Advice needed, Northern Lights

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by shane_butler|1, Jan 24, 2018.

  1. Hi

    I am going to see the northern lights in march (if they show up) and am looking to discover the best settings to get a good photo bearing in mind it will be dark and i wont be able to use a tripod. I am using a nikon d3200.
  2. You will need to use a fast lens, f/2.8 or faster, and a high ISO. Most, if not all, aurora images are made using a tripod as the shutter speeds needed will be in the seconds. Typical settings would be f/2.8, 10-15 seconds at ISO 1600 or higher, on a tripod. I don't think you would be able to get acceptable results hand-held. Very high ISO's would mean lots of noise.

    How to Photograph the Northern Lights
  3. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

  4. Like William, I recommend getting your camera on a tripod.

    One night in 2017, I was lucky enough to set up to shoot a dark sky full of stars and have the northern lights fire up.

    I was set to ISO 800, and was using a DX 10mm lens (on a D800), shooting at f2.8 for 30 sec.

    Colours were spectacular on the image, but as I looked at the sky itself, I saw very dark purple and very dark green against a dark sky.

    The northern lights may light the sky, but they will not be as bright as daylight.
  5. "...and i wont be able to use a tripod."

    - If this is a transport restriction issue, then consider buying a cheap tripod at your destination. You can get lightweight tripods for around €15 - $20 USD. Or hire one. As long as it's not too windy a cheap tripod will do the job. At a push a beanbag on a rock will be better than nothing.
  6. Thanks for the advise lads. The reason for me not being able to use a tripod is that im seeing them from a boat so even though i could possibly bring one i probably wouldnt be able to keep it steady.
  7. Ah, good reason. Can you acquire or hire a motorized gimbal? Fortunately they've become more common as home video has become popular. I'm not sure how much they'd help with a 10+-second exposure, but I'd guess at least somewhat. It might still help to mount it on a tripod.

    Just a thought; I've not tried it.
  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    That's not the most convenient shooting scenario.

    Then back to your original question... you'll be dealing with relatively long exposure times so you'll need to minimize the pitch roll and yaw of the vessel and that is assuming the vessel will be not under motor or be at anchor ( i.e. not moving forward).

    Get to the middle of the vessel; use as high an ISO as reasonable/possible; the fastest aperture such that you get the shortest possible shutter speed, bracket the exposures and make lots of exposures use some support, good luck.

    Andrew Garrard likes this.
  9. SCL


    Assuming you will be viewing from a ship rather than a boat, the vibrations from the engines can cause blurring as well as the movement of the ship. You might consider shooting a video rather than still shots. If you truly can't use a tripod, try a beanbag, rolled up jacket or other semi-cushioning stable device to give you a chance at getting the shot. If you're truly in a small boat...without a gimbal there is no way you will get the shot due to natural pitching and yawing. I'd suggest in the meantime, before you go on your trip, you practice shooting things like the moon and star trails so you have some familiarity with how your camera behaves in low light situations.
  10. Since more I'm curious, has anyone tried my powered gimbal idea for doing this? For motor vibration, there's something to be said for hand holding - the arm can absorb quite a bit of higher frequency shaking if something is dealing with the slow drift. There are worse ideas than taking a vast number of very noisy frames with short exposures and stacking them.
  11. Thanks for the replies. I'm now taking 2 trips. One by what I think is a ship but also a land one as well. Makes it easier i suppose if I want to get some good shots.
    Andrew Garrard likes this.
  12. Land should certainly be easier - but ships have a better chance of dodging clouds. Good luck with either. I've get to make it to see aurorae, but they're on my to-do list.

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