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How to Photograph Northern Lights

|August 21, 2023
Konstancija is a writer who enjoys long walks and hikes in nature, "hunts" for second-hand goods, and is a frequent guest in public libraries where she loves to read and roam around stacks of books.

Photographing the Northern Lights is how you can bring something unforgettable from your adventure in Iceland. Continue to read and learn how to ensure you’d return with the best results from your Northern Lights chase.

Man Taking Photos of Aurora during Winter in Iceland

Man taking a photo of Aurora in winter

The Northern Lights are among those rare and unforgettable nature spectacles that one might want to remember for as long as possible. And one of the ways you can do this is, of course, to take a picture of it. However, getting a high-quality picture of the great Aurora Borealis requires a little effort. Thinking of ways to take one? Continue reading to learn all the best tips and tricks on taking pictures of the Northern Lights.

Preparation for Northern Lights photography

Man Photographs Aurora During Winter in Iceland

Man taking a pictures of Northern Lights at night with a camera

While it might seem that one of the most important things during the hunt of the Northern Lights is a proper camera and its settings, there are a few more steps you should consider before going out for this beautiful adventure.

Check the weather forecast

Going after the Aurora might seem like such an exciting idea that you might want to pack your bag and leave for it immediately, but what you should do first is check the weather forecast. Being such an unpredictable phenomenon, it depends on a variety of factors, one of them being the weather. To notice these colorful lights dancing in the sky, you need a dark, cloudless sky and cold temperatures. For more extensive instructions on weather, you can check out the Northern Lights forecast for Iceland guide.

Find a suitable location

For your Aurora photography, it’s best if you leave the big city lights and head to the countryside. North Iceland and Westfjords are the places with the highest chance of you seeing the Northern Lights there. This is where it stays darker for longer and the skies are less cloudy. One of the best places to find the Northern Lights is the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. It’s more than understandable that the main focus when looking for a place to see the Northern Lights is the spectacle itself, but what makes it all even better is the breathtaking surroundings, such as Skógafoss waterfall or Mount Kirkjufell. Imagine getting perfect Northern Lights pictures that show all the best Icelandic nature gems. If you're flexible on where you're hoping to catch a glimpse of the Aurora, why not join a tour on a hunt for the awe-inspiring lights?

Man Shoots Northern Lights in Iceland

Man standing in the Icelandic field taking pictures of Northern Lights

Wear proper clothes

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when preparing to photograph the Northern Lights. While your main goal might be to come back with breathtaking shots, what you should also keep in mind is your well-being during the outing. So, warm and comfortable clothes are a must. 

The first fashion rule in Iceland is to always dress in layers to ensure you’ll stay warm. Since you’ll spend a lot of time outside, wear a windproof jacket as well as warm shoes. Accessorizing is also important, so check if you have your hat, gloves, and scarf before heading out.

Best time to photograph the Northern Lights

Having in mind how "delicate" the Northern Lights are, when is the best time to spot them and create a memory that'll last forever? While it's possible to detect Aurora during any season if the conditions are in one's favor, the best time for this is considered colder seasons. So for your own convenience, it's best to do Northern Lights photography from October to March.

Tips and tricks for Northern Lights photography

Woman Photographs Aurora in Iceland with Phone

Woman taking pictures of Northern Lights with her phone

Photographing the Northern Lights can be an exhilarating experience for which you'll have to prepare in advance. This preparation for Northern Lights photography is quite complex, but there are only a few things you should keep in mind to come back with wonderful results.

Steady camera

To make sure that your shot of the Northern Lights is clear, in this case, it's best to use a tripod or find another suitable place to put your camera. Your goal is to make sure that the camera stands still to avoid getting blurry and shaky images.

Photo camera vs. phone camera

Now most of us are used to taking pictures with our phones since their camera quality is relatively high. However, for Northern Lights photography, you should switch to a camera with manual settings as you'll be making some adjustments, such as changing the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. If you don't have that kind of camera, don't worry. Check if your phone has a night mode or download an app that would allow you to change settings on your phone camera.

Manual camera settings

Camera Under Northern Lights in Iceland

Steady camera filming Northern Lights

Taking pictures of the Aurora Borealis requires some effort and time, and so, to some, it might seem like a hard thing to do, especially when it comes to camera settings. But don't be discouraged from trying to experiment with your equipment. To make the matter easier for you, here are the camera settings for the Northern Lights that you should take into consideration:

  • ISOThis setting measures the sensitivity of a camera sensor, allowing you to make the picture lighter or darker. For the Northern Lights images, the ISO depends on the surrounding conditions and other main settings – shutter speed and aperture. Since you'll be taking pictures at night, the ISO value should be from 2000 and higher.

  • Shutter speedShown as fractions of a second, shutter speed indicates how fast or slow the light reaches the camera. For Northern Lights photography, first, check out how bright the Aurora is and how fast it moves. If the lights are bright, the shutter speed should be somewhere between 5 to 10 seconds. If the Northern Lights are relatively slow and weak, extend the shutter speed from 12 to 20 seconds. 

  • Aperture – It allows you to manage the "depth," or focus, of your photo. Expressed in "f," it shows how wide the lens can open to let the light in. For Northern Lights photography, having your lens opened as wide as possible is recommended, having the lowest f-number. A tip is to have a wide-angle lens that would allow you to take more scenic pictures of the Aurora and the whole landscape.

  • White balance – This setting helps to adjust the colors in the picture to look more natural. To make sure your picture of the lights looks right, try to set the white balance between 3500 and 4000 K. 

  • Extra accessories for your camera – Taking pictures in cold weather and working on the settings might require some additional items, such as batteries and memory cards. 

Going for a chase of the Northern Lights is surely a remarkable experience that should be appropriately commemorated. And, of course, the best way to do so is by taking pictures. Now that you know how to do this, remember to enjoy it with your own eyes first. You can find out all you need to with interactive exhibits with our Aurora Museum tour combo!


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