Methods to {Photograph} the Northern Lights and Maintain Heat Doing It


Northern Lights images shouldn’t be like different evening images; it has challenges that go approach past regular evening images challenges – particularly…the chilly! You solely get Northern Lights within the winter when you could have these beautiful darkish skies. As well as, the aurora oval revolves across the geomagnetic north pole putting you in a few of the coldest environments on earth. All of this implies you’ll be ready out within the chilly for the right {photograph} of the northern lights.

In case your dream is to {photograph} the northern lights, then you definately’ll must be in the proper place, have the proper digital camera tools, and be ready together with your digital camera settings. And also you’ll need to make sure that you keep heat when you are working in your good {photograph}.

I’ve spent numerous time photographing the northern lights in Alaska. I’ve even been fortunate sufficient to see the southern lights on a cruise to Antarctica! From these experiences I’ve amassed an intensive checklist of ideas for guaranteeing your aurora images seems nice, you keep heat, and have enjoyable. I’m excited to share the following pointers for capturing the Northern lights whereas staying cozy.

What are the Northern Lights?

I’m no scientist – however I can inform you aurora borealis is a recipe made up of the solar, photo voltaic bursts, photo voltaic wind, the earth’s magnetic fields, and our environment. If you would like an in-depth rationalization, try this Northern Lights Outlined article.

Indigenous Explanations of the Northern Lights

Along with the scientific rationalization, there are additionally Indigenous explanations too. The Alaskan Native individuals and Inuit imagine that the Northern Lights are the spirits of their ancestors searching within the evening sky, and that’s why they’re lively and shifting.

One other model is the spirits of the ancestors watching over their family members on earth. The spirits are so pleasant, it’s mentioned you may invite them for a ‘dance’. While you dance, they are going to be a part of you dancing and you may primarily ‘dance them out’.

After I was advised this, I questioned if the Hokie Pokie dance would work – it’s the one dance I do know! A minimum of when you select to ‘dance them out’, it’s additionally a good way to remain heat concurrently!

The place to Discover the Northern Lights

You discover the northern lights underneath the aurora oval. The oval thickness modifications periodically, however usually, you’ll discover the aurora oval across the Earth’s geomagnetic poles. You’ll additionally want clear skies so as to see the northern lights. Which means that a few of the greatest odds of seeing them are locations with clear skies.

My favourite place to {photograph} the aurora borealis is Fairbanks Alaska. It’s within the Alaskan inside, which suggests extra clear skies and a better likelihood of seeing them. Plus there are many nice issues to do in Fairbanks (canine sledding, snow mobiling, along with chasing aurora!

Another nice locations are:

  • Yellowknife Canada (Yukon)
  • Churchill Canada (Manitoba)
  • Northern Norway
  • Iceland
  • Northern Finland
  • Greenland
  • Northern Sweden

In fact, you could possibly {photograph} them in Minnesota or Montana – nevertheless, the percentages are a lot decrease. I desire to go to locations underneath the aurora oval the place I’ve a positive aurora forecast more often than not, and good odds of clear skies for the very best images. That’s Alaska for me.

northern lights photography alaska
Alaska is my favourite place to {photograph} the aurora

Digital camera Gear You’ll Want for Photographing the Northern Lights

There are just a few additional issues that you simply’ll want for evening images, and particularly northern lights footage, which might be totally different from a typical images gear checklist.


I by no means usually journey with a tripod, however within the case of evening images, it’s a should. You’ll desire a good sturdy one that may cope with wind. Plus – ensure that it isn’t steel. Metallic tripods can get extremely chilly, and also you don’t need to contact freezing-cold steel, even with gloves. I exploit the Peak Design Journey Tripod which is extremely small however sturdy and quick to get into place!

Peak Design Journey Tripod

That is the smallest and sturdiest journey tripod I’ve discovered available on the market. That is an aluminum model (3.4 lbs) – however additionally they have carbon fiber (2.8 lbs). A journey tripod that packs all the way down to the diameter of a water bottle—with out compromising top, stability, or options. Plus, it is really easy and quick to setup and take down!

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Huge Angle Quick Lens

Any lens will work, however the wider the lens, the higher. Northern Lights can take up a giant space of sky and also you need to seize as a lot of the present as attainable along with the foreground. In reality, if you’re doing northern lights images beneath the aurora oval, the aurora will usually present up arcing throughout the sky like a rainbow. To seize that total shot, you will have a wide-angle lens.

When in Fairbanks, Alaska, photographing the aurora borealis, I shot with a 10mm or 18 mm more often than not. Typically, a focal size of 14 to 30mm is what you need to purpose for. Fairbanks is often immediately beneath the aurora oval, so it’s good to have the ability to get a giant large view of how excessive within the sky the lights climb. Nevertheless, a 24 mm additionally works, however you’ll probably not get the total arc of the northern lights. Simply bear in mind {that a} 10mm lens tends to distort issues within the foreground.

northern lights photography

As well as, the quickest (lowest F cease quantity reminiscent of f1.8 or f2.8) lens you should utilize the higher. This lets you work with extra mild – one thing that’s briefly provide throughout evening images. And not using a quick lens, exposures will must be longer, and that may are likely to blur the aurora extra. My quickest, widest lens solely went to f4, and I might nonetheless shoot at shutters of 10 seconds with out an excessive amount of of an issue. Use what you could have in fact – as a result of something is healthier than nothing!

Lease a Lens for Aurora Images

In the event you don’t have a large angle, quick lens, don’t concern – you don’t have to exit and spend 1000’s of {dollars} on a lens only for northern lights images. As a substitute, you may hire an important lens for Aurora images.

I’ve rented from each Borrow Lenses prior to now. I rented the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2 for Sony E-mount for ten days costing aproximately $120. This consists of transport. I didn’t get the insurance coverage although as I’ve different journey insurance coverage that may cowl it. Facet word – I all the time really feel just like the insurance coverage is a sham on this stuff. Earlier than buying the insurance coverage out of concern, first test to see if any of your different insurance coverage (dwelling, journey, bank card) will cowl the lens.

This was an important lens with high-quality glass for capturing the northern lights. You may clearly get one thing even higher just like the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Artwork E Mount. That’s the wonderful thing about Borrow Lenses – you may check out a lens before you purchase it.

Digital camera

I exploit a Sony A7iii mirrorless digital camera. Not too way back I switched to mirrorless from my Canon DSLR system. The primary factor to search for in a digital camera used to {photograph} the northern lights is low-light efficiency (increased ISO). ISO vary of 100-51200 is good. As well as, battery life and climate sealing are additionally necessary, which is crucial for the lengthy and chilly nights underneath the Northern Lights.

camera gear for northern lights

A digital camera with guide mode is required for northern lights images. You should have the ability to management f-stop, shutter speeds, and ISO, every manually – extra on the settings for northern lights beneath. Full-frame cameras may even produce a better-quality picture.

Crimson Gentle Head Lamp

Not solely will you want some form of mild to mild up the digital camera controls and modify your digital camera, however you’ll additionally desire a highly effective mild that will help you mild up the foreground, test your focus, and make your Northern Lights images much more picturesque.

It takes about 20-Half-hour on your eyes to completely darkish adapt when doing images at evening. A crimson mild is non-glaring, so it may possibly make it easier to see higher at evening. Activate a white mild and smash the darkish adaptation of you and everybody round you. Due to that white flashlights and mobile phone lights are discouraged at northern lights viewing.

Black Diamond Storm 400 Headlamp, Azul

The Storm 400 additionally has three totally different coloured evening imaginative and prescient modes and peripheral white lighting for close-range actions like rigorously re-racking for the ultimate summit pitch at the hours of darkness. The headlamp has our Brightness Reminiscence function, which lets you flip the sunshine on and off at a selected brightness with out reverting again to the default, full energy setting.

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Distant Shutter Launch

This isn’t required, however many individuals use distant shutter releases for evening images to scale back any chance of digital camera shake whenever you bodily hit the shutter button. Some distant releases have extra choices like an intervalometer, lightning set off, and distant management of digital camera settings.

Additional Batteries

In chilly climate, battery life goes quick. Be sure to all the time have additional batteries if you end up chasing the northern lights. Take greater than you suppose you’ll want! In Fairbanks, I used to be usually capturing in -10 to -20, and our digital camera battery life was minimal.

My rule is to deliver double the batteries than what you suppose chances are you’ll want. I had 5 with me and there have been nights the place I virtually went by all of them.

northern lights photography tips batteries
Hand heaters are your batteries’ greatest mates!

Hand Heaters

Sure – these are nice to must maintain your arms heat – however much more importantly they’re nice to maintain your additional digital camera batteries heat. The chilly will sap your batteries even when they aren’t in your digital camera – so hand heaters are actually useful whenever you {photograph} the northern lights. I’ve used a budget little disposable handwarmers, however I’m actually loving the brand new electrical ones that may be merely recharged with USB and used over and over.

Magnetic Rechargeable Hand Heaters

Electrical Pocket-Sized Handwarmers with 3 warmth settings will maintain your arms toasty heat within the chilly temps. These are ultra mild and skinny and can simply slot in your pockets. As well as they warmth up actually quick, and can final for aproximately 4 to eight hrs.

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Northern Lights Images Suggestions

You’ve acquired all of your gear, however the following pointers are important for the distinctive surroundings your digital camera gear will face when out within the freezing chilly!

As soon as Your Digital camera is Exterior, Go away It Exterior

That is the very first thing to know and comply with religiously. Your physique can go out and in of the chilly with little dire influence moreover being uncomfortable; nevertheless, your digital camera can not. Don’t topic it to the large temperature swings inside and outside, because it results in condensation inside your digital camera, to not point out it’s simply rattling robust on the digital camera usually.

Set your digital camera up on the tripod, situate it outdoors within the space the place you need to shoot, after which go away it there till you’re carried out capturing fully for the evening. You’ll must acclimate whenever you come again outdoors, however your digital camera received’t, and that may guarantee you will get the Northern Lights images you’re hoping for.

Professional Tip: “In the event you should take your digital camera inside from the chilly, place it again in your digital camera bag or backpack earlier than you return onto the nice and cozy space. Maintain it within the closed bag, which is stuffed with the identical chilly air that surrounds your digital camera outdoors till you return outdoors. This can forestall condensation. In the event you keep inside for an extended time frame, ultimately, it should heat up steadily, and every little thing shall be wonderful.  In the event you do expertise condensation, your solely treatment is to maintain the digital camera in a comparatively heat, dry room till it fully dries out. Solely then can you’re taking it outdoors once more.” – Dan Bailey Alaska Photographer

northern lights photography tips frozen camera
Northern Lights images is a cold enterprise…

Take Your Batteries Out of Your Digital camera

However wait! Earlier than you simply go away your digital camera sitting outdoors on the tripod, take the batteries out of it and take them inside with you. In the event you go away them within the digital camera outdoors – they are going to most positively drain and be of no use to you.

Batteries Can Come Again to Life

Usually chilly batteries are only a huge tease. They inform you they’re empty, however actually they aren’t. Simply heat them up once more in an inside pocket near your physique. Or higher but, put them in a pocket with hand heaters to get them good and toasty once more. Instantly you’ll discover that they arrive again to life. While you put them again in your digital camera it should present they aren’t empty. See…a large battery tease.

Chasing Fall – The place to Discover Autumn Colour in Alaska

Level the Lens Downward

Maintain on! I do know I do know, you could have left your digital camera sitting on the tripod with the batteries taken out and saved safely in your heat pocket – nice. However there’s yet another key factor to do earlier than you go have that scorching toddy inside. Alter your tripod head and level the lens down in direction of the bottom. This can make sure the glass on the lens doesn’t get frosted over.

I discovered this superior tip from Frank on the Aurora Bear Images Workshop. On the coldest evening we have been capturing (round -15F), I left my digital camera pointing down towards the snow on my tripod as I waited in a yurt making an attempt to heat up. After I returned to search for Aurora periodically, I observed my complete digital camera was frosted over! Nevertheless, the lens pointing on the floor was not. This manner when the aurora did come out all of a sudden – I used to be prepared! I simply popped the battery again in, readjusted the tripod head, and acquired my pictures though my digital camera was fully frosty!

Take away Your Filters

Frank at Aurora Bear additionally taught me to take away the filters on my lenses as they’ll produce a sequence of darkish concentric circles within the heart of your photograph. Plus, some filters may even scale back your out there mild. You’re already challenged with low mild circumstances when capturing the Northern Lights; don’t make it worse!

Professional tip: “Additionally, watch naked noses on ice-cold steel and plastic digital camera our bodies. If it’s chilly sufficient, you may simply frost-nip the tip of your nostril whenever you press your resist the digital camera to take images. I do know as a result of I’ve carried out it. Both attempt to maintain your face barely away from the again of the digital camera or else use some form of nostril protect or face masks. Your pores and skin will thanks.” Alaska photographer Dan Bailey

Defend Your Gear from the Subzero Temperature

At -15F, you don’t need any naked pores and skin to the touch the steel lens – the lens is approach too chilly to deal with. I exploit LensCoat LensCovers for my lenses. LensCovers are manufactured from Neoprene, And match snuggly across the lens. They shield lenses from bumps and scratches, in addition to make them simpler to carry on to when it’s freezing outdoors! This made them good for northern lights images.

You can even get tripod leg covers that are really useful for chilly climate; nobody desires to seize onto a below-freezing tripod leg!

LensCoat LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers

LegCoat® Wraps are created from comfortable neoprene are designed to wrap across the higher leg of your tripod and are simply affixed with a Velcro closure. The Wraps backing is designed to tightly grip to your tripod legs so they won’t slide. The covers act as a thermal barrier making the tripod extra snug to deal with in scorching or chilly circumstances.

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Methods to Keep Heat Whereas Photographing Northern Lights

You need to be ready for chilly climate images else you’ll be depressing AND chances are you’ll lose your alternative to get images of this spectacular occasion.

Fairbanks northern lights tours
Picture by Final Frontier Mushing Coop

One of many coldest actions to do within the winter is photographing the aurora. That is primarily since you spend numerous time standing and sitting nonetheless waiting- which is the recipe for getting chilly actually quick. I do numerous snowshoeing, and snowmobiling as out of doors winter actions and I’m seldom chilly as a result of my physique is producing warmth and utilizing vitality. Subsequently listed below are the objects I like to recommend for staying heat whereas ready for the Northern Lights to look!

Heat Images Mittens

For me probably the most difficult issues about northern lights images is holding my arms heat whereas altering digital camera settings. There’s usually a number of trial and error concerned in capturing the northern lights, you’re all the time twiddling with the buttons and settings. And meaning chilly fingers. I exploit the Warmth Firm Gloves for chilly climate images. I like them as a result of you may simply fold again the highest of the mitten to get to the digital camera buttons after which shortly fold the highest of the mitten again in your fingers to reduce warmth loss.

Warmth Firm Gloves – Heat Shell

Mitten flap with magnetic closure; merely pull the flap again and use the liner as an alternative for optimum dexterity. Nice for winter images and winter sports activities.

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Crew these images gloves up with the electrical handwarmers I mentioned above and also you’ll keep heat!

I can even advocate heated gloves too. In reality, among the finest available on the market is the Gordini Heated Gloves. They’re fairly sensible gloves – they’ll thermoregulate themselves! You may set the temperature you need them to take care of through a cellphone app!

Chilly Climate Jacket

A heavy parka is really useful for aurora images. Or you may layer wind jacket with a puffy jacket. I desire longer coats although like parkas for being out in the midst of the evening. You can even attempt a heated underlayer. Heated merchandise have actually come a great distance prior to now few years. They’re much extra reasonably priced and the warmth performance is all the time enhancing every year.

The North Face Girls’s Down Parka

The North FaceWomen’s Soar Down Parka gives winter safety from the highest of your head to your knees. This cold-weather coat options waterproof DryVent cloth and 550-fill down insulation. Not as soon as was I chilly in Alaska on this parka!

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12/17/2023 02:17 pm GMT

Sahara Girls’s Heated Jacket

Nice for a layer underneath your favourite winter coat.

From Gobi Warmth – 10 hrs of Warmth | 3 Warmth Zones | with Battery & Charger | Machine Washable | All Day Heat

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12/14/2023 11:17 pm GMT

Socks and Boots

Standing out on the snow for lengthy intervals of time doing images means inevitable chilly toes. You need to use the disposable toe heaters – nevertheless I’ve discovered that the electrical socks are actually nice alternate options too! Granted – they’re extra of an funding – however they’re nice for any chilly climate exercise like snowboarding or snowshoeing. I used the Gobi heated socks on my final journey and was actually pleased with them.

Gobi Warmth – Heated Socks

12 hours of Warmth | Battery and Charger Included

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12/15/2023 08:17 pm GMT


Oboz Bridger 7″ Insulated B-Dry Mountaineering Boot

Sooo – snug and heat! These are my go-to winter insultated boot. I exploit them for snowshoeing and on a regular basis round city stuff when it is actually chilly. O Match Thermal insoles present stability and assist whereas decreasing warmth loss to maintain your ft blissful!


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Different Gear to Keep Heat Chasing Aurora

Seirus Magnemask Combo Clava

OMG – I like this for actually chilly climate! The masks is secured by a magnet and it is simple to drag down and flip again up. Breathable and heat!

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12/17/2023 02:17 am GMT

Nepal Hand Knit Ear Flaps Beanie

  • 100% Wool Hand Wash Solely
  • 100 % New Zealand Wool Fleece Lining. (Itch free)
  • ❤ Truthful Commerce and handmade in Nepal. Hand knit one by one, not mass produced so there could also be minor variations in shade and imperfections.

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12/18/2023 07:47 am GMT

See my full checklist of substances for excessive climate right here

Enhance the Total Expertise of Your Northern Lights Images Outing

Have a Place to Wait Inside

The Northern Lights are unpredictable, and heat is crucial in Fairbanks as you wait. If you are able to do a Northern Lights journey that has an indoor choice the place you may wait inside – that is a lot most popular. And if it has foods and drinks…even higher! In case you are merely ready in a automotive – simply be sure you have sufficient fuel and maintain the automotive working and the warmth on!

northern lights alaska

Deliver Some Scorching Drinks

There’s nothing higher than a piping scorching mug of scorching chocolate whilst you look forward to the aurora forecast to enhance! Many Northern Lights excursions may have issues like scorching chocolate, tea, espresso, and instantaneous ramen to maintain your insides heat. Or when you go by yourself, make sure to deliver a thermos of scorching drinks.

Embrace a Full Moon

Opposite to in style opinion, the total moon can mild up your northern lights scene completely.

It’s necessary to notice a full moon doesn’t obscure the sunshine of the aurora, in truth, the brilliant moon usually enhances the distinction between the surroundings, snow, and the aurora offering a pleasant pure mild within the foreground.

northern lights photography tips
The complete moon can mild up your scene completely

Know Your Instructions

After speaking with physicist Peter Delemere on the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, we discovered if you end up armed with slightly information, you may have a greater expertise. Peter urged figuring out your instructions (N/S/E/W) and figuring out the place the aurora oval is so you’re looking in the proper path. In Fairbanks, the aurora oval usually sits simply to the north. So whenever you get to your capturing location, arrange your gear pointing north and watch the northern horizon for the primary indicators of the aurora.

Take an Aurora Picture Workshop

northern lights photography workshop
Frank serving to me with my settings. Take a photograph workshop the primary evening!

In fact, the quickest and simplest way to enhance your Northern Lights images is to take a workshop the primary evening you exit! We went to Aurora Bear Images Workshop and had a one-on-one expertise with Frank Stelges who set us up for our future nights of aurora chasing!

Greatest Digital camera Settings for Northern Lights Images

I’ve slightly guidelines I carry on my Evernote cellphone app so I can all the time check with it. All it’s important to do is be sure you have all digital camera gear I discussed above, and simply comply with these steps to nice aurora images!

1. Activate Handbook Mode

That’s proper…Northern Lights images means it’s essential to get out of auto. No auto exposures, no autofocus, no auto ISO. That is the place the rubber hits the highway in images and you’ll have to perceive guide settings.

In case you are at present questioning what guide settings are, then I recommend you’re taking a category BEFORE your Northern Lights journey so you know the way to make use of your digital camera’s guide settings, find out how to modify them, and why.

2. Activate Handbook Focus

Sadly, your digital camera, irrespective of how fancy it’s, can not auto-focus at the hours of darkness. It’s guide all the best way child!

3. Set Focus to Infinity

In the event you don’t have an infinity setting, then you definately’ll need to doubtlessly take your digital camera out within the daylight and focus it on probably the most distant object you may see and make a mark in your digital camera as to what that focus spot is. Or go away it on the market and don’t contact it. However truthfully, most DSLRs and lenses have infinite settings as of late. They aren’t all good although so it nonetheless could also be slightly trial and error.

4. Flip Off Auto ISO

Begin with a setting round 1600 and modify from there. Dn’t be discouraged if it’s important to change it quite a bit earlier than you’re pleased with it.

photographing nothern lights in alaska

5. Activate Your Digital camera Timer

In the event you don’t have a distant shutter launch, then activate the timer. I usually have a 10-second timer set for evening sky images. This manner you may press the shutter and watch the countdown whereas your digital camera is totally nonetheless.

6. Set Aperture

My rule of thumb is to set your aperture to the bottom f-stop quantity you will get to in your lens.

7. Shutter Velocity

That is one to mess around with relying on what different mild sources are round you, together with moonlight. Longer exposures will lead to brighter photographs, however stars will streak, and the aurora will soften. Quick exposures could have sharper particulars, however dimmer photographs require extra post-processing. Begin at 15 seconds and modify. If you would like tremendous sharp stars although, then it would be best to mess around together with your different settings (like ISO) to have a slower shutter – like 8 seconds.

8. Focal Size

Zoom out to the widest you may in your lens – this ensures you’ll seize all of that lovely show within the sky.

You and your digital camera are actually ready to seize the northern lights! Nevertheless, the final ingredient you want for aurora viewing is persistence. Northern lights are by no means assured, however you may all the time select to ‘dance them out’. Work in your greatest hokie pokie and look forward to the northern lights to look and dance with you!


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