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How to photograph the Northern Lights

For photographers, such natural occurrences present a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture breathtaking images.
Last Updated : 01 June 2024, 19:53 IST
Last Updated : 01 June 2024, 19:53 IST

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The recent solar storm that produced stunning auroras across the skies from northern Europe to Tasmania in Australia had skywatchers shivering in excitement. Indeed, its vibrant colours and mesmerising celestial dance had everyone in thrall. For photographers, such natural occurrences present a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture breathtaking images. Here’s a guide to shooting them like a pro!

l Choose the right equipment: It is important to have the right gear. A DSLR or mirrorless camera with manual settings is essential. Pair it with a wide-angle lens (14-24 mm) to capture the open sky. Ensure the lens has a wide aperture of f/2.8 or limit it to f/4 to let in as much light as possible. A sturdy tripod is a must. This will avoid camera shaking during long exposures.

l Scout for that perfect location: The aurora borealis is best viewed in high-altitude regions close to the Arctic Circle. Popular spots are Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Canada. For Indians looking to embark on an aurora-chasing adventure, Norway and Finland are excellent options due to accessibility and easier visa procedures. Use apps like Dark Sky Finder or a sky map to identify dark sky locations near you. The fewer the lights, the more vivid your aurora photos will be.

l Keep an eye on the settings: Set your camera to manual mode to have full control of the settings. Start with an ISO of 800 to 1600, an aperture of f/2.8 to f/4 is best. Shutter speed ought to be between 5-25 seconds. Experiment with these settings according to the brightness of the sky. If the lights are faint, increase your ISO or lengthen your exposure time, but beware of overexposure, which can wash out the image. Focusing in the dark can be tricky, hence, switch to manual focus and set your lens to infinity. 

l Compose carefully: Composition is key. Incorporate interesting foreground elements such as trees, mountains, or buildings to add depth and context to your shots. If there is a waterbody, like a lake or a pond, compose the image to capture the reflection in the frame. The aurora alone is stunning but a thorough well-thought-out composition elevates your photos from good to great.

l Chase the light: The recent solar storm provided an opportunity to photograph the aurora in many locations, including from the Ladakh region where many sightings were reported. Enjoy the moments under the night sky, take lots of pictures and don’t be afraid to experiment. The best camera is the one you have with you. Mobile phone cameras with manual settings may also work.

Lenscraft is a monthly column on all things photography — tips, tricks and everything in between.

The writer is a photojournalist who tells stories with his pictures. Find his pictures on X and Instagram @pushkarv or mail him at dhonsunday@deccanherald.co.in

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Published 01 June 2024, 19:53 IST

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