Don`t worry, to capture the Northern Lights is not so hard as it seems to be! You don`t need any super expensive equipment or master degree in photography. Yeah, that`s true, there is nothing like universal settings that you can use trying to capture Aurora, because it`s a dynamic phenomena with different intensity during the night, but with the basic photo-knowledge you will be able to adjust the settings according to the potency of the Aurora. Step by step, we will teach you how to start. Just read this post and check also our examples of photos with explained settings below.
May Aurora be with you!
STEP 1: EQUIPMENT
WHAT KIND OF CAMERA DO I NEED?
To be honest you don`t need to spend a lot of money to take a picture of Northern Lights. Most of cameras can capture Aurora Borealis, with better or worse quality. The most important thing is to have a manual mode, then you can adjust settings to the accurate situation (usually simple 'M' on your camera. Try to save your files with RAW Image Extension, it helps you postproducting photos in programmes like Photoshop or Lightroom without loosing any quality.
More important than just the camera is the lens you use for your SLR or mirrorless camera. For the night photography, wide-angle lenses (16mm-24mm) with an aperture below F3.5 work good. Standard lenses added to the set with SLR cameras (the so-called kit 18-55mm F3.5-5.6) should be enough when exposure is extended enough. These more ambitious Aurora Hunters should take lenses with an aperture equal to F2.0 or lower and a sufficiently wide angle. Unfortunately, a good lens is quite an expense. So what lens to buy? We present a few lens proposals that will guarantee amazing pictures of the Aurora Borealis (those a bit cheaper and those more expensive): Laowa 15mm F2.0 Zero-D, Samyang 16mm F2.0, Sigma 24mm F. 1.4 Art, Sigma 18-35mm F. 1.8.
the only necessary investment, as pictures of Aurora need a longer exposure. If you are hunting with us, don't worry we've prepared for you good tripods for cameras and smartphones. Usually even the simplest tripod is enough, especially if someone travels only with a hand luggage. Remember a cheap, lightweight tripod does not guarantee a good stability, so never leave your equipment unattended, especially on the windy days. A good, stable tripod means a few extra kilos in your luggage. If you don`t have a tripod with you or don`t want to buy it just for one trip, then use your imagination. A flat stone can also be an example of a makeshift tripod.
STEP 2: PREPARATION
Before going hunting, you need to invest in two necessary things (apart from the camera, of course) so that nothing surprises you during the night search in freezing temperatures:
At low temperatures batteries lose performance quickly, especially these older ones. It's worthy to have some extra batterie with you so you don't miss any shots. If you don`t have spare batteries, it is good to put the main one in a pocket or other warm place when you don`t use the camera.
The best photos are taken far away from the artificial light of street lamps and cities. In this way you can avoid the orange glow effect in your photos. It is important to go to secluded spot, away from any houses. It`s good to study the map of the area where you want to look for the aurora.
STEP 3: CAMERA SETTINGS
Never use flash! So many tourists trying to take a picture of Aurora use the automatic settings which, in darkness, release the flash. This is shameful as it blinds both the photographer and those around him and, what`s more, the precious time of adapting the eyes to the dark is wasted. The most important thing is that a flash photography in this case will never be successful. The only thing you will see in the photo would be the overexposed grass within a meter from the camera.
First of all, you have to change autofocus mode (AF) into manual focus mode (MF), otherwise your camera will be constantly looking for a point of focus. Depend on the camera and lens, sometimes it's a small button on the lens (AF/MF) or in many different cameras you can find AF/MF button. Then probably you will realise, that your picture might be blury. So here is the most difficult thing, you need to find right focus.To focus on stars, set the lens to the infinity value (marked with the symbol ∞). Some lenses do not have this scale, then unfortunately by trial and error method you need to find some distant light and try to sharpen this point. It's worthy to practise that in the daylight.
There is no universal shutter speed, it all depends on the intensity of Aurora Borealis and the lens aperture. In such a case, we can assume the output value of 15 seconds. If the photo is too bright, just set a few less seconds of shutter speed, if it is too dark that means that your photo needs longer time (e.x. 25 seconds). If you have a good lens with aperture around 1.4 or 1.8 you can try to shot 3 seconds. After a few shots probably you will start to 'feel' which value is enough.
In cameras the aperture is marked with the symbol F, the minimum of the aperture are marked on each lens. It is worth to set the aperture value to the lowest possible one (preferably below F3.5). If you have standard kit lens then you should set 3.5, if you have better lens then lower is better. The best are below F 2.0.
To not to lose too much photo quality, it is worth to set a maximum of ISO1000, sometimes ISO 1600 is also accepted. Otherwise your picture will grainy with bad quality. However you need to remember that with ISO 100 it's almost impossible to shot good picture in the darkness (or at least not in 10 seconds). Owners of full-frame cameras usually exactly know what ISO they can afford without losing quality.
This is something extra, what will help you to have sharp photos. To avoid vibrations when pressing the shutter button, it is a good idea to additionally set a delay of 2 seconds. Usually in the cameras you can choose between 2 and 10 seconds delay.
That`s an additional setting that will improve the color of your photo. The value should be around 3300K (or you can set the WB for the Incandescent Light). Then the sky should be in the correct navy blue shades.
STEP 3: SMARTPHONE SETTINGS
New smartphones with more cameras and better parameters appear on the market each year. Which means more and more of them can also take good photos at night. The quality may still not match traditional cameras, but smartphones have one advantage. We can almost instantly send the captured photo to our friends and family. In addition, the smartphone can simply be put in your pocket.
SAMSUNG S7 OR NEWER
HUAWEI P10 OR NEWER
XIAOMI, REDMI NOTE 8 OR NEWER
This applies to smartphones with something called PRO mode (or professional or manual, depend on the brand).
First of all you need to choose PRO mode (professional, manual etc.). However this is the only mode, wgere you can change by yourself settings like shutter speed or ISO. Then you will be able to change other settings.
Second step, you need to change autofocus (AF) into manual focus (MF). Probably then you will have to set the focus manualy, so remember to set it at infinity, market with ∞ or by the small tree.
S (SHUTTER SPEED)
Shutter speed allows you to take longer shots. Depend on the smartphone probably you will be able to choose up to 10 seconds or even 30 seconds. If you have tripod don't hesitate to set it around 10 seconds or even more.
ISO sensitivity should be set between 1000 and 1600 ISO.
Remember to turn off the flash, otherwise you will ruin yours and others experience.
WB (WHITE BALANCE)
Sometimes it's possible to set as well white balance. To have more realistic colours, you should choose around 3300K.
IPHONE X or NEWER
Like always Apple has to offer something different like others. In iPhones we don't have any PRO mode, even we can't set by ourselves any settings. IPhone will choose everything instead of us. Sometimes it works good, sometimes... horrible, of course newer version then better shots. The only thing you need to do is to click the button. If you keep iPhone in your hands then probably shutter speed will be around 3 seconds. If you will put it on the tripod, iPhone automatically will extend shutter speed even to 10 seconds.
You still don't feel confident about the night photography? Don`t worry! We are here just for you and we`re gonna help you with everything. Just ask!