Tonight, especially in northern parts of the United Kingdom and towards the arctic circle, many are experiencing the Northern Lights – also known as Aurora Borealis. You can find out if this natural awe-inspiring show is visible from your region here.
To get the best displays of the Northern Lights, you should find a location within the auroral belt (if possible) and get away from any light pollution. If you’re keen to image the display, a great proportion of your shooting will need to be done between northwest and southeast directions in the sky, so you should position your camera and tripod with glaring light sources to your south.
If you have checked aurora forecast reports and have headed out to find a very weak aurora, don’t be too put off: there’s still an opportunity for you to image the Northern Lights. Weak activity is still fine for photography, particularly if you’re in a relatively northern position.
When it comes to kit, these days many imagers like to use DSLR cameras and ensure that the settings of their camera allow for long exposure and high ISO noise reduction. Being prepared means that you should also have your gear ready to go at a moment’s notice. If you’re unsure of how your camera’s settings work, it’s a good idea to test it quickly beforehand. You should ensure that you have removed your camera’s lens filter and pre-focused your device on a distant point in a well-lit area. As a general rule of thumb, setting a camera with an aperture of f/2 to f/2.8 or wider to an exposure time of three to 30 seconds with a sensitivity of ISO 800 to 1600, should get very good shots of the Northern Lights.
Your imaging checklist
- Decide if you want to shoot in RAW or JPEG – beginners may prefer JPEG for now
Set your camera’s LCD brightness to low
- Remove the filter from your lens – this will ensure that you don’t have ‘rings’ in your images
- Test camera exposure
- Ensure you have a sturdy tripod and good ballhead
- Keep a spare set of batteries and flash cards in your pocket. Cold conditions can drain batteries very quickly and shooting in RAW format can take up a lot of space on your device
- Use a lens hood to protect from frost and condensation
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