How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights!

Witnessing the Northern Lights is truly a spectacular experience ~ it looks like the sky is alive, on fire, & actually dancing!  If you’re traveling during winter in Iceland, Norway, Finland, or even Canada, & want to document your Northern Lights experience, this post will give you specific instructions on how to take photos of the Northern Lights.  

Most likely, you WON’T be able to use the regular settings on your camera: your photos simply won’t turn out.  And most phones (except possibly the newest ones) won’t capture them either, unless the lights are super bright that night.  

But don’t count on it!  

Read on for your step-by-step guide to getting amazing Northern Lights pictures.  

How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights

Northern Lights in Iceland, courtesy of Guide to Iceland 

 Equipment You’ll Need:  

High-Quality Camera ~ You’re looking for a full-frame DSLR camera, with high ISO capability.  Full frame means 35mm or larger sensor, & high ISO equates to less “noise” in your photos.  A wide-angle lens is ideal (14-24mm range), with fast aperture.  Good options include: Nikon D800 or Canon 5D Mark IV.  

Tall Tripod ~ The Northern Lights often occur high up in the sky, meaning a short tripod won’t do you any good.  And without a tripod, your pictures will look like a fuzzy green blur.  A tripod is necessary for taking high-quality Northern Lights pictures.  You can get really expensive with tripods ~ or if you’re more of an amateur, go for Amazon’s lightweight travel tripod.  

Instructions for Camera Settings

These are general instructions that will work for most cameras.  They come straight from the Northern Lights Museum, located in Reykjavik, Iceland ~ it doesn’t get more official than that!  However, every camera is a little different.  Use these guidelines as a starting point, and if they don’t work for your camera ~ make slight adjustments until you get it right.  Read up on your particular camera to determine its ideal settings ~ then play with it out in the field.  Bring a flashlight!

1. Put your camera in manual mode (M).

2. Adjust your exposure time to approximately 20 seconds.  

3. Adjust aperture to 3.5 or lower.

4. ISO to 800.  

How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights, Girl Who Travels the World

Courtesy of Guide to Iceland

How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights!

How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights, Girl Who Travels the World

Me in Iceland, at the Northern Lights Museum.

Did these camera settings work for you ~ & what kind of camera were you using?  Where did you see the Northern Lights?  In Iceland, we saw them twice: the first time was in a town called Selfoss, near the Golden Circle.  The second time, we saw them right outside the Blue Lagoon, in Grindavik.  Let me know about your Northern Lights experience in the comments below! 

Read Next: Top 5 Waterfalls in Iceland!

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Noelle Bertram is a restaurant owner, former fitness coach, Huffington Post writer, & all-around entrepreneur who travels full-time now & writes all about it! Catch up with her on Instagram or @ her website about being the ultimate, fearless travel girl: GirlWhoTravelstheWorld.com.
Why I Use World Nomads Travel Insurance

Whenever I travel ~ especially if I’m traveling solo, I always get travel insurance.  It gives me the peace of mind to go out and have all kinds of adventures, because I know someone’s got my back.  Who do I use? World Nomads. They cover you whether you’re sky-diving, spelunking, or volcano-boarding in Nicaragua: they’re not your average insurance company.  Read more about travel insurance here.

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