How to photograph the aurora

With the excitement growing about a possible aurora show on 12 September, I'm offering for a limited time a free download of a couple of short chapters from my soon to be published eBook "Don't be Afraid of the Dark - 21 Top Tips for Night Time Photography". These chapters are all about photographing the aurora, so if you're hoping to capture something over the weekend, feel free to download this and get access to my tips plus the story behind my first aurora capture.

In the meantime, here is some headline advice for photographing any aurora that *might* show tonight! (This advice is for DSLR owners or owners of cameras that allow you to control settings such as aperture and shutter speed).

1. Use a tripod.
2. Use Manual Mode.
3. Open your aperture as wide as it will go (lowest number possible).
4. If you are lucky enough to see some vertical columns, set shutter speed to around 15 seconds (to avoid motion blur in the structures of the aurora and to avoid star trails). If the shot comes out too dark, increase the shutter speed to 25 to 30 seconds.
5. Adjust your ISO - Aperture and Shutter are pretty much fixed so this will be where you need to play around. Set it high enough to get a decent exposure. Check the histogram for this - don't just rely on the view finder as, in the darkness, the light it gives off will fool you into thinking things are brighter than they actually are. At the same time, make sure it's not so high that the image becomes too noisy. A reasonable amount of noise can be dealt with using luminance in Photoshop or Lightroom, but too much noise will have a detrimental impact on the quality of your shot.
6. Shoot in RAW. That's a must! You will be doing post production on this, and RAW just gives you so many more options and flexibility. You'll be shooting at quite a high ISO, and RAW processing software such as Lightroom helps reduce the worst of the noise that results at high ISO.

7. Enjoy the experience of a lifetime. Take your photos of course, but enter into the moment too. It's okay to take some time just to drink it all in!

One other tip - practice using your camera with these kinds of settings on other nights when there is no aurora. This will help you be familiar enough with the settings so that you can concentrate on watching the aurora and composing your photo well. It will also mean that you will keep torch use to a minimum. It takes 10-20 minutes for your night vision to recover after switching on a torch and the less you can do that the better. Faint auroras that may appear on camera may only be visible to the most dark adjusted eyes.


See more of my aurora photographs here.