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How to photograph the northern lights

A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing the Northern Lights

With my short time spent in Iceland, the amount of natural beauty available in this country that I have witnessed has been absolutely breathtaking. Seeing the northern lights for the first time was a truly life changing experience, seeing something so natural yet so foreign, with a presence that goes beyond my interpretation of the world. Learning more about the reasons for the northern lights gives you a grasp on what is happening, but knowing is nothing compared to experiencing this powerful demonstration of the energy that exists beyond our world.

Although one of the most beautiful experiences I have had in Iceland, the aurora borealis has also been one of the most frustrating things to capture in a photo. With the element of surprise always being on their side, you never know when or where in the sky they will appear. Some nights they are a consistent stream, and other nights they have exploded across the sky for a couple minutes only to disappear as fast as they arrived. I have set up my camera for time-lapse only to have the northern lights show up behind me. I would then re-frame the camera, begin shooting again, and after a minute they decide to drift across the sky and situate themselves in my original framing, almost playing with me in a teasing manner.

With all the organic challenges that exist with capturing these wonderful light, none of them really matter if you are unsure of what to do technically with your camera, as they can be dancing in front of you for hours but if you have the wrong settings you may still come out disappointed. I have the advantage of being a photographer and am aware of the technical aspects needed to photograph such a thing, not to mention I have had the opportunity to spend many nights with the aurora borealis, photographing the northern lights, in order to learn more about them and experiment. I’ve even had the luxury to make mistakes, but for those who only have one opportunity to capture this experience, the idea of not getting a photo to show your friends and family what you saw is a sad one, but one I hope to help fight.

Check out our video on photographing the northern lights and get all you need to know about how to technically set up your camera for the best results. If you follow these steps and are ready to adapt to what nature offers, being an ever changing light source, you will be prepared to capture your very own northern lights photo! Good luck!

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