Useful tips to Photograph the Northern Lights

About the Aurora Borealis:

Aurora mean polar light and can be predominantly seen around the North Pole (Aurora borealis) and the South Pole (Aurora australis). They are produced when the Earth’s magnetosphere (the magnetic field around the Earth) is disturbed by the solar wind produced from the Sun during a solar flare. Solar wind is a stream of charged particles and plasma shot out of the Sun at hyper-sonic speed. The Earth’s magnetic field absorbs/soaks up a lot of this collision of wind creating, the Auroras. The solar wind takes about 2-3 days to travel the 90 million miles to Earth. Crazy! Collision with oxygen produces yellow and green auroras, while nitrogen produces the red and violet colors.

To the human eye, the northern lights are generally faint shades of white/gray and various colors. Luckily DSLR cameras are not limited like the human eye! Therefore your photos will be more vibrant than what you will see with the naked eye. Pale green and pink are the most common, but shades of red, yellow, green, blue and violet have been spotted before.

How to capture a good image:


  1. Camera – any camera with a manual setting will work. This means you can independently adjust the ISO, Aperture and Exposure time. The below aren’t required but will help you get the best photo:

  • A full frame (35mm or larger sensor) DSLR camera- I have the Canon EOS Rebel T5

  • A wide angle lens with fast aperture- recommended f/2.5-f/4

  1. Tripod – A tall and sturdy tripod always help keep the camera still, and help avoid blurry photos. I have two: a large tripod and a small tripod

  2. Remote Control – Having one or a cable release fitting with help reduce the vibration of the camera

  3. Extra battery or two – Batteries die quickly when it is really cold outside. If you rotate them in a pocket near your body, the heat will help them last longer.

  4. Pocket Flashlight- So you can see to change your camera settings.

Camera Settings:

There’s not perfect recipe, but put your camera on manual settings and adjust to the below. Study your camera manual to learn how to adjust your specific camera! It’ll be worth it! If you have the time, set your camera up before heading out into the dark. You will most likely have to play around with the setting to get the perfect picture!

  1. Aperture: Keep your lens open as much as it allows you to, aka use the lowest “F” number possible (f/2.5 –f2.8 recommended)

  2. ISO: This is the sensitivity of the sensor to light. Higher than usual is better. Depending on your camera – 800-1600 range is best. Start lower (400-800) and if the shot is not bright enough, increase the ISO to 1200 and take another. Continue doing so until you find the sweet spot!

  3. Shutter speed: This will depend on your camera and how fast the lights are moving. I recommend starting at 15 seconds and making adjustments from there. If the aurora is moving quickly in the sky try 5-7 seconds, but if it is moving slower try 1-25 seconds.

  4. Flash: I do not recommend using your camera’s flash. If you want to get a photo with people, use your pocket flashlight to lighten their faces. Make sure they stay very still whilst the shutter is open.

  5. Focus: Most cameras have an symbol, which I recommend focusing on. Since the lights and stars are so far away, we can focus at infinity and obtain a sharp focus.

  • Photo with people in it- Focus on their faces

  • Photo without people in it – focus on a brighter star or moon

Additional Tips:

  1. Wear warm clothes – especially since you won’t be moving much

  2. Hand/feet warms to stick inside your boots and gloves

  3. Double up on gloves – a small layer to hold the hand warms that will fit under you bigger gloves. This will also help keep your hands warm when you are trying to change settings on your camera.

  4. Pack a thermal bottle – Packing some warm tea, coffee, or hot chocolate will help ease the cold winter air.

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