How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights

Witnessing the Northern Lights is a spectacular experience ~ it looks like the sky is alive, on fire, & actually dancing!  If you’re traveling to Iceland, Norway, Finland, or even Canada during winter, & want to take epic photos, 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 won’t turn out.  And most phones won’t capture them either, unless the lights are super bright.  

But don’t count on it!  

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

 Northern Lights in Iceland, courtesy of Guide to Iceland 

How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights

Read on for your step-by-step guide on how to take photos of the Northern Lights!  **Also Note: the best way to *find* the Northern Lights, is to rent a car in either Keflavik or Reykjavik (where it’s easiest to rent cars), & head out around 8PM or later.  Relying on a tour to capture the Lights is a hit-or-miss option ~ having your own car gives you much more freedom & allows you to stay out as long as you want.

 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 serve you.  And without a tripod, your photos will look like a fuzzy green blur.  A tripod is necessary for taking high-quality, Northern Lights shots.  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 in Reykjavik ~ 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.  Bring a flashlight in case you need to adjust your settings in the dark!

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

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 in Selfoss, near the Golden Circle.  The second time, right outside the Blue Lagoon, in Grindavik.  Let me know about your Northern Lights experience in the comments below! 

Read Next: Top 5 Best Waterfalls in Iceland

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