How to Photograph the Northern Lights

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Northern Lights are a demanding photography subject

So you‘ve come to Iceland to see the magical Northern Lights with your own eyes. Before coming here, you‘ve probably seen some amazing photos of the auroras (maybe even from us, we have very talented photographers on staff!).

So wouldn‘t it be awesome if you could capture a photograph like that yourself and show people back home what you witnessed on your journey in Iceland? Well, here‘s a quick rundown on how you can increase your chances of capturing a nice photo of the auroras in Iceland.

1. Escape the light pollution

To really get a good view of the auroras, you will have to find a dark spot where there aren‘t any car or street lights that block the view. If you are staying in Reykjavik you won‘t have to drive very far before you have enought darkness to see the auroras clearly.

2. Bring the right equipment

To get a decent shot of the auroras, you will have to have some specific photography equipment. To begin with, a tripod is necessary. You are going to be shooting photos on a long exposure, so if you want to get nice sharp photos you will need to keep your camera steady with a tripod.

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Northern Lights at the Blue Lagoon

3. Use the correct camera settings

Aperture

You will need a lens with an aperture of at least f/2.8. When you shoot the auroras, you want to capture as much light as you can, so a nice lens is required. People recommend an aperture setting of f/2.8-f/4.0.

Exposure time

You will also have to shoot the photo over a longer time than usual. You can experiment, but the ideal time should be around 1-10 seconds, but sometimes longer time is needed. But you can also go overboard with this, so don‘t set the exposure for too long, or you‘ll just get a green blur.

ISO

The ISO setting has to be relatively high, so try setting it to 800-3200. But again, try to experiment a bit and see if the photos are too dark or too bright. A very high ISO setting can also increase noise on some cameras, so be aware of that!

Focus

It‘s recommended to turn off the automatic focus setting on your camera. When in manual mode, turn the focus ring on your lens to infinity, and then about a millimeter back. That should ensure a crisp photo, but it‘s best to take a few test shots and see how they turn out. The correct focus setting also depends on your lens, so read up on how to get the correct focus with the lens you have, beforehand.

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is a popular site to shoot the Auroras

So to sum up:

  • Find a dark place
  • Bring a tripod, a decent camera with a manual setting and a lens with a big enough aperture (f/2.8-f/4.0).
  • Adjust the camera settings to be able to shoot the auroras (Aperture, exposure, ISO and focus)
  • Enjoy the show!

Contributed: Jon Steinar