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Chasing the Northern Lights: A Photographer's Guide to Capturing the Dance of the Aurora

The visibility of the Northern Lights tends to be influenced by the 11 year solar cycle, during which its activity fluctuates. The period of increased solar activity is known as solar maximum. 2024 coincides with the peak of the solar cycle, which enhances the chances of witnessing the spectacular auroras! Keep reading to discover the best way to capture these amazing views with your camera 📷 ✨

The Southern Lights over Akaroa, NZ

Introduction: Unveiling the Celestial Spectacle

Welcome, fellow night sky enthusiasts and aspiring photographers! There's something truly magical about witnessing the Northern Lights, and capturing that dance of colours in a photograph is an art in itself. In this guide, we'll explore the key elements to ensure you not only witness the auroras but also immortalise them through your lens.

Forecast and Timings: Timing is Everything

The first rule of Northern Lights photography: check the forecast. Websites and apps dedicated to space weather can be your best friends - you can check the forecast schedule here. Look for nights with high geomagnetic activity (this year is perfect!). Plan your shoot during the darkest hours, typically between 10 PM and 2 AM, when the chances of spotting the auroras are at their peak.


Location: The Right Spot Makes All the Difference

Finding the perfect location is crucial. The clue is in the name; head North! The closer you are to the magnetic pole, the better your chances. Opt for locations with minimal light pollution for a clearer, more vibrant display. Lakeshores, open fields, and elevated areas away from city lights are ideal spots to set up your gear. We've found that unless you live somewhere remote, national parks are the best places to shoot night-time photography - they tend to have little to no light pollution, but also have car parks and clear walking trails, so are easy to navigate in the dark.

"Plan your shoot during the darkest hours, typically between 10 PM and 2 AM, when the chances of spotting the auroras are at their peak."

Equipment: Gearing Up for the Celestial Show

Now, let's talk gear. You don't need the most expensive equipment to capture the Northern Lights, but a few essentials can significantly improve your results. Invest in a sturdy tripod to keep your camera steady during long exposures. A wide-angle lens with a low aperture (f/2.8 or lower) will help you capture more of the expansive night sky and allow more light into your shots. You will struggle to capture a good image of the night sky on your phone due to the small sensor size and lack of real shutter control. For the best results, you will want a DSLR or mirrorless camera and it's no surprise that ones with bigger sensors work best. We advise using a camera with an APS-C sensor or larger. If you want more information on specific cameras, you can read more in our previous post about shooting nighttime photography here.

Camera Settings: Unveiling the Mysteries of the Night Sky

Here comes the technical part, but fear not! If you're new to this, set your camera to manual mode and start with an ISO between 800 and 1600 to capture the faint light of the auroras. Choose a wide aperture (low f-number) to allow more light in. Experiment with shutter speeds; a good starting point is around 15-20 seconds. Keep an eye on your histogram to ensure your exposure is balanced, and don't forget to shoot in RAW for more flexibility during post-processing.

Armed with this guide, you're now ready to embark on your Northern Lights photography adventure. Remember, patience is key—nature's light show doesn't always follow a strict schedule. Set up your gear, embrace the darkness, and let the Northern Lights guide your lens to capture a celestial masterpiece. Happy shooting! 📷✨

And don't forget to enjoy the view with your eyes!

Thanks for reading, and happy snapping!

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