How to Take a Photograph of the Northern Lights

Taking photographs of the Northern Lights can be tricky and a bit technical. Project Travel recommends that if taking pictures of the Lights is high on your list of priorities, it is well worth investing in a Northern Lights tour hosted by a professional photographer on your first night out. However, most of the tour guides we use are also fairly useful when it comes to helping out with capturing good images. Here are some handy hints we have picked up from them along the way.

Unless the lights are particularly strong, with compact (digital) cameras, photographing the Northern Lights is often a matter of luck, although a ‘night time’ setting can sometimes work.

It is possible to take pictures of the Aurora lights with your camera phone, however you will need the help of an additional app to slow down the shutter speed and adjust other settings. We haven’t tried it ourselves yet, but one that we have been recommended is called Slow Shutter Cam available for a couple of euro in the App Store.

For best chance of good results use an Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera that allows long exposures of 10-20 seconds and a tripod. A lens with a wide aperture (f/2.8 is good enough, f/2.4 is better and f/1.4 is best) and a wide angle is also recommended.

Old-fashioned film cameras can work well in cold temperatures as they are not as reliant on battery power. Be careful when winding on film, however, in cold weather it can become brittle and break. When developing the film it can be difficult to reproduce the colour of the Lights correctly – often they appear far greener in photos than they do to the eye.

Digital cameras rely on batteries, which die fast in cold temperatures. Always carry a spare and keep it tucked into your clothing close to your skin to keep it warm.  The shutter can also freeze shut so try to keep the camera at an even temperature.  Keep your camera in its case.  Another suggestion is to put it inside a Ziploc plastic bag. When you go indoors the lens can fog up due to the change in temperature and, when you go outside again, the condensation will turn to ice.

A tripod is recommended to keep the camera steady and reduce blurring in your shots. Some photographers wrap foam around the legs of the tripod to stop themselves touching bare metal and sticking to it in the cold.

For a similar reason some prefer to use a cable release, but just pressing the button is OK too. You’ll need to wear a thin pair of gloves but do bring thicker mittens or gloves too as the thin ones will not give you protection from frostbite for long. Plus you’ll need to bring a small torch or headlamp so if you have to change batteries, cards, etc, you can see what you are doing in the dark.

Taking a Video of the Northern Lights

It is virtually impossible to film the Northern Lights using a regular video / movie recorder. Expensive, specialist equipment is required.

And finally:
  • When selecting a location for your photograph, try to find a place with some foreground – a tent or building lit from the inside, or some trees – that will give your pictures some perspective.
  • Be considerate to others. Do not obstruct the view of people around you. If you use a head torch, use a red light / low light variety so as not to spoil photographs being taken by others.
  • Be patient. The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon. By their very nature they are unpredictable and they may vary in form, brightness and colour quite rapidly.

 

When you book your Northern Lights holiday in Norway from Ireland with Project Travel, we will give you more information on taking photos of the northern lights as well as maps and details of where to go around Tromso to try and see the aurora Borealis if you choose not to go out on an organised northern lights tour.

Image credit: Glod AS

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