So… How do you set your camera?
Step 1: mount your camera on your tripod, hook up a remote & choose a composition
It’s really important to take your Northern Lights photos while your camera is mounted on a tripod. It’s impossible to shoot long exposure photographs while trying to hold still. Even the slightest movement can result in a blurry photo.
After it’s mounted you can hook up your remote control or set your camera with a delayed shutter. This will help in decreasing any possible movement.
After it’s mounted & you hooked up the remote, you choose the widest angle you can get on your camera and make a composition of your shot.
Step 2: manually focus to infinity
The first thing you need to do, is set your camera or lens to manual focus and focus the lens to infinity. You can always try to focus, with autofocus, on the moon or a star but most cameras won’t focus in such low light. A good thing to test is whether your lens’ infinity marker is actual focused on infinity. Some lenses tend to not be fully focused on distant objects if you set it to infinity. Test this in a well lit area before making all your shots. It would be a huge disappointment if none of your shots were actually in focus.
Step 3: set your camera to manual (M)
Switch your camera to manual settings (usually marked with M). Set your aperture to the lowest number possible (this means your lens will be wide open), your ISO to 1600 and the shutter speed to 20 seconds. These are good settings to start with. I use these settings mainly to test how strong the aurora is and adjust the settings if needed.
Step 4: adjust your settings regularly
You will need to evaluate your shots and play around with the settings. If the aurora is overexposed, you want to dial down on ISO (lower ISO equals less grainy photos) and/or shutter speed (higher shutter speed will better freeze the movement). If it’s underexposed you do the opposite.
If you can increase the shutter speed, you will “freeze” the movement of the aurora (depending on how active it is), this will result in seeing the stripes that appear when you see the lights more. If your camera is not really producing a lot of grain at higher ISO’s, you can increase it so you can lower the shutter speed.
Depending on whether or not there is a lot of moonlight, you will need to adjust your settings accordingly. For example if there is a lot of snow, the moonlight will reflect a lot. This might mean you’ll have to lower the shutter speed and/or decrease the ISO. Moonlight also limits the visibility of the aurora.
Don’t forget that the Northern Lights increase & decrease in intensity. You will need to adjust your settings regularly!
Step 5: enjoy!
Don’t forget to enjoy the show and look at up at the sky – not only through your lens!