Northern Lights photography for beginners
Seeing the spectacular Northern Lights might be the ultimate goal of your trip to Lapland, capturing them with your camera and sharing those pictures with your family and friends is even better!
Most people love the idea of using their mobile phone to capture Aurora Borealis aka the Northern Lights, indeed it’s possible to do so with some of the modern mobiles phones, but good results are not guaranteed and usually your phone’s cam will not be enough to get quality results mainly because of the low light conditions, using a digital camera which gives you access to full manual shooting mode is the way to go, no need to break the bank, an entry level DSLR camera with a kit lens or a compact digital camera with manual shooting mode is enough for your first photographic adventures in Lapland.
The most important parameters you will need to access are shutter speed and ISO, usually for Aurora photography an ISO above 800 is needed, it will be tempting to set the ISO too high to get very vibrant Aurora photos but notice that the higher you go the more noise your images will have.
Shutter speed on the other hand controls how long the aperture of your lens will stay open allowing light to pass through, when doing Aurora photography in the darkness of the night we need more light to go through the lens to the camera’s sensor so a slow shutter speed is needed, start with 3 seconds and adjust according to results, it’s good to practice with night photography before you arrive to Lapland, this way you will have a better understanding how your camera works.
Tip: Arctic weather will drain your battery fast so having spares will save the day, remember to protect your spare batteries from the cold, you can put a few hand warmers in your camera bag to create a warm environment.
For Aurora photography you will need a high ISO and a slow shutter speed meaning that your camera will have to be really steady for many seconds, a quality tripod is essential to ensure that your photos will be sharp, double check your tripod stability when setting it up on snow or ice, camera focus should be set to manual and you will focus by turning your lens to the infinity mark ∞ .
The last piece of equipment to complete your first Aurora photography kit is a remote shutter release, this is basically a device to take pictures without pressing the button on your camera, this way you will be sure that your camera won’t shake or move when you take a photo. The remote itself connects to the camera with a cable, wireless models are available too, and advanced models will allow you to take timelapse photos too. It’s a useful and fairly inexpensive gadget that’s well worth the money in Northern Lights and night photography, pay attention to compatibility, each camera supports a specific type of remote shutter release.
Tip: Alternatively, if you don’t have a remote shutter release you can use the timer function of your camera, adjust the timer to 2 seconds or more, this is a trick to ensure stability.
When trying to capture the Northern Lights planning is the key to success, double check your equipment beforehand, practice night photography prior to your arrival to Lapland, and last but not least be prepared to spend time outdoors in Arctic temperatures!