How to Photograph Northern Lights

Northern lights are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena, and they simply look unreal and magical. Although images would not be able to do justice to their majestic beauty, we will be giving you a detailed guide on gear and camera settings for how to photograph Northern Lights.

If you ever have the fortune to ever photograph the unpredictable northern lights, we want to make sure you are prepared to take the best photos of it, so you can cherish this special time forever!

How to Photograph Northern Lights

Plan Ahead of Time!

Since northern lights can be unpredictable, you must plan before you go out to try and take some nice photos of them. Look out for the locations that you are probably going to get the best view, and it’s best if you go to a location with very little light pollution, so your pictures come out to be amazing.

Check for the cloud forecast because you do not want to be disappointed after traveling a long way to a location and seeing almost nothing.

Camera Gear for Northern Lights

When you go out to see the northern lights, you want to have the best camera for Northern Lights with you, which is why we are dropping down some items you will need and explaining why it’s important for you to pack these.


Most DSLRs that perform well in low-light conditions will do a decent job at taking photos of the northern lights, but having a full-frame camera for photojournalism would be ideal for minimizing grain or noise and maximize the crispness of the photos. If you are taking a bridge camera with you, make sure it’s a digital bridge camera.


Always set up your camera on a sturdy tripod when shooting the northern lights. Make sure the tripod is strong and doesn’t wobble because that would certainly ruin your images.

Wireless Remote/ Shutter Release Cable

This gear is not a MUST have, but it is a great addition because it reduces the chances of any accidental camera movements. Since both wireless remotes and shutter release cables are quite cheap, we’d say that buying one would be totally worth it.


Having a good lens, in this case, is essential, and for northern lights, we would suggest you get a wide-angle lens with a focal length of 14-20mm since you would like to capture as much of the lights as possible. You must ensure that the f/stop of your lens at least goes down to f/2.8, and if it can go lower, that’s great because we want to let a lot of light in. That will help with editing northern light photos as well.

How to Photograph Northern Lights

Here, we’ll explain the entire process.

Step 1: Set your Image Format to RAW

It would be a crime if you didn’t shoot northern lights in RAW format. If you shoot in JPEG instead of RAW, you will be missing out on a lot of details in your images, which will be an issue during post-processing. Sure, RAW format images take up more storage, but it’s not every day you see the northern lights, so shift to RAW before shooting.

Step 2: Shift to Manual Focus, and Set it to Infinity

You want to be able to adjust your focus, so shifting to manual focus is necessary; after you have done that, go ahead and adjust your focus set to infinity.

Step 3: Set your Camera’s Shutter Speed

For taking pictures of the northern lights, the shutter speed you need to set your camera to will differ depending on whether the aurora is moving quickly or slowly. If the northern lights are moving very slowly, a shutter speed between 15 to 30 seconds should be good. However, if it is moving relatively quickly, you should try setting your shutter speed to somewhere between 5 to 10 seconds.

Step 4: Set your Lens to a Wide Aperture

As we have mentioned before, a wider aperture is necessary to let a lot of light in, and therefore for your images to come out clean. The best aperture setting is f/2.8, but if your lens doesn’t go down to such a wide aperture, just experiment with the lowest you can go with the lens you have.

Step 5: Adjust your ISO to 1600 and Try to Work Around it

For shooting northern lights, it’s great to have a camera with decent ISO performance, so images don’t get noisy at higher settings. Begin by setting your ISO to 1600, and take a few shots. Only if it’s needed to bump up your ISO to 3200 or even 6400, this is because a higher ISO setting will always add more grain and noise to your picture.

Step 6: Set the White Balance Anywhere between 3500 to 4000K

The color temperature mode that you will be selected in your camera is called K-mode, where the white balance lies around 3500-4000K. Do not stress too much about white balance because the colors can be adjusted easily during post-processing.


Make sure you are taking in the Aurora Borealis with your eyes as well as your camera if you ever get to witness it. The process of how to photograph northern lights isn’t too complicated, so don’t fret much about it at all. Also, if you want a good-quality video camera, you should check out our reviews for the best prosumer camcorder.

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