Capture a Stunning Aurora Borealis Show with these Tips

Nov 16, 2021

Recently there's been a bit of hype around the Aurora Borealis. The Aurora Borealis is a naturally occurring phenomenon seen in the northern hemisphere night sky. It results from the collision of electrically charged particles ejected from the sun as they enter into and collide with gasses in the earth's atmosphere. The result can be breathtaking displays of green lights and sometimes purples, blues, reds and pinks. 

The solar cycle for Auroral activity is currently ramping up and is expected to peak in 2025. This upward trend in Aurora activity might allow you to turn your camera towards these incredible lights in the night sky. 

However, this experience can be unpredictable and rarer than many other landscape photography opportunities. Therefore, you'll want to be prepared when the possibility of Aurora activity pops up. Following are a few tips that'll help you capture this spectacular and magical event should you have the opportunity. 

1. Download Space Weather Live

In my chase of the Aurora, this app is the one I rely on for success in capturing those coveted dancing lights in the night sky. In my experience, this app has the most accurate information. So check this app often and set up alerts so that you're aware of any potential for Auroral activity. 

2. Scout dark sky locations during the day

The Aurora is best viewed in dark skies away from city lights like any night landscape image. So during the day, take the time to scout quality dark sky locations for possible Aurora photography while being mindful of private property, safety and distance from your home.

Many rural locations within a reasonable distance from city lights offer excellent viewing and photographing opportunities. However, it's essential to be mindful that properties in and around cities are often privately owned. Never venture onto private property without the consent of the owner. 

Keep in mind that hazards exist at night, especially when venturing out alone. One should always be wild animal aware. When pulling off the road at night, be sure to stop in a safe location away from oncoming vehicle traffic. All photographers should also have an emergency preparedness plan and travel with basic needs when venturing out into the night. 

The Aurora follows her schedule. Light displays can last a few short minutes or continue well into the early morning hours, only fading once daylight advances upon the horizon. Driving while tired is never a good idea, so be aware of the distance from your home and make good choices about driving after a night of viewing and photographing the Aurora. 

ISO 3200, 14mm, f2.8, 20 seconds

3. Be comfortable with your camera in the dark

The Aurora dances at night, and if you want to photograph a show, you'll need to be comfortable operating your camera in the dark of the night.

Practice photographing the night sky when the Aurora isn't dancing, and become comfortable changing your camera settings in the dark. Know how to ensure you're shooting in a RAW format and become comfortable with changing white balance, attaching and using an intervalometer and setting focus and exposure.

ISO 2000, 35mm, f2.2, 13 seconds

4. Use manual exposure mode

The best exposure mode to capture any landscape images in is manual exposure mode. When photographing the Aurora, you'll want to use manual exposure mode. Try starting with settings around ISO 3200 and use an aperture one stop down from your lens' widest aperture; for example, if your lens opens to f1.8, try an aperture of f2.5. Pay close attention to the shutter speed during an Aurora event. A slow-moving Aurora will be best captured at shutter speeds between 10-25 seconds. A fast-moving Aurora will be best caught at shutter speeds between 1-10 seconds. Keep in mind that your ISO and aperture will need to be adjusted depending on the darkness level of the night sky and shutter speed choice. 

ISO 4000, 35 mm, f2.5, 2 seconds

5. Include an interesting foreground

Landscape photography and astrophotography are similar as both aim to capture the beauty within the night sky. However, a landscape photographer should choose a location with some visual landscape elements. Landscapes do not have to be grande such as vast mountain scenes. A simple tree on a horizon is effective; however, notable foreground elements add visual interest to any Aurora image. 

ISO 2000, 35mm, f2.2, 30 seconds

6. Don't forget to fill the frame with only the night sky

The Aurora dance can hold visual attention without extraneous landscape elements. Don't be afraid to turn your camera towards the night sky and capture frames filled with colourful lights.

ISO 2500, 35mm, f2, 1.6 sec

Photographing the Aurora is always a unique and magical experience. Winter months offer more opportunities with darker skies and increase the success of photographing the spectacular dance of the Aurora. 

With the above tips, my wish is that you'll have the opportunity to not only experience but also photograph the beautiful dancing light of the Aurora very soon.