If you’re an amateur like me and need a few solid tips to help you capture those mesmerising northern lights on your holiday to Iceland, Norway, Alaska or whichever winter wonderland you’re planning on visiting then you’ve come to the right place.
What you’ll need:
DSLR Camera preferably made in the last 6 years
A sturdy tripod
Cable release (optional)
First off the most vital piece of kit you’ll need is a DSLR camera, you won’t get very far without one if you’re looking to get some quality shots. I know they’re pretty pricey but you can pick up an entry-level Nikon for around £400. I bought the Nikon D3300 kit from Amazon just before my trip to Iceland, and it’s serving me pretty well (you can get yours here). Or if you’re looking for something even cheaper, head to Amazon and pick up a used DSLR for around £160. Bargain.
Next up you’ll need a tripod to keep your camera steady because you’ll be shooting with a slow shutter speed to capture those lights effectively. If you’re on a budget like me any tripod will do, I picked this light and compact one from up from Amazon that was perfect for travelling with.
More advanced photographers use a cable release to ensure that the camera stays as steady as possible when they’re shooting the lights (any sudden movements can mess up your photo), but if you’re really careful you won’t actually need one. I didn’t bother, but if you want to pick one up, again, Amazon is your best bet.
Now comes the fun part, setting up your camera. I recommend setting your camera before you leave to chase the lights to save time, and make sure you have a fully charged battery because the cold drains it. A spare battery would come in handy too just in case!
There’s no perfect recipe for capturing the lights because as with any situation, your exposure will largely depend on the light. Make sure your camera is in Manual mode and set your ISO between 800 and 3200, your aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6 and your shutter speed between 15 and 30 seconds. I had to play around with my settings a lot until I got the perfect image, but it was actually quite fun working it out. So if your first image isn’t too good, keep playing with a combination of these settings until you get the result you want. You will get there!
See below for my first (and hopefully not my last!) experience of shooting the northern lights. Tip: make sure you wrap up extra warm, you could be out in the cold for a while.
10 sec. f/3.5 18 mm
This is the first shot I got of the Northern Lights with my DSLR. It came out a bit blurry and I didn’t manage to capture the stars so I made sure to change the settings up for my next shot.
SHOOTING WITH AN IPHONE
If you really can’t afford to get a DSLR camera before your trip you can capture the northern lights with your iPhone using the Northern Lights Photo Taker app for £0.99. You can also use any other apps that allow you to shoot with a slow shutter speed. As with a DSLR, you should use a tripod for best results. However, they won’t be high quality unless the lights are really strong.
Here’s the shot I got with my iPhone:
So as you can see, it’s possible but you won’t get very good results.
Find out what how to book a northern lights tour and what else I got up to in Iceland here.
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