The Aurora Zone Blog

A Beginners Guide to Photographing the Northern Lights!

Matt Robinson

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

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Let’s face it, everyone wants a beautiful image of the Northern Lights. This post will detail everything you need to know to capture yours.

The Aurora Borealis, which is more commonly called the Northern Lights, is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs around the North Pole and South Pole of the Earth due to interactions between energetic solar particles and the atmosphere…. SCIENCE!!

As our eyes work at incredibly quick intervals, it’s difficult to observe the vibrant colour seen in photographs. But don’t let that put you off, your camera will do all the work for you.

Okay, let’s go!

The equipment you will need is as follows:

  • DSLR Camera – A digital camera with a detachable lens, that will take a single photograph for a selected time interval.
  • Tripod – A steady, long-legged tripod. You’re taking images over time, any movement will create a blurry image
  • Wide Angle Camera Lens – The Northern Lights cover a large portion of the sky, any lens below 25mm will suffice.


To photograph the Northern Lights, you will need complete control over the settings on your camera, this can sound extremely daunting but don’t panic. It’s very simple and I will explain it step-by-step along with some recommended settings.

Rotate your camera program wheel to the ‘Manual’ setting shown by the ‘M’ icon and acquaint yourself with the three settings listed below (ignore the meter):

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  • ISO – The sensitivity of the camera sensor, this will start at 100 and can max out at over 200,000 on most new cameras. Locate the ISO button on your camera body and scroll through the options, the higher the number the brighter and grainier the image, it’s all about finding the balance. Tip. The recommended figure to set your ISO at is 1600.


  • Lens Aperture - This setting is relating to the diameter of your camera lens aperture. Without going into too much depth, the lower the number the wider your lens aperture is. When photographing in the dark it’s important to capture as much light as possible, which means this number must be on its lowest possible option. Tip. F aperture number on the lowest possible.

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  • Shutter Speed – This is the length of time you would like to take an image for, now this is important. Because the Northern Lights are only visible during the hours of darkness the shutter speed will need to be set at a minimum of 10 seconds. This means once you press the ‘take picture’ button, the camera shutter will be open and will take an image for 10 seconds. Tip. The recommended shutter speed time is 20 seconds.

Now for the trickiest bit…


  • Focus – You need to find the illusive infinity focal point. Every camera lens will have an infinity focal point, some even have it marked with the infinity symbol ∞. Infinity focusing is focusing on the furthest away visible object, this is something that will take practice. Tip. Find your infinity focal point during daylight hours, select the manual focus option on your lens ‘MF’ and get the furthest away object in sight in focus. Lock the focus on your lens by selecting Automatic Focus ‘AF’, now your lens should be focused and ready to shoot at night.


Okay, so that’s a lot to remember, especially if you’re just starting out so now for the…

Super Tip – Practice. Practice and play with these settings as much as possible.


Practice will bring understanding which will result in more competent usage of your camera. In time, it will become second nature and your pictures will be awesome!

Good Luck!

Discover our Northern Lights photography tours here.

Read 10113 times Last modified on Tuesday, 27 March 2018

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