Photographing The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

This Photographing The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) Article is by Steve Bell. If you would like to write for us, please read here.

The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Seeing them dance across the skies overhead is quite magical and to many people (photographers and non-photographers) that are at the top of their to see lists.

Within the Northern Hemisphere, they are known as the Aurora Borealis and in the Southern Hemisphere, they are called the Aurora Australis. The further North or South you go then the better chance you have of seeing and photographing them. This probably explains one of the reasons why there has been an explosion of tourists visiting places such as Finland, Norway, and Iceland in the depth of Winter to try and get that magical sighting.


Photographing The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

From a photography point of view, you have a couple of options. Firstly, you can travel to one of these areas inside the Aurora Oval (the area known where it manifests itself) which will give you the best possible chance of observing them with the naked eye and taking some stunning photos. The image below was taken in Iceland during a great display in November 2017. This is my all-time favorite Aurora image, simply because my initials are S and W.

how to photograph the northern lights

The Aurora does occur also at lower latitudes during periods of strong solar activity. During an average Aurora season (September to March in the UK) then I will usually photograph them 10 – 20 times from locations as far south as Whitby in North Yorkshire, up through Northumberland and into Scotland. Very occasionally I will get to see them with the naked eye, the last time being in January 2019. The trick is knowing when the best conditions will occur and being prepared to put the hours in. I need to be honest here, chasing and photographing the Aurora at lowers latitudes can be incredibly frustrating as everything can look to be perfect only for it not to appear or for clouds to roll in. On the other hand, when you do capture it, there is in my opinion nothing more rewarding and it can become an addiction.

The Youtube clip is by Mads Peter Iverson is a brilliant watch and goes into lots of detail around Aurora’s predictions along with camera settings. It’s essential viewing to get you started.

HOW TO Photograph the Northern Lights / Auroras 2020

In this Youtube video, Mads talks about Space Weather Live, and the link to this is here: https://www.spaceweatherlive.com


Northern Lights Aurora Alerts App

There are also another couple of apps that I use all of the time. The first is by a chap called Andy Stables who lives on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. His app has almost obtained cult status within the Aurora photography community and provides real-time data and live reports. This link is

https://aurora-alerts.uk

In the summer months, Andy’s app also provides data and updates on the illusive Noctilucent Clouds which in my opinion come a close second to the Aurora. Look out for a blog relating to these coming next year as the season approaches.

I also use Northern Light Aurora Forecasts. Whilst I don’t believe this is as accurate as Andy’s app, it does have a useful function where it shows the likely activity 27 days in advance. This can really help with your planning.

If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then Space Weather Live will be relevant to you and a quick search online or in your relevant app store will help you find apps that are applicable to where you live.

Photographing The Aurora

Eyemouth, Scotland – January 2019

The image that we are going to be talking about in more detail was taken on the Isle of Harris in Scotland where there is no light pollution and the results are clearly visible.


Time-Lapse

There are a couple of additional benefits of trying to photograph the Aurora. Firstly if you use an intervalometer setting on your camera or have purchased a remote one then you can just leave your camera running, safe in the knowledge that your camera will take multiple images. It is not uncommon for me to let the camera run for a couple of hours and from this you can create great timelapse footage. I use LR Timelapse 5 which is a free download and works in tandem with Lightroom. 

Steve Bell Photographing The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

Secondly, as your camera will be pointing North you use exactly the same images to create wonderful star trails. Which might be some solace to you if the Aurora hasn’t appeared. Again free software is available to automate this process for you such as StarStaX.


If you enjoyed this article and missed the first part on Planning an Astro Shoot then please see Steve’s post on Astrophotography Planning.


Other online recourses for Photographing the Northern Lights

There’s a load of resources online there is one that gives us Northern Lights Photography settings guide, in 7 easy steps.

Dave Morrow one of Shutter Evolves good friends has a Northern Lights Photography – The Definitive Guide [2020].


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