How to photograph the aurora borealis

Pointing your camera at the sky and clicking, will likely not give you great results. Some of the tips below may help you when trying to photograph the aurora borealis and other night sky objects.

These are some general tips to help you get started. For more specific camera recommendations, please see this post: how to photograph the aurora using various cameras.
  • Tripod: Holding a camera with your hands is not recommended. A stable tripod is a great way to secure your camera so you can take a steady, long exposure... which brings us to...
  • Exposure Time: Exposure is the amount of light a camera captures when a photo is taken. Too much light leaves the photo overexposed, too little and the photo will be underexposed and end up being too dark.results in a washed out photo (overexposed). Too little light and the photo will be too dark (underexposed). Experiment with exposure time - a quick snap won't capture very much light - but expsure time of a few seconds should be enough to get a good picture.
  • Lens: If you want to capture a skyline or a wide range of the night sky, try using a wide-angle lens. Typically these fall into 35, 28, 24, 21, 20, 18 and 14 mm.
  • Aperture: In photography, the aperture is indicated by the f-stop number. Larger stops (smaller f numbers) are better for our type of photography. Try looking for f2.8 or lower.
  • ISO: The higher this setting, the more light will be detected - but too high, and your picture will become grainy. Try experimenting around the 1-3000 mark, and adjust slightly, along with the other settings above, until you get a picture you're happy with.
  • Torch: It can take your eyes around 20 minutes to adjust to being in the dark. If you used a normal torch to look at your gear or star charts etc, then you'll lose that adjustment - and have to start all over again. If you can, invest in a red filter for your torch - or better still, use a headlamp with a red light. That colour will still allow you to see, but won't disrupt your adjusted night vision.
  • Trigger: Using the button on your camera can make it wobble a bit. If your camera will take it, try using a trigger (attached, or remote control), or if it has a timer, set it for a few seconds, so that any wobble there may have been from you touching it, has stopped before he camera starts taking the photo.
  • General: You're going to be out at night - so dress for the occasion. More layers are better than one big jacket. Experiment with all of the settings, taking photos of the stars or other night sky objects. That way you'll have a good idea what settings work for you, to capture a great shot.

If you've any other hints and tips on how to photograph the aurora borealis, please leave them in the comments below or complete this quick survey for camera settings recommendations, and be sure to check out this post on how to photograph the aurora using different cameras.

Thanks, Mark​

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