Photographing the Aurora

Photo of auroras from Yellowknife

If possible, shoot in areas where objects and landscapes in the foreground will lend visual appeal to the composition of your aurora photos. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency / University of Calgary / Astronomy North)

To photograph the aurora, you will need the following equipment:

  • A camera that will allow for long exposures (minimum 10 seconds)
  • A sturdy tripod (prevents shaking)
  • A cable release or remote (prevents shaking)
  • A wide-angle lens (recommended)

Choose a dark location with a clear view of all horizons. Using a tripod, angle your camera so your image will include both the sky and the trees for context, or take an image straight up.

To photograph an aurora without star trails, set your exposure length to between 10 and 25 seconds. Longer exposures mean brighter images; however, if the aurora is moving quickly, long exposures will produce fuzzy auroras.

Ensure there is as much light as possible entering your camera by setting the aperture to the lowest possible configuration (often this is 2.8, 3.5 or 5.6, depending on the lens you are using).

To record light with sufficient detail, set your film speed to either 400 ISO or 800 ISO. Higher film speeds collect more light and colour, but image quality is often grainy. Lower film speeds produce images that have fewer colours and stars, but are far less grainy.

The camera should be focused on the stars. Depending on the brand of your lens, the stars will come into focus when set on or near infinity. If you are using a digital camera, take a practice photo of the stars and review the image to see whether the focus settings are accurate before taking your first aurora photo.

Experiment with different combinations of exposure length and film speed. Moonlight and auroras can change the light conditions quickly, so be prepared to adapt as the night goes on.

Science is beautiful