How to create A Northern Lights TIme lapse

This is a guide on How to create a northern lights time lapse . I will do this in a few stages as it will depend if you are using a Mac or a PC. This will also mean you will have a to have a reasonable knowledge of photo editing software. What software do you use?

Read – How to take amazing photographs of Northern Lights. Practice setting up your equipment in the day time and then at night. So its almost a dance with you camera and tripod. Know where your ISO, F stop and exposure time buttons and controls are on your camera.

How to create a northern lights time lapse 

  • Wide Lens. Set focus to infinity GUIDE the lower the number the wider the image 24mm is wider than 200mm. Remember crop sensors are 1.5 or 1.6 times different to a full frame camera. 24×1.6=38.4
  • 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 and your camera. Start at 800. The main thing is check your images. The higher the ISO the more chance Noise will appear in the photograph. 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.
  • Intervalometer to reduce camera shake further look in to an intervalometer or an app that works as a trigger or the inbuilt software timer. Is essential for time lapse photography. You do not want a shaky video.
  • Slider – Optional. I have seen some amazing time lapses using them.

Make sure you have spare camera batteries, spare memory cards and hot drinks when you create a northern lights time lapse. Don’t leave your camera unattended. I almost had my camera and tripod knocked over by an over enthusiastic newspaper delivery van.

Pick a good location for a time lapse. After all it is going to be simular to a video. People will be focusing on the sky coming alive. If you have a boring foreground try and include a road of somewhere there could be some movement. (I had my Uncle stop and say hello in the middle of a time lapse so stand away from the camera.)

Set up for you time lapse. ISO, F stop and Exposure time in manual mode. Check your camera lens is set to infinity and the images on the back of your camera look good. Stars should be pin heads. Small dots.
Usually I will have my camera set up to take RAW and JPG images. This guide on how to create a northern lights time lapse will recommend you only use JPG as it will speed up computer CPU time and reward you with great time lapses that will run on facebook etc.

You have to use the trigger or the intervalometer as the camera setting for time. How long it pauses before the next shot. This is the reason why we are using JPG. Each time it pauses it needs to save the image. My canon 6D and 7D has an LED that flashes while it saves. You can speed the save times up by owning faster speed memory cards. Or lower quality images.
So I set my timer up with the exposure time 8 seconds and pending on saving time 2 or 3 seconds pause then it takes the next image. 8 second exposure 3 seconds pause.

While photographing remember you can make small adjustments to framing. Or you can stop and start again focusing on a different part of the sky. Batteries, have plenty of spare batteries this can also give you a chance to swap memory cards.

A time lapse can last a few seconds to a few minutes.

How to create a northern lights time lapse for private use or social media?

Lets do some maths.

  • 8+3 = 11
    For 1 image.
  • 60/11 = 5 (plus change)
    5 photos a minute
  • 5×60 = 300 (not including the change)
    300 photos an hour

You can make a time lapse smooth at 30fps. That is an hours worth of hard work. Displayed in a 10 second video. I usually try for a happy balance of time in the cold and what’s going on in the sky. Try 3fps 8fps and 10fps. this will give you the option of a shorter or a longer video to post on social media.

How To Create A Northern Lights Time Lapse
Canon 6D ef f2.8 – 24mm and Pluto

Have I jumped a step? No. The How To Create A Northern Lights Time Lapse has not skipped a step now we begin some planning.

Video size. Video quality. Are you going to display this on your TV at home? YouTube or FaceBook.
You will need to combine the fps and image size and you will then have something big long and epic or Small fast and low.
BIG full size photo Long time lapse length Epic detail = Monster file size great for a USB stick and a lovely wide screen TV
SMALL image size FAST time lapse length LOW detail = Small file size great for Social media, good for web browsers and streaming.

Plan what you want. Next – convert and resize the images. I use IfranView. Its great, free and fast. For internet or web streaming i suggest 800px wide and with the software you can also put your name / location / date on the image.

You will have to find software for creating a windows pc time lapse. Although Photoshop is expensive and has a monthly fee it is very very good. Alternativeto has some free options to try.

I use my Macbook it has a free and very effective app Time Lapse Assembler . So if you have a Mac use it.

Anustup Kundu – commented “Olympus cameras have inbuilt time lapse mode which helps getting rid of other things. Put the camera in the tripod and it will take a maximum of 999 images. Their free image editor makes really decent time lapse using JPEG”

So looks like Olympus users are in luck!!

I will add a video or software tutorial once I have a chance.

Thank you for reading this guide on how to create a northern lights time lapse. I will update as soon as I take my next time lapse.