Lens for Northern Lights Photography

Discussion in 'Nature' started by sunnyindy, Dec 2, 2010.

  1. Hi. I just moved to Fairbanks area, and started shooting the Northern Lights. For my first aurora shots, I used Canon 5D Mark II + 17-40mm f4L. It came out ok... but I needed bump up the ISO to 1600-2500. The images are noisier than my taste. I'm thinking to buy new lens... I've been looking at Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II or Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM. If anyone owns these lens, please share your opinions. Or any other suggestions? Thanks!
  2. the camera, exposure and iso determine noise. You wont change anything about noise by buying a new
    lens. the Nikon d3's seem to have a foothold on the high iso.

    That said you should be able to get some relatively low noise images at those iso's. Exposure has a lot to
    do with hi iso shooting . . .
  3. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    For recent Northern Lights photography in Iceland I used ISO 200 , f4 and an exposure time of 75 seconds on my 5Dii. I still got noise, especially when i tried to lighten the photographs a little to show some form of context. The basic problem I had (outside ot the fact that I had no intervalometer and so used bulb) is that whilst my exposure gave me well exposed "lights" the sky and land around were pretty uniformly nearly black. Lightening these dark areas produced a lot more noise. Basic message here IMO to minimise noise is not to underexpose and take to provide exposures you're happy to use without much lightening in post. That will mean over exposing the "Lights" - you can always bring them down later- so that they are well to the right of the histogram though avoiding clipping. You need the black of the sky and landscape to be away from the very left of the histogram so you get some detail in there without having to make it lighter.
    Oh, and don't buy a new lens.
  4. See Patrick Endres' website alaskaphotographics.com. He's an excellent photographer who lives in Fairbanks. Look here http://www.alaskaphotographics.com/alaska_aurora_borealis_photos.shtml and here http://www.alaskaphotographics.com/how_to_photograph_northern_lights.shtml for his excellent advice on photographing the Aurora.
  5. I second Steve's recommendation that you look at www.alaskaphotographics.com No one knows more about aurora shooting than Patrick. He's also a great guy and incredibly capable and knowledgable outdoorsman\photographer.
    In short: the fastest lens you can afford is your best bet -- f/2.8 is very good, faster is even better. I think f/4 is getting too slow (your exposures will be twice as long as with f/4). If you can afford an f/1.8 or 1.4 go for it! I found 11-16mm on a 1.5x crop sensor was ideal. Focus at infinity and lock that down with gaffers tape and switch all to manual so the camera won't try to change the infinity focus. Keep ISO low enough to avoid unacceptable noise--for most people this will mean no higher than 800, probably 400 is better. Play with that, though. Sturdy tripod. Start with 30 second exposures, check histogram, and increase as necessary.
    The longer your exposures, the more diffuse the light display will be. I was getting pretty good results up to 2.5 minutes though.
  6. Although not an answer to your question. it is well worth checking spaceweather.com
    The site has information about the auroras, including the Aurora Oval and a photo gallery as well. In most cases the photographer supplies the photo information used.
  7. Hi. Thanks for good information.
    Kyle, your image is beautiful!
  8. hey Sunny
    Agreed. The faster the lens, the better. The 24mm f1.4 would be awesome. I've a 2.8, but the 2 extra stops make a huge difference. For the aurora, the faster the shutter the better.
  9. Hi Sunny
    the faster the lens the stars and movement of the lights will photograph better. I find 6 to 15 sec at 2.8 works best.
    here is a link to an Aurora forum, There is a guy that goes by santa that lives at North Pole which is the town next to Fairbanks that is very helpful. http://www2.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraAlerts/viewforum.php?f=6
    here is a link thak you might find useful. http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/Default.asp?Date=20101210
    Be sure to check out the World Ice Art Championships in March. You should get more action around the winter solstice but the weather gets better around the March equinox.

    later Rick
  10. Hi Sunny
    I am not sure if you know about the Auroral alert email system but this was just sent to me. if you have clear skys you will be in luck. We should also be able to see it here in the lower 49.
    A solar event occurred on Dec 14th that may produce auroral displays
    greater than our auroral forecast index 4, sometime after midnight
    (0836 Greenwich time) on the 16th of Dec. This means the shock may
    reach Earth sometime around midnight on Dec 15 in North America.
    Depending on the character of the disturbance following the shock,
    viewing may be good on the night of the 16th and 17th.
    Auroral Index 4 means Kp=4: Auroral activity will be active. Weather
    permitting, active auroral displays will be visible overhead from
    Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Igaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg
    and Sept-Iles, and visible low on the horizon from Vancouver, Great
    Falls, Pierre, Madison, Lansing, Ottawa, Portland and St. Johns for
    North America.

    This is the description of the event:
    Time: 2010 12 14 1503 UT
    Location: N16W55
    Shock velocity: Vs = 1000 km/sec
    Duration: Tau = 4 hr.
    Solar Wind velocity: Vsw = 625 km/sec
    Our model predicts the following:
    Mach 4.3 shock will reach Earth 2010 12 16 0836Z
    Total propagation time 41h 33m
  11. I've just returned from Fairbanks where I spent a week shooting northern lights. I shot with a 5dmk2, 16-35 2.8 L and a 50 1.8. Contrary to what some suggest of shooting longer exposures at lower ISOs, I found that long exposure blurred detail in aurora curtains, much like the smooth effect with running water. While that looks inviting in waterfall shots, I personally don't care for it with northern lights. There is an incredible amount of detail to be derived from the curtains of light but a fast lens and high ISO shooting is required. I found LR 3.0 could tame high ISO noise adequately well and I have no problems with the ISO 3200 and 6400 images I shot.
    I also used an intervalometer to shoot one sec exposures at 1.8 at two second intervals to create time lapse video sequences. Still frames really don't do justice to an aurora event. The swiftness of the movement is very hard to convey with a single frame.
  12. Charles, I also have a 50 mm 1.8 which I'm planning to go when I travel to Norway in a few days. Could you please post a couple of images you took with that lens and summarise the settings/values you used? Thanks in advance,

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