Expert Advice on Capturing the Northern Lights

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Northern Lights Photography

Produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK), this guide offers insights for those aspiring to photograph the Northern Lights. These awe-inspiring lights, created by solar particles interacting with Earth’s atmosphere, present a challenge for photographers. In 2024, a solar maximum is anticipated, potentially resulting in the brightest displays in over two decades, making it an ideal time for photography.

Ideal Timing and Locations

The Aurora Borealis, more prominent around the equinoxes in late September and April, can be best viewed during the longer nights from November to January in the Northern Hemisphere. However, winter skies can sometimes obstruct the view. Avoid times of full moon, as it can lessen the visibility of the lights.

While the UK and Ireland have seen more displays recently, areas like Alaska, Canada, the Nordic countries, and the Arctic Circle offer better views due to minimal light pollution and their proximity to the north magnetic pole.

Norway, especially the Lofoten archipelago, Tromsø, and Kirkenes, is a prime location. Cruises along the Norwegian coast provide darker conditions, though shooting from a moving ship can be challenging. Iceland is another top destination, with its dramatic landscapes adding to the allure. Reykjavík offers night tours to escape city lights, with locations like Hotel Rangá and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula being ideal. Greenland’s stark beauty and remoteness also make it a unique choice.

Choosing a strategic location and staying for an extended period increases the chances of capturing stunning shots. Accommodations like glass domes, ice hotels, and tree-top lodgings can enhance your experience. The Aurora Sky Station in Sweden and the snowy landscapes of Spitsbergen are noteworthy for their scenic backdrops. In Finland, winter sports centers double as dark sky reserves, ideal for aurora photography.

Safe and Smart Travel Tips

As auroras typically appear late at night, dress warmly and consider group travel for safety. Keep camera batteries and phones insulated against the cold. Photography gloves are essential for handling camera equipment in freezing temperatures.

Essential Gear for Aurora Photography

A tripod is crucial for night sky photography to maintain stability during long exposures. Opt for a lightweight yet sturdy tripod and a remote shutter-release cable or use the camera’s timer to minimize shake.

Wide-angle lenses capture the vastness of the sky, but be cautious of unwanted light sources in busier areas. Composition is key; look for interesting foregrounds like trees or structures, and experiment with the rule of thirds and vertical shots.

Camera Settings

Use a low-light capable lens with an aperture of 4.0 or lower to minimize noise. Familiarize yourself with your camera’s night settings before your trip. Shooting in RAW allows for more detail in post-processing. Manual settings give you control over focus and exposure, with recommended exposures between five and 30 seconds. Use manual focus with the lens set to infinity for distant sky shots.

Smartphone Photography

Modern smartphones can capture decent aurora images. Use a tripod, a remote release, or the phone’s timer for stability. Disable the flash, use night mode or manual settings for exposure, and shoot in RAW. Aurora alert apps can predict strong displays, and some apps can even process your shots.

Nori Jemil, author of “The Travel Photographer’s Way,” offers these tips for capturing the Northern Lights. For more information and subscriptions to National Geographic Traveller (UK), visit their website (availability varies by country).

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