Home Travel How to Photograph the Northern Lights and Keep Warm Doing It

How to Photograph the Northern Lights and Keep Warm Doing It


Northern Lights images will not be like different evening images; it has challenges that go approach past regular evening images challenges – particularly…the chilly! You solely get Northern Lights within the winter when you will have these attractive darkish skies. As well as, the aurora oval revolves across the geomagnetic north pole inserting you in a number of the coldest environments on earth. All of this implies you’ll be ready out within the chilly for the proper {photograph} of the northern lights.

In case your dream is to {photograph} the northern lights, then you definitely’ll should be in the appropriate place, have the appropriate digital camera tools, and be ready along with your digital camera settings. And also you’ll wish to be sure that you keep heat while you’re working in your excellent {photograph}.

I’ve spent plenty of time photographing the northern lights in Alaska. I’ve even been fortunate sufficient to see the southern lights on a cruise to Antarctica! From these experiences I’ve collected an in depth checklist of suggestions for guaranteeing your aurora images seems nice, you keep heat, and have enjoyable. I’m excited to share the following pointers for capturing the Northern lights whereas staying cozy.

What are the Northern Lights?

I’m no scientist – however I can let you know aurora borealis is a recipe made up of the solar, photo voltaic bursts, photo voltaic wind, the earth’s magnetic fields, and our ambiance. If you’d like an in-depth rationalization, try this Northern Lights Defined article.

Indigenous Explanations of the Northern Lights

Along with the scientific rationalization, there are additionally Indigenous explanations too. The Alaskan Native individuals and Inuit imagine that the Northern Lights are the spirits of their ancestors looking within the evening sky, and that’s why they’re energetic and transferring.

One other model is the spirits of the ancestors watching over their family members on earth. The spirits are so pleasant, it’s stated you’ll be able to invite them for a ‘dance’. Whenever you dance, they are going to be a part of you dancing and you’ll primarily ‘dance them out’.

After I was informed this, I questioned if the Hokie Pokie dance would work – it’s the one dance I do know! Not less than in the event you select to ‘dance them out’, it’s additionally an effective way to remain heat concurrently!

The place to Discover the Northern Lights

You discover the northern lights underneath the aurora oval. The oval thickness adjustments periodically, however usually, you’ll discover the aurora oval across the Earth’s geomagnetic poles. You’ll additionally want clear skies with a view to see the northern lights. Which means that a number of the greatest odds of seeing them are locations with clear skies.

My favorite place to photograph the aurora borealis is Fairbanks Alaska. It’s within the Alaskan inside, which implies extra clear skies and a better probability of seeing them. Plus there are many nice things to do in Fairbanks (canine sledding, snow mobiling, along with chasing aurora!

Another nice locations are:

  • Yellowknife Canada (Yukon)
  • Churchill Canada (Manitoba)
  • Northern Norway
  • Iceland
  • Northern Finland
  • Greenland
  • Northern Sweden

After all, you could possibly {photograph} them in Minnesota or Montana – nevertheless, the percentages are a lot decrease. I desire to go to locations underneath the aurora oval the place I’ve a good aurora forecast more often than not, and good odds of clear skies for the very best images. That’s Alaska for me.

northern lights photography alaska
Alaska is my favourite place to {photograph} the aurora

Digital camera Tools You’ll Want for Photographing the Northern Lights

There are just a few additional issues that you simply’ll want for evening images, and particularly northern lights photos, which are totally different from a typical images gear checklist.


I by no means usually journey with a tripod, however within the case of evening images, it’s a should. You’ll desire a good sturdy one that may cope with wind. Plus – ensure that it isn’t steel. Metallic tripods can get extremely chilly, and also you don’t wish to contact freezing-cold steel, even with gloves. I take advantage of the Peak Design Journey Tripod which is extremely small however sturdy and quick to get into place!

Peak Design Travel Tripod

That is the smallest and sturdiest journey tripod I’ve discovered in the marketplace. That is an aluminum model (3.4 lbs) – however in addition they have carbon fiber (2.8 lbs). A journey tripod that packs all the way down to the diameter of a water bottle—with out compromising peak, stability, or options. Plus, it is really easy and quick to setup and take down!

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

Huge Angle Quick Lens

Any lens will work, however the wider the lens, the higher. Northern Lights can take up a giant space of sky and also you wish to seize as a lot of the present as doable along with the foreground. In reality, in case you are doing northern lights images beneath the aurora oval, the aurora will usually present up arcing throughout the sky like a rainbow. To seize that total shot, you will want a wide-angle lens.

When in Fairbanks, Alaska, photographing the aurora borealis, I shot with a 10mm or 18 mm more often than not. Typically, a focal size of 14 to 30mm is what it is best to goal for. Fairbanks is often immediately beneath the aurora oval, so it’s good to have the ability to get a giant extensive view of how excessive within the sky the lights climb. Nonetheless, a 24 mm additionally works, however you’ll probably not get the complete arc of the northern lights. Simply bear in mind {that a} 10mm lens tends to distort issues within the foreground.

northern lights photography

As well as, the quickest (lowest F cease quantity equivalent to f1.8 or f2.8) lens you need to use the higher. This lets you work with extra mild – one thing that’s in brief provide throughout evening images. And not using a quick lens, exposures will should be longer, and that can are likely to blur the aurora extra. My quickest, widest lens solely went to f4, and I may nonetheless shoot at shutters of 10 seconds with out an excessive amount of of an issue. Use what you will have in fact – as a result of something is best than nothing!

Hire a Lens for Aurora Images

In the event you don’t have a large angle, quick lens, don’t concern – you don’t must exit and spend 1000’s of {dollars} on a lens only for northern lights images. As an alternative, you’ll be able to hire an ideal lens for Aurora images.

I’ve rented from each Borrow Lenses previously. I rented the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2 for Sony E-mount for ten days costing aproximately $120. This consists of transport. I didn’t get the insurance coverage although as I’ve different journey insurance coverage that can cowl it. Aspect be aware – I all the time really feel just like the insurance coverage is a sham on this stuff. Earlier than buying the insurance coverage out of concern, first examine to see if any of your different insurance coverage (residence, journey, bank card) will cowl the lens.

This was an ideal lens with high-quality glass for capturing the northern lights. You may clearly get one thing even higher just like the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art E Mount. That’s the beauty of Borrow Lenses – you’ll be able to check out a lens before you purchase it.

Digital camera

I take advantage of a Sony A7iii mirrorless digital camera. Not too way back I switched to mirrorless from my Canon DSLR system. The primary factor to search for in a digital camera used to {photograph} the northern lights is low-light efficiency (greater ISO). ISO vary of 100-51200 is right. As well as, battery life and climate sealing are additionally necessary, which is important for the lengthy and chilly nights underneath the Northern Lights.

camera gear for northern lights

A digital camera with guide mode is required for northern lights images. You have to have the ability to management f-stop, shutter speeds, and ISO, every manually – extra on the settings for northern lights under. Full-frame cameras may even produce a better-quality picture.

Purple Gentle Head Lamp

Not solely will you want some kind of mild to mild up the digital camera controls and alter your digital camera, however you’ll additionally desire a highly effective mild that will help you mild up the foreground, examine your focus, and make your Northern Lights images much more picturesque.

It takes about 20-Half-hour on your eyes to totally darkish adapt when doing images at evening. A pink mild is non-glaring, so it may assist you see higher at evening. Activate a white mild and break the darkish adaptation of you and everybody round you. Due to that white flashlights and cellphone lights are discouraged at northern lights viewing.

Black Diamond Storm 400 Headlamp, Azul

The Storm 400 additionally has three totally different coloured evening imaginative and prescient modes and peripheral white lighting for close-range actions like fastidiously re-racking for the ultimate summit pitch in the dead of night. The headlamp has our Brightness Reminiscence function, which lets you flip the sunshine on and off at a selected brightness with out reverting again to the default, full energy setting.

Buy Now

Distant Shutter Launch

This isn’t required, however many individuals use distant shutter releases for evening images to cut back any chance of digital camera shake whenever you bodily hit the shutter button. Some distant releases have further choices like an intervalometer, lightning set off, and distant management of digital camera settings.

Further Batteries

In chilly climate, battery life goes quick. Be sure to all the time have additional batteries if you end up chasing the northern lights. Take greater than you assume you’ll want! In Fairbanks, I used to be typically capturing in -10 to -20, and our digital camera battery life was minimal.

My rule is to convey double the batteries than what you assume it’s possible you’ll want. I had 5 with me and there have been nights the place I virtually went by means of all of them.

northern lights photography tips batteries
Hand heaters are your batteries’ greatest buddies!

Hand Heaters

Sure – these are nice to must preserve your arms heat – however much more importantly they’re nice to maintain your additional digital camera batteries heat. The chilly will sap your batteries even when they aren’t in your digital camera – so hand heaters are actually useful whenever you {photograph} the northern lights. I’ve used a budget little disposable handwarmers, however I’m actually loving the brand new electrical ones that may be merely recharged with USB and used over and over.

Magnetic Rechargeable Hand Warmers

Electrical Pocket-Sized Handwarmers with 3 warmth settings will preserve your arms toasty heat within the chilly temps. These are ultra mild and skinny and can simply slot in your pockets. As well as they warmth up actually quick, and can final for aproximately 4 to eight hrs.

Buy Now

Northern Lights Images Suggestions

You’ve acquired all of your gear, however the following pointers are important for the distinctive atmosphere your digital camera gear will face when out within the freezing chilly!

As soon as Your Digital camera is Outdoors, Depart It Outdoors

That is the very first thing to know and observe religiously. Your physique can go out and in of the chilly with little dire affect apart from being uncomfortable; nevertheless, your digital camera can not. Don’t topic it to the huge temperature swings inside and outside, because it results in condensation inside your digital camera, to not point out it’s simply rattling robust on the digital camera usually.

Set your digital camera up on the tripod, situate it outdoors within the space the place you wish to shoot, after which depart it there till you might be executed capturing fully for the evening. You’ll must acclimate whenever you come again outdoors, however your digital camera gained’t, and that can guarantee you will get the Northern Lights images you might be hoping for.

Professional Tip: “In the event you should take your digital camera inside from the chilly, place it again in your digital camera bag or backpack earlier than you return onto the nice and cozy space. Preserve it within the closed bag, which is full of the identical chilly air that surrounds your digital camera outdoors till you return outdoors. This can forestall condensation. In the event you keep inside for an extended time frame, finally, it’s going to heat up regularly, and every little thing will likely be wonderful.  In the event you do expertise condensation, your solely treatment is to maintain the digital camera in a comparatively heat, dry room till it fully dries out. Solely then can you are taking it outdoors once more.” – Dan Bailey Alaska Photographer

northern lights photography tips frozen camera
Northern Lights images is a cold enterprise…

Take Your Batteries Out of Your Digital camera

However wait! Earlier than you simply depart your digital camera sitting outdoors on the tripod, take the batteries out of it and take them inside with you. In the event you depart them within the digital camera outdoors – they are going to most undoubtedly drain and be of no use to you.

Batteries Can Come Again to Life

Usually chilly batteries are only a large tease. They let you know they’re empty, however actually they aren’t. Simply heat them up once more in an inside pocket near your physique. Or higher but, put them in a pocket with hand heaters to get them good and toasty once more. All of the sudden you’ll discover that they arrive again to life. Whenever you put them again in your digital camera it’s going to present they aren’t empty. See…an enormous battery tease.

Chasing Fall – Where to Find Autumn Color in Alaska

Level the Lens Downward

Maintain on! I do know I do know, you will have left your digital camera sitting on the tripod with the batteries taken out and saved safely in your heat pocket – nice. However there’s yet one more key factor to do earlier than you go have that scorching toddy inside. Regulate your tripod head and level the lens down in direction of the bottom. This can make sure the glass on the lens doesn’t get frosted over.

I realized this superior tip from Frank on the Aurora Bear Photography Workshop. On the coldest evening we had been capturing (round -15F), I left my digital camera pointing down towards the snow on my tripod as I waited in a yurt attempting to heat up. After I returned to search for Aurora periodically, I seen my complete digital camera was frosted over! Nonetheless, the lens pointing on the floor was not. This manner when the aurora did come out out of the blue – I used to be prepared! I simply popped the battery again in, readjusted the tripod head, and acquired my photographs despite the fact that my digital camera was fully frosty!

Take away Your Filters

Frank at Aurora Bear additionally taught me to take away the filters on my lenses as they will produce a collection of darkish concentric circles within the heart of your photograph. Plus, some filters may even cut back your out there mild. You’re already challenged with low mild situations when capturing the Northern Lights; don’t make it worse!

Professional tip: “Additionally, watch naked noses on ice-cold steel and plastic digital camera our bodies. If it’s chilly sufficient, you’ll be able to simply frost-nip the top of your nostril whenever you press your resist the digital camera to take photographs. I do know as a result of I’ve executed it. Both attempt to maintain your face barely away from the again of the digital camera or else use some form of nostril protect or face masks. Your pores and skin will thanks.” Alaska photographer Dan Bailey

Shield Your Tools from the Subzero Temperature

At -15F, you don’t need any naked pores and skin to the touch the steel lens – the lens is approach too chilly to deal with. I take advantage of LensCoat LensCovers for my lenses. LensCovers are product of Neoprene, And match snuggly across the lens. They defend lenses from bumps and scratches, in addition to make them simpler to carry on to when it’s freezing outdoors! This made them excellent for northern lights images.

You too can get tripod leg covers that are really useful for chilly climate; nobody desires to seize onto a below-freezing tripod leg!

LensCoat LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers

LegCoat® Wraps are constituted of delicate neoprene are designed to wrap across the higher leg of your tripod and are simply affixed with a Velcro closure. The Wraps backing is designed to tightly grip to your tripod legs so they won’t slide. The covers act as a thermal barrier making the tripod extra snug to deal with in scorching or chilly situations.

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

Find out how to Keep Heat Whereas Photographing Northern Lights

You need to be ready for chilly climate images else you can be depressing AND it’s possible you’ll lose your alternative to get photographs of this spectacular occasion.

Fairbanks northern lights tours
Picture by Final Frontier Mushing Coop

One of many coldest actions to do within the winter is photographing the aurora. That is primarily since you spend plenty of time standing and sitting nonetheless waiting- which is the recipe for getting chilly actually quick. I do plenty of snowshoeing, and snowmobiling as outside winter actions and I’m seldom chilly as a result of my physique is producing warmth and utilizing power. Subsequently listed below are the gadgets I like to recommend for staying heat whereas ready for the Northern Lights to look!

Heat Images Mittens

For me one of the vital difficult issues about northern lights images is maintaining my arms heat whereas altering digital camera settings. There may be typically numerous trial and error concerned in capturing the northern lights, you might be all the time twiddling with the buttons and settings. And meaning chilly fingers. I take advantage of the Warmth Firm Gloves for chilly climate images. I like them as a result of you’ll be able to simply fold again the highest of the mitten to get to the digital camera buttons after which shortly fold the highest of the mitten again in your fingers to reduce warmth loss.

Heat Company Gloves – Warm Shell

Mitten flap with magnetic closure; merely pull the flap again and use the liner as an alternative for optimum dexterity. Nice for winter images and winter sports activities.

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

Workforce these images gloves up with the electrical handwarmers I mentioned above and also you’ll keep heat!

I may also advocate heated gloves too. In reality, probably the greatest in the marketplace is the Gordini Heated Gloves. They’re fairly sensible gloves – they will thermoregulate themselves! You may set the temperature you need them to take care of through a cellphone app!

Chilly Climate Jacket

A heavy parka is really useful for aurora images. Or you’ll be able to layer wind jacket with a puffy jacket. I desire longer coats although like parkas for being out in the course of the evening. You too can strive a heated underlayer. Heated merchandise have actually come a good distance previously few years. They’re much extra reasonably priced and the warmth performance is all the time bettering annually.

The North Face Women’s Down Parka

The North FaceWomen’s Bounce Down Parka offers winter safety from the highest of your head to your knees. This cold-weather coat options waterproof DryVent material and 550-fill down insulation. Not as soon as was I chilly in Alaska on this parka!

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

12/24/2023 12:17 pm GMT

Sahara Women’s Heated Jacket

Nice for a layer underneath your favourite winter coat.

From Gobi Warmth – 10 hrs of Warmth | 3 Warmth Zones | with Battery & Charger | Machine Washable | All Day Heat

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

12/25/2023 11:47 am GMT

Socks and Boots

Standing out on the snow for lengthy durations of time doing images means inevitable chilly toes. You should use the disposable toe warmers – nevertheless I’ve discovered that the electrical socks are actually nice alternate options too! Granted – they’re extra of an funding – however they’re nice for any chilly climate exercise like snowboarding or snowshoeing. I used the Gobi heated socks on my final journey and was actually proud of them.

Gobi Heat – Heated Socks

12 hours of Warmth | Battery and Charger Included

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

12/22/2023 08:02 pm GMT


Oboz Bridger 7″ Insulated B-Dry Hiking Boot

Sooo – snug and heat! These are my go-to winter insultated boot. I take advantage of them for snowshoeing and on a regular basis round city stuff when it is actually chilly. O Match Thermal insoles present stability and help whereas decreasing warmth loss to maintain your toes glad!



I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

Different Gear to Keep Heat Chasing Aurora

Seirus Magnemask Combo Clava

OMG – I really like this for actually chilly climate! The masks is secured by a magnet and it is simple to drag down and flip again up. Breathable and heat!

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

12/24/2023 02:17 am GMT

Nepal Hand Knit Ear Flaps Beanie

  • 100% Wool Hand Wash Solely
  • 100 % New Zealand Wool Fleece Lining. (Itch free)
  • ❤ Honest Commerce and handmade in Nepal. Hand knit one after the other, not mass produced so there could also be minor variations in colour and imperfections.

Buy Now

I earn a fee in the event you click on this hyperlink and make a purchase order, at no further price to you.

12/25/2023 07:17 am GMT

See my complete list of gear for extreme weather here

Enhance the Total Expertise of Your Northern Lights Images Outing

Have a Place to Wait Inside

The Northern Lights are unpredictable, and heat is important in Fairbanks as you wait. If you are able to do a Northern Lights trip that has an indoor possibility the place you’ll be able to wait inside – that is a lot most well-liked. And if it has food and drinks…even higher! If you’re merely ready in a automobile – simply be sure to have sufficient fuel and preserve the automobile working and the warmth on!

northern lights alaska

Convey Some Scorching Drinks

There’s nothing higher than a piping scorching mug of scorching chocolate when you watch for the aurora forecast to enhance! Many Northern Lights tours can have issues like scorching chocolate, tea, espresso, and immediate ramen to maintain your insides heat. Or in the event you go by yourself, be sure you convey a thermos of scorching drinks.

Embrace a Full Moon

Opposite to standard opinion, the complete moon can mild up your northern lights scene completely.

It’s necessary to notice a full moon doesn’t obscure the sunshine of the aurora, actually, the brilliant moon typically enhances the distinction between the surroundings, snow, and the aurora offering a pleasant pure mild within the foreground.

northern lights photography tips
The total moon can mild up your scene completely

Know Your Instructions

After speaking with physicist Peter Delemere on the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, we realized if you end up armed with somewhat information, you’ll be able to have a greater expertise. Peter urged realizing your instructions (N/S/E/W) and realizing the place the aurora oval is so you’re looking in the appropriate path. In Fairbanks, the aurora oval usually sits simply to the north. So whenever you get to your capturing location, arrange your gear pointing north and watch the northern horizon for the primary indicators of the aurora.

Take an Aurora Picture Workshop

northern lights photography workshop
Frank serving to me with my settings. Take a photograph workshop the primary evening!

After all, the quickest and easiest method to enhance your Northern Lights images is to take a workshop the primary evening you exit! We went to Aurora Bear Photography Workshop and had a one-on-one expertise with Frank Stelges who set us up for our future nights of aurora chasing!

Finest Digital camera Settings for Northern Lights Images

I’ve somewhat guidelines I carry on my Evernote cellphone app so I can all the time confer with it. All you need to do is be sure to have all digital camera gear I discussed above, and simply observe these steps to nice aurora images!

1. Activate Guide Mode

That’s proper…Northern Lights images means it’s essential to get out of auto. No auto exposures, no autofocus, no auto ISO. That is the place the rubber hits the highway in images and you’ll have to perceive guide settings.

If you’re at present questioning what guide settings are, then I recommend you are taking a category BEFORE your Northern Lights journey so you know the way to make use of your digital camera’s guide settings, learn how to alter them, and why.

2. Activate Guide Focus

Sadly, your digital camera, regardless of how fancy it’s, can not auto-focus in the dead of night. It’s guide all the way in which child!

3. Set Focus to Infinity

In the event you don’t have an infinity setting, then you definitely’ll wish to probably take your digital camera out within the daylight and focus it on probably the most distant object you’ll be able to see and make a mark in your digital camera as to what that focus spot is. Or depart it on the market and don’t contact it. However actually, most DSLRs and lenses have infinite settings as of late. They aren’t all excellent although so it nonetheless could also be somewhat trial and error.

4. Flip Off Auto ISO

Begin with a setting round 1600 and alter from there. Dn’t be discouraged if you need to change it loads earlier than you might be proud of it.

photographing nothern lights in alaska

5. Activate Your Digital camera Timer

In the event you don’t have a distant shutter launch, then activate the timer. I usually have a 10-second timer set for evening sky images. This manner you’ll be able to press the shutter and watch the countdown whereas your digital camera is totally nonetheless.

6. Set Aperture

My rule of thumb is to set your aperture to the bottom f-stop quantity you will get to in your lens.

7. Shutter Pace

That is one to mess around with relying on what different mild sources are round you, together with moonlight. Longer exposures will lead to brighter photos, however stars will streak, and the aurora will soften. Brief exposures could have sharper particulars, however dimmer photos require extra post-processing. Begin at 15 seconds and alter. If you’d like tremendous sharp stars although, then it would be best to mess around along with your different settings (like ISO) to have a slower shutter – like 8 seconds.

8. Focal Size

Zoom out to the widest you’ll be able to in your lens – this ensures you’ll seize all of that lovely show within the sky.

You and your digital camera are actually ready to seize the northern lights! Nonetheless, the final ingredient you want for aurora viewing is endurance. Northern lights are by no means assured, however you’ll be able to all the time select to ‘dance them out’. Work in your greatest hokie pokie and watch for the northern lights to look and dance with you!



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here