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How To Photograph The Northern Lights

Seeing the northern lights is on many people’s bucket lists, but capturing the aurora borealis on camera is no easy task.

Andy Green, our Explore Leader in Iceland, astronomer and photographer, shares his expert tips on capturing the perfect memento shot.

What kind of camera do I need to get pictures of the northern lights? Do I need specialist lenses / equipment?

A camera with a manual (M) setting is ideal but not essential. A lot of small compact cameras and bridge cameras have a night time setting which can be used, and even some phones have cameras worth trying.  

If it’s your first time seeing the lights, don’t worry so much about taking pictures, you will miss the show and get frustrated and cold in the process. I always take pictures which I can share with you afterwards. If you want to have a go at capturing the elusive aurora though, I’m always happy to offer advice and help set up your camera too.

Do I need a tripod?

It’s great to have one, but if you forget don’t worry. You can use a rucksack or jumper to steady the camera and using the camera’s self-timer (usually 2 or 10 second delay) can help to avoid any shaking from pressing the button affecting your pictures and give you decent results.

Do the northern lights appear at certain times of the night?

It is usually said that geo-magnetic midnight (10pm-2am local time) is best, but it is all dependent on the level of activity on a given day/night. Some of my groups have seen aurora start as early as 7pm and as late as dawn. This is why someone keeps watch all night so no chance is missed.

Why are October to November and February to March the best times to see them?

This is the best time generally as the nights are much longer in winter. Of course, in the summer months the aurora are still there, it’s just the limited darkness makes it extremely hard to see the displays.

Are there any top tips for spotting them?

It’s important to manage your expectations. Many people see amazing displays online with videos of aurora dancing across the sky. These impressive displays have been seen on Explore trips, but equally the aurora might start faintly at first, looking white, then developing and showing the major green colour as the display unfolds. Don’t expect to see the northern lights in the sky all the time; sometimes they are fast, others slow, and each display is completely unique and unpredictable.

Unfortunately, there are also times where the sky can be clear all night and the lights don’t appear, and you may need to make a return trip to see them.

If you’ve been longing to see the northern lights then now is the perfect time! Take a look at our Northern Lights with Expert Astronomer and other winter Iceland trips.

© Andy Green August 2018

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