We had an unforgettable shooting experience on our first night in Norway. I got to experience northern light starting from a faint glow all the way to a major storm. I thought I’d share a few tips that I’ve learned from my experience, hopefully, this will improve your chance at shooting the northern lights.
We lucked out during the first few days of our visit. The earth rotated into a sunspot, so the solar wind was unusually strong during those few days. I used an App call Aurora Alert for checking on the aurora activity.Usually, you’ll need at least a Kp value of 2 to 3 for some good aurora shooting. Because of the usual earth to sunspot alignment, we had Kp values of 4 to 6 while we were there. In addition to simple aurora forecast, the app also alerts you when there is a strong Kp value and the sky is clear. Very useful, but the incredibly unpredictable weather in Norway made that feature very inaccurate. I found it was quicker to just stick my head out the window.
I also used MeteoEarth for cloud coverage forecast. It gives you a neat animation for predicted cloud coverage and movement. It’s not incredibly accurate, but it paints a picture of what kind of cloud coverage and movement you should expect.
Ideally, you want to find somewhere dark, with open sky towards the North. Interesting foregrounds are a plus. Uttakleiv Beach and Haukland Beach satisfies all these conditions, making them very popular for aurora shooting.
Tips for Shooting the Aurora Borealis
- Manual Focus – You’ll need to set your lens’ focus to infinity. Use a far away street light as a focusing point, or set your focus while there are daylight and tape down the focus ring.
- White Balance – I manually set the White Balance to 3300K on my camera. This will retain the color of the northern lights. Of course, you can adjust the WB later on if you shoot RAW, but I prefer to get things right in camera so that I can save time during post processing.
- Exposure Time – Keep it short. By keeping the exposure time short, you can retain the shape of the northern lights. I start with an exposure time of 1 to 8 seconds and adjust based on the intensity and movements of the northern light.
- Aperture and ISO – Because of the short exposure time, you’ll want to use a large aperture and high ISO for the shot. I start with F/2.8 and ISO 6400, then change it based on the brightness of the Aurora lights.
- Tripod – Tripod will slowly sink in the wet sand. So either push the tripod down a little bit or spend a few minutes waiting for it to settle. Or, bring 3 CDs and set them under each of the tripod’s legs.
Here are a few images that I caught while on Haukland Beach
At the start of the aurora activity, the light intensity was too low, so it was necessary to take an extra long exposure to properly expose for the foreground. The foreground image was taken with a 30sec exposure.
ISO6400, 16mm F/2.8 8sec
The aurora seems to hang in the sky and wasn’t moving much. So I was able to take a single 30-second exposure and still retain the shape of the aurora bands.
ISO6400 16mm F/2.8 8Sec
ISO6400 16mm F/2.8 15sec
ISO6400 16m F/2.8 8sec
ISO6400 16mm F/2.8 8.0sec
ISO3200 16mm F/2.8 8.0sec
ISO3200 16mm f/2.8 8.0sec
The northern lights were moving very fast in this shot, and it was very, very bright. Noticed how the lights were still streaking with just a 2 seconds of exposure time!
ISO6400 16mm f/2.8 2.0sec
ISO3200 19mm f/2.8 8.0sec