How to Photograph the Northern Lights

How to photograph the northern lights
Learn how to Photograph the Northern Lights like this!

How to Photograph the Northern Lights

Are you awestruck by the northern lights? Is it on your bucket-list to go see them? If so, why not learn how to photograph the northern lights well before you go?

In this post, I’ll show how to photograph the northern lights so you can take home awesome photos to show your friends and family.–

Camera – The camera I use is an Olympus OMD-EM10 which is a fantastic camera for long exposure photography and night photography. It has a few features which really help and I’ll detail one of those features called “Live Composite” in a later blog post.

Really though, to take good Northern Lights photos, you should just have a camera that will allow you to take a long exposure. Ideally, you should also be able to manually change the ISO, Aperature, Shutter Speed and Focus. Best types of camera would be DSLR’s or Mirrorless as these will allow you to change many of these settings. In recent years though, some cell phone cameras like the one on the LG V30 and most recent I-Phones will allow you to capture northern lights when the displays are strong enough.

ISO – You should set the ISO on your camera as high as you can take it without getting too much grain into your photo. For me on my Olympus, it’s typically around 1600 to 2000ISO. Depending on your camera, this will be higher or lower, but unless it’s a really strong aurora, you will want your ISO set high.

Aperature – To allow the most amount of light into your cameras sensor, you will want to set your aperature to its lowest f-stop setting. I use a Samyang 12mm F2.0 lens and usually use the lowest F2.0 setting for northern lights to make sure I’m getting enough light in.

Shutter Speed – If you don’t have a feature like “Live Composite” on my Olympus, then typically you will need to test this setting out a bit because it can change through the duration of the northern lights event. When you first set up, you will probably want to set your shutter speed to a number around 5 to 10 seconds, and see if it’s bright enough.

If you are starting to get some of the green glow of the Aurora, then just increase your shutter speed by a second or 2 and then take and check again. If however, you aren’t getting any of the green glow, increase it to 15 to 20 seconds and check again. It will take a bit of trial and error to get the right exposure setting. Especially if it’s a really strong aurora event, you may not even have to set the exposure to 1 second. In the brightest events I’ve witnessed, my shutter speed was less than 1 second.

Focus – I would recommend using manual Focus. During the light of the day, find an object like a tree far out in the distance and use that to set your lens to infinity. Make a note of where that is on your lens and remember it for the evening.

*Tip: Try to find something interesting the foreground to make your photos more interesting. Whether it’s a log, an abandoned building or a forest, it helps the image be more exciting with the aurora in the sky.

Have you seen the northern lights or have other tips for taking photos of them? Post them in the comments below and let us know! Also, check out the gallery below of some more Aurora photos I’ve taken during my travels.

Northern Lights in Abisko
Northern Lights in Abisko
Northern Lights in Abisko
Northern Lights in Abisko
Northern Lights in Abisko
Northern Lights in Abisko


Michael Mellinger

Having traveled to over 50 countries, travel is in my blood. When not working, I love to take trips to the countryside in Korea or go to other countries to experience the culture and sights. Travel enriches so much of our lives and hope to promote travel through my posts.

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