Photographing the northern lights
Photographing the northern lights is not as difficult as you might think. Previously, one had a SLR camera and tripod to capture the northern lights, but now it is possible to take good pictures with mobile phones that have good cameras.

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But if you want to take good pictures, you will need a little more. The description below explains how a camera works and how we can use it to capture the northern lights.

You will need

Camera with adjustable shutter speed
Tripod
Registration form (in Norwegian)
Warm clothes

Camera

When photographing the northern lights, we need a camera with the possibility of long exposures. Exposure time is the time light comes in to the image chip in the camera. This time is also called for shutter speed.

All SLR cameras and some compact cameras have this option.

Aperture and shutter speed

The northern light is weak and we want as much light as possible to the chip. On a camera, the aperture determines how much light comes into the film. If we can adjust the blender, the aperture will appear by a number on the lens. The lowest number gives the greatest opening and most light.

ISO is an indicator of the sensitivity of the camera. A low ISO number indicates low sensitivity. Since the northern lights are weak compared to the daylight, you must have a high ISO value when photographing the northern lights. The disadvantage of using high ISO value is that the noise in the image increases. Some cameras have a noise cancellation feature using high ISO value, but this goes beyond the sharpness of the image.

The noise can be reduced by applying the ISO value and using a longer closing time. This works well on northern lights that move slowly, but for northern lights with fast movements, the details will disappear at long exposures.

Ultimately, there is talk of a compromise, noise and detail or a more disturbed northern lights and less noise.

Some cameras manage to figure out how long shutter speeds to use, even when capturing the northern lights.

Tripod and remote release

If we want a long shutter speed, we need a tripod to keep the camera in place. A remote release (cordless or remote control) is used to start exposure so that we do not need to hold the camera.

When taking photos, we should note down the shutter speed and aperture we used for each image. Then we can see what gave the best result afterwards.

Observation outside

When we get out we set up the equipment. If the northern lights are present, we can start taking photos and writing in the form. Try different apertures, shutter speeds and ISO values.

Collaborating with others

If you know someone who lives far away, you can arrange to take photos at the same time. Use your mobile phone to capture the same northern lights at the same time. Compare the pictures afterwards. Were they quite alike or slightly different?

Work in the classroom

Download the pictures and discuss the results.

- Which camera settings gave the best results?
- What have you learned about photographing northern lights?

Good luck!

Northern lights
Facts about the northern lights
Mythology and superstition
Observing the northern lights
Solar activity and northern lights