For advanced aurora photography, we recommend these links. All are easy to understand.
Robert Lype Alaska Dispatch How to Photograph the Northern Lights
Dennis Mammana Photographing the Aurora
Dick Hutchinson Shooting the Aurora Borealis
Patrick Endre Alaskaphotographics
Carl Donohue How to photograph the aurora borealis
Lee Petersen Camera settings for Aurora Photography
Point and Shoot cameras:
Quick Tips for those who have never photographed the aurora, or who have absolutely no idea how to use their camera:
You can use almost any camera. It does not have to be a “big” camera, a “fancy” camera, or an expensive camera. It does need to have certain features: ISO, shutter speed, and temperature (Kelvin). Most older cell phones cannot take pictures of the aurora, but you can download an app such as Camera FV-5 or Cameringo+ Effects Camera. Newer smartphones can capture the aurora, just put your camera on manual settings (some phones call this the Pro setting). Many photographers ignore tips and tricks for point and shoot users. Many dismiss your camera as not being good enough. Many also give wrong information about using your camera. Maybe they forgot how to use them? The key to success with your camera is to ROCK YOUR CAMERA BEFORE upgrading to an expensive one that is WAY more complicated to use!
1. Turn your camera on Manual or Pro, not automatic. This may be marked “M” or “Manual”.
2. If you have a Canon, you may see a setting called “Long Shutter”. For Nikon, this may say “Night Scene”. The name may be different on your camera but the symbol may be a moon.
3. Set your ISO to 800. After you get the hang of it, you can play around with the ISO to adjust what you like and what your camera is capable of. For now, just put it on 800 ISO.
4. For the shutter speed, set it on 15″ (15 seconds). This number can also be changed according to the brightness of the aurora, or as you get the hang of what your camera can handle. Small, cheap cameras usually need this longer time. More expensive cameras, or cameras with faster lenses can capture aurora at far less than 15″. Give it a try. If it is very dark (no moon), try for even longer if your camera can do that.
5. For the white balance (WB), keep it on AUTO for now. When you get the hang of what your camera can do, change up this setting to see how your night shots turn out. Use the K (Kelvin) setting to change up the temperature, depending how bright the aurora is. Practicing on the night sky with no aurora or city lights is a good idea to see what your camera can do.
6. For colors, you can keep it off or turn it on vivid.
7. Set your focus to infinity. Sometimes this symbol looks like little mountains, or a sideways number 8. It is the opposite of macro, which is sometimes shown as a little flower symbol and means close-up. You want to focus on a far away object, like a star or a far off streetlight. It doesn’t matter if you want to take a picture of a person and the aurora. Do not focus on the person. Focus to infinity, always.
8. Put your self-timer on 2 seconds, so that when you click the button, your camera won’t shake when the picture is taken. If you have a remote control shutter, than use it instead for even more shake control.
9. You must put your camera on a hard, unwavering surface or use a tripod. You can take a picture while holding your camera, but it will be blurry. If you place your camera on top of your car, turn off the engine, and the kids and dog should remain perfectly still (just get a tripod!!!)
10. Point your camera to the aurora. If there is light pollution between the camera and the aurora, your camera will pick it up. This will put too much light on your photo. Turn off all of your vehicle lights (and close the door — always have a spare set of keys in your pocket in the winter!), don’t point your phone light on your camera, etc.
If you are in the Fairbanks area and are interested in learning more about aurora photography,
The Aurora Chasers tour by Ronn and Marketa Murray is recommended.