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How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis

How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis [constantly updated]

I have decided to make my own how-to for shooting at the polar lights. This post will be constantly updated with tips and advices according to my personal experience. Any comment or feedback is more than welcome. Note that some advices are especially valid for Canon photographers.

 Main requirements

  • darkness
  • clear weather
  • solar radiations
  • plain luck! Yes...and be ready to be disappointed if you do not see it!

Facts

  • the aurora runs in an 11 year cycle. Last winter (2013) was the peak of this cycle with frequent northern lights displays likely for another two or three years after that
  • best time of the year? October-march in the north and april-august in the south. Chances are bigger towards the middle of both periods because of more hours of darkness and the further towards the poles you go
  • what time of night? The peak hours are between 11pm and 2am, however, anytime it’s dark there is hope

Tips

  • after an active aurora night, mark that date on a calendar and in 27-28 days pay close attention to the sky. If that same sunspot (or coronal hole) is still active it will have rotated around with the sun and will be, once again, in geoeffective position (pointing toward earth)....and hosing us with an enhanced flow of aurora-generating solar wind

Camera settings

  • use a tripod
  • use a wide angle
  • set your lens f/stop at its largest opening
  • infinity focus, find the brightest object in the sky and center your camera on it
  • Long exposure noise reduction? Keep it ON (menu->custom functions) but turn it OFF for time-lapse! otherwise the time interval will be to big!
  • temperature: 2900 K
  • shoot in RAW format
  • read the histogram
  • set LCD Brightness to low
  • remove any filter from your lens
  • shots made with shortest exposures get more variable colours and those shot with longer exposures (seconds) usually get uniformly green. I have seen similar effect in the best northern light pictures I found on the web and I suspect longer exposures average some quickly changing color effects. So try from 8-10s with relatively high ISO (3200 or more) and then with 20-25s with relatively lower ISO (2500)
  • use your lens hood to protect against frost/condensation on your lens
  • put black tape over your red processing light under the wheel (for Canon users-your fellow photographers will like you)
  • direction/orientation: most of the shooting orientation will be between the northwest and southeast sky. With this in mind, position yourself to shoot with light sources (towns or cities) to your south. When solar storms are very strong and hit the earth’s atmosphere with strength, both the northern and southern sky will contain the aurora, and often in some wild colours
  • dress warm

Aurora forecast

Aurora Borealis Notifications

When the aurora is visible in Alaska and beyond, get notified!

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How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis [constantly updated] - Filippo Sanfilippo
Filippo Sanfilippo