How to get the perfect Northern Lights photo


Northern Lights over the church at Thingvellir

So, you are out on a perfect night in Iceland, no light pollution and the magic swirl and dance of the Lights starts in the sky, You want to get the perfect photo, right. Here are few basic advice for setting up for the shot of a lifetime. 

A good camera with a wide lens is always going to beat the smartphone, no matter how smart it is. But nowadays, the best cameras with the built in phones will give you amazing results given they have built in manual settings or an app for that end, — and of course the tripod. Ahh, the tripod. On a cold night with up to 15 seconds exposure time, your hands are not going to be steady. Not even on a mild September night with five-seconds exposure. So, regardless of the gadget you brought, if you don’t have some sort of a tripod, that photo will always be a bit shaken, stirred or soupy. 

Make sure you’ve studied your gadget before-hand, know the settings and have it all figured out. It’s a great idea to do some exercise outside in darkness and fool around a bit with the settings to see the results you get.

If you bring a smartphone, make sure you quit all apps and turn off calls and messaging. When it comes to the moment of truth use the self-timer, say two-seconds, so your finger does not make unnecessary shaking by pushing the camera button.

Try to go for manual settings, it makes a world of a difference. First of all you want to have a very wide lens or a setting with the widest possibility (no wider then f/2.8). You want to have autofocus off and set the lens to infinity. Later, when you want to shot a photo of you and your group you measure the distance between you and the camera and set the camera lens accordingly.

Start with an ISO of 800 and move up if necessary, it will not affect good cameras. The shutter speed is the single most important factor and you may have to go up to 15 seconds, even more if the Lights are low and activity is little.

Key issues, have a good camera instead of phone, bring a tripod, experiment before-hand and read well through the manual. Few notes on surroundings, snowy mountains and a (frozen) lake will act great as for-or backgrounds. Avoid artificial lights but bring one simple headlight for your own manoeuvrings.

ps: the photo with this blog is shot by an Iceland discovery guide with no pro skills;)