I’ll never forget seeing the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. It was September and already quite cold in Iceland. While I had a few things on my list that trip, including the Blue Lagoon, the Northern Lights were at the top of it.
Luckily, I am a planner! So not only did I bring my DSLR camera but I also booked a tour where the guide would take our photos for us. This turned out to be a great plan because photographing the Northern Lights is pretty tricky.
Here’s what you need to know before photographing the Northern Lights:
- It might be cold depending on the time of year. So bring gloves because you’ll need your hands to take the pictures and keep the camera stable!
- You’ll want something like a tripod or mini tripod to stabilize your camera. The best way to capture the lights is through a long exposure, so keeping the camera stable and set in one place is key.
- You can’t rely on any camera. A DSLR is the best camera to go with so you can change the settings to capture the lights in the best possible way (see below for setting recommendations).
- Unless you’re a pro, you’ll want to go with a group. Knowing photography is pretty important for capturing the lights, so unless you’re an expert at navigating a camera you may want to sign up with a guide who will also take your photos.
Camera setting recommendations:
- Put your camera on manual
- Set your ISO to 1600 to start and adjust from there
- Set your aperture (aka f-stop) to f-2.8 or the lowest it goes
- Shutter speed is how long your lens is open (aka absorbing light), I recommend starting with 20 seconds and adjusting from there depending on the strength of the lights
- Use a tripod to stabilize your shot (it will come out super blurry with a slow exposure if the camera isn’t stable)
- Zoom out to the lowest mm setting on your lens
- Remotely release the shutter by using something like a timer or remote to avoid shaking the camera
Some other tips to keep in mind:
The lights are almost always brighter in photos because in order to capture that magnificent color and light you’re elongating the exposure.
You might be surprised how faint most of the lights looked when we did see them in person. I have heard of evenings where the lights are bright and easily seen. But it is not always that way. There are nights too where you will miss the lights entirely, so it is important to check a calendar and the weather before you go so you’ll know when you’ll have the best chance of seeing them.