Saturday, July 5, 2014

How to Shoot Northern Lights

Have you ever seen the amazing photos of Northern Lights and wondered how they got them? How they new that was happening outside? Where to go? What camera settings to use? Read on for all the ins and outs of shooting Northern Lights.

First off, you have to know when they are going to be happening! To know when Aurora is active sign up to get notifications from

When you get a notification of a red alert you know it is time to get your gear together and head out! Don't jump the gun though, as sometimes it peaks for just a moment early in the night and then nothing after that. Wait until the alert stays for two or three bars and head out around midnight. The best viewings tend to be from 1:00-2:00 A.M. There can be sightings anytime of year but during the summer months they tend to be more active.

As for location, you want somewhere with minimal light pollution from busy cities, and a clear view of the North. A popular location around Banff is Lake
Minnewanka, right in between the mountains is where you will see the lights and it is far enough from Banff so there isn't any light pollution. It can be very busy so sometimes you get car headlights from people pulling in messing up your photo! With an especially large showing they can also be seen from Vermilion Lakes and Two Jack Lake.

Now for camera settings! Northern Lights are extremely difficult to shoot and one of the few times where it does help to have great gear as well as know what you are doing! If your camera can handle higher ISO's then try 1600-2500 ISO, if you have an older camera you might want to stick to ISO 800 or risk the photos being very noisy. Next, you want to use as large an aperture as possible to gather as much light as possible, if you have a wide angle lens with 2.8 or faster then perfect! If you've got the kit lens you might be struggling with using 3.5 as your aperture. For really spectacular Northern Lights a fast fisheye would be amazing! Aurora likes to dance, which means the lights move fairly quickly. A shutter speed of 2-4 seconds will allow your camera to capture enough light without loosing the amazing patterns they make in the sky. Using 4 seconds for your shutter speed might be difficult if you have had to choose ISO 800 and an aperture of F3.5, then you can have a longer shutter speed to get the colors of the lights, but you will lose the pretty streaks. Make sure to use a tripod, no one can hold still for four seconds.

It is a good idea to dress in layers, it can get chilly standing still, sometimes in snow, staring at the sky. Bring a chair so you can sit and relax to take in the view, as well as a head lamp to help you navigate the rocky terrain and set up your camera, but make sure to turn it off so you don't mess up your shot! If you have a intervalometer either built into your camera or with a remote you can set it up to take a time lapse. Depending on how long you want the video to be afterwards, you would take hundreds of photos one after another and then put them together in a video. Time lapse is a whole other topic deserving of its own blog post!

Check out our Northern Lights shots in our Gallery!
Don't know what a lot of this setting stuff means? Take a lesson!