Aurora Photography

Photography, Baltics, Nordics & the World

Aurora Photography

Going to a very northern or a very southern land? Hoping to see one of the most beautiful things that you can see in the wild nature? What to expect? How to expect? What to know and what to keep in mind? We’ll try to help you with this article!
We’ve seen it just twice and with this article we hope to also help ourselves, since not practiced skills (like how to take pictures of the aurora) gets forgotten quite fast!


An aurora, sometimes referred to as polar lights, northern lights (aurora borealis) or southern lights (aurora australis), is a natural light display in the Earth’s sky, predominantly seen in the high latitude regions (around the Arctic and Antarctic).

Auroras are produced when the magnetosphere is sufficiently disturbed by the solar wind that the trajectories of charged particles in both solar wind and magnetospheric plasma, mainly in the form of electrons and protons, precipitate them into the upper atmosphere (thermosphere/exosphere) due to Earth’s magnetic field, where their energy is lost.

The resulting ionisation and excitation of atmospheric constituents emits light of varying colour and complexity. The form of the aurora, occurring within bands around both polar regions, is also dependent on the amount of acceleration imparted to the precipitating particles. Precipitating protons generally produce optical emissions as incident hydrogen atoms after gaining electrons from the atmosphere. Proton auroras are usually observed at lower latitudes.

How to know there’s a chance?

Auroras aren’t that easily predictable yet. However, if you’re going north you can rely at least a bit on the Aurora Forecast service, that gives you a tiny insight of whether you will or will not see the northern light. The service gathers multiple data from NASA and puts it together to predict via simulations and that data if there will be a chance to see the aurora. The current levels of KP tend to be relatively accurate, but the predictions that are more than 30 mins away – not so much, of course, depending on how far you actually are from the northernmost point on earth.

What are the requirements to see it?

The aurora is happening in the highest part of our atmosphere so it’s a must to have a clear sky as any clouds will not let you see it at all. To predict the weather you can check multiple weather services but even they are not 100% accurate. But even when it’s said for the weather to be mostly-cloudy or cloudy – you might get a chance to get a clear sky at least for a bit!

How to take pictures of it?

If you have a DSLR, then it depends on the picture you want it to be. If you want a clear high quality picture, then get a tripod, use long exposure, with aperture as wide as possible (The lower the number, the better), ISO 100-2000 and a not too long exposure. And always use a timer to start taking the picture, since with long exposure the camera is really sensitive and by releasing the camera after pushing the button might make it shake enough to damage the outcome!
For example, I’ve been using a camera with 3.5f lens – so I used 600 ISO and a 20 second exposure on my first try – the result was quite good!
Now I use 1.8f lens – so I use ISO 300 and a 10 second exposure – the pictures are quite fine! This point really depends on how you want to capture it and what you want your result to be. Longer exposures can also bring in quite a lot of interesting results!

If you want to snap yourself in the picture – put on a timer, turn on flash, low aperture, high iso, not too long exposure and you’re all set! The flash will make sure you will be in the pic even with long exposure and even if you’ll move a bit after the initial flash. You might be a bit fuzzy, but hey, you’ll be in a picture with the aurora!

If you see it and all you have with you is your mobile phone – you’d still be able to take a picture of it! Not the highest quality, but still! Depending on the intensity of the aurora – just bring up contrast afterwards! Might not be the best picture to sell, but enough to show your friends!


One Response

  1. […] Recently we visited – Saariselkä. A resort village in northern Finland, Lapland. It’s a gateway to the trails and ski areas of mountainous Urho Kekkonen National Park. The village’s Destination Northernmost Europe exhibition has a panorama theatre with films on the region’s plant and animal life, including reindeer. To the north, the lakefront Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos includes a craft shop and a library devoted to the indigenous Sami people. It also happens to be a place with a lot of activities for students and other travellers, and also has a good and frequent chance of seeing the aurora, since it’s located in the region that requires only KP2 for the aurora to be seen! (Check out our post about aurora photography) […]

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