I was excited after booking our trip to Iceland to photograph the Northern Lights. I did my research before my trip to Iceland for camera settings, as I consider myself to be an amateur photographer and am still learning my camera functions and settings. I also tracked the aurora borealis forecast on the Geophysical Institute webpage before and during the trip. Iceland/Europe was rated moderate of 3 for the two nights we would be staying out of the city. However, the moderate ratings are still amazing if you have never seen the Northern Lights before. Our last night was rated high with a 5 rating, and the lights were amazing and could be seen from Reykjavík with 180 degree views overhead. It was hard to capture all the activity.
1. DSLR Camera – A landscape/wide angle lens works best.
2. Tripod – Required for long exposure and sharp images.
3. Warm Clothing – I wore a belay down jacket, soft-shell pants, my mountaineering boots all with base layers. Synthetic clothing will keep you warm. I also suggest a piece of cardboard to stand on to add warmth to your feet.
4. Headlamp – It is best to have one with a red light option to minimize your eyes readjusting and exposure to other photographer’s photos. Keep in mind that the rest light will also light up the foreground if there is snow on the ground.
5. Intervalometer – This comes in handy for time lapse or continued cycles without messing up the camera settings.
Before you go:
Do your research and know the lowest F-Stop your lens goes to, along with the highest ISO settings. Before you go, try to capture pictures of the night sky or night city shots. This will help you become more familiar with exposure lengths, your camera settings, and how to use your intervalometer.
Camera settings will depend on your lens and how much light you have. Lighting can come from the strength of the aurora borealis, the moon, reflection on snow, or other sources. As you can see in some of my photos, I have dark foregrounds in some and light ones in others.
Always shoot in manual for lens focus and camera mode. Your f-stop should be as low as it will allow with ISO being set around 800. On darker nights with low moon light, start with a 30 second shutter. If you need more light use the bulb setting and set your intervalometer exposure to more than 30 seconds. Also, make sure you know how to work your intervalometer. I learned the hard way and was not able to use mine the first night.
If your pictures are still too dark, adjust to longer shutter speed or play with your ISO settings. On lighter nights, you will need less shutter speed. I used a 15 to 20 second shutter for my pictures my our last night.
If possible, scope out where you might want to set up in daylight. Make sure your location has minimum exposure to wind. Also, keep in mind that if it is easy to get to, you may be dealing with people who walk into your frame, try to take pictures with their camera flashes going off, etc. The further you are from the road/parking, the less likely you are to have a vehicle drive by.
Make sure you continue to move around if you are getting cold. Jump up and down or do jumping jacks.
DZJOW’s Adventure Log – How to photograph the northern lights was extremely helpful when researching how to capture the aurora borealis.