually go around unseen in remote areas. (Usually people photograph in remote areas.) So take your rubbish away with you. use seal-able bags. and possibly the best thing to do is make some noise while you are out. Bears usually avoid human contact.

Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights photography equipment

I use a 6D with a Canon ef 24mm f2.8 lens. Great for wide shots and shoots well at a higher ISO.
A 7D with a Tamron SP 24-70mm Di VC USD. Useful for cropped shots at lower ISO I stop at 800 ISO because of noise.
Recently purchased a preowned Sony A7s as an add on for my Northern Lights photography equipment. The Sony A7s is amazing for live streaming .

Takes some time and practice, more often if you keep buying new equipment. When buying equipment look at other photographs taken of Northern lights see if the photographers list their equipment. Buy pre owned and save some money.

Use to find lower light pollution.

How to take amazing photographs of Northern Lights written by Anthony