The complete Northern Lights guide (Aurora Borealis)

In this blog post, I will explain a bit about what Northern Lights also called its Latin name, Aurora Borealis, is and how you can capture it on camera.
Northern Lights is with no comparison the most breathtaking natural phenomenon I’ve ever seen!
I bet that if you ask people who’ve been lucky enough to experience Northern Lights, they all know exactly where they saw it, and how it felt like.
I simply cannot stop smiling and I’m even giggling when I experience the Northern Lights dancing across the sky.

What are Northern Lights?

“The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south”
Northern Lights Centre

Where to see Northern Lights

Northern Lights are only visible north of the polar circle and here we call it Aurora Borealis. Many people don’t know this, but there is also a similar phenomenon happening in the south called Southern Lights or Aurora Australis.

Best places to see Northern Lights:

  1. Tromsø or Lofoten (Norway)
  2. Abisko National Park  (Sweden)
  3. Thingvellir National Park (Iceland)
  4. Rovaniemi (Finland)
  5. Yukon (Canada)

Best places to see Southern Lights:

  1. Tasmania  (Australia)
  2. Stewart Island (New Zealand)
  3. Carlini Base (Antarctica)
  4. Patagonia (Chile)
  5. Falkland Islands (Argentina)

When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?

It’s important to remember that even though you follow all these guidelines, and are located at the right place at the right time – it’s also about being very lucky. However, this is what I love about nature – you can’t just buy a ticket as you do for an amusement park and get entertained – this is the universe that’s controlling if you get to see it or not.
The best time of the year to spot the Northern Lights dancing across the sky is during the wintertime. You need complete darkness to watch the Northern Light.

Best time to see Northern Lights

  1. Complete darkness in the wintertime (September-March)
  2. No light pollution, which means get away from cities and lights.
  3. A clear sky with no clouds

How to prepare for a Northern Lights hunt

We have now established where and when it’s possible to see the Northern Lights. But as also mentioned, you have to be lucky even though the circumstances are right.

All the times I’ve gone hunting for Northern Lights, I’ve seen the Aurora dancing on the sky

I use a few different apps and techniques to prepare to go see the Northern Lights.

Best way to prepare for Northern Lights

  1. Find the perfect location. Maybe to a research trip during the daylight, so you aren’t wondering about while the magic is happening. Find a location with no light pollution.
  2. Check the weather forecast and make sure there aren’t any clouds around during the dark hours. I prefer to use Yr.no.
  3. I use an Aurora application for my phone, which shows me the Aurora KP index and forecast for the Aurora. The application is called Aurora Forecast and is for free. However, you can upgrade the application with features for 13 USD / yearly to get notifications and alarms when the KP index is high.
  4. Make sure to wear warm clothing becasue you will be out there for several hours, it’s wintertime and you are acoss the polar circle.
  5. Bring some hot tea so keep you warm and make a cozy adventure out of it.

How to capture Northern Lights on camera

Northern Lights can vary in different grey, green and purple colors.
It can be dancing in the sky and moving like a snake or it can simply line.
Everything about the Northern Lights is fascinating and while being out in the field looking for the lights, it’s easy to panic and stress around with your camera because you’re afraid you aren’t going to capture this incredible moment on camera. And no, you cannot use your mobile phone.
I’ve tried to make a list of the different camera equipment I use while going hunting for the Northern Light, but also the settings I use and motifs.

Camera gear to capture Northern Lights

  1. A camera lens with a low aperture such as f /2.8.
  2. A camera lens that has a wide focal length such as 16mm.
  3. A camera body that has the possibility of shooting with a high ISO.
  4. Tripod to keep the camera completely steady.
  5. Self-timer or remote to release the tricker without touching the camera.
Focal Lenght: 16mm
Exposure: 3.2 sec at f /2.8
ISO: 2500

Best tips to Northern Lights photography and Astrophotography

Now you have the right place, the right timing and you have the right gear with you. However, you still need to be able to use these things the correct way while being out there hunting the Northern Lights.
All these guidelines are also useable for astrophotography which can be done anywhere. And you can also use these tips for taking long exposure pictures of cities.
Pictures are incredible but sometimes you need to make a video or a timelapse to capture motifs such as the Northern Lights. But no matter if you take pictures of videoes, the same tips below counts.

Best tips to capture Northern Lights on camera

  1. Find an object that can be in your frame, such as the church or mountains in the examples above.
  2. Set the aperture to as low as possible with your lens. If possible f /2.8
  3. Depending on how fast the Northern Lights are moving, set the exposure to 3 seconds and upscale to about 15 seconds if the light is moving slowly.
  4. If your ISO is too high you will get grainy images in the end. Start as low as 1.500 and try to bump it up to as high as 5000 to see the difference.
  5. Make sure your focus is locked at infinity

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