Photographing the aurora borealis – for the non-photographer
I’m obviously not a photographer but I do love taking photos. When I decided on going to Iceland I knew I’d have to bite the bullet and fork out the money to buy a DSLR camera to capture the Aurora Borealis. After a lot of research I decided on a Nikon D7200. My friend gave me 2 lenses; AF-S NIKKOR 18-70mm 1:3.5-4.5G and AF-S NIKKOR 35mm 1:1.8G. I had about nine months to learn how to use it, and it still confuses me! There are a lot of websites explaining how to capture the lights and I didn’t know which one to go with. It all seemed so hard so I just thought I’d wing it, which wasn’t a very good idea.
When it came to the night we went out to photograph the aurora, we had to act fast, the app said it was going to be over us in 15 minutes. I didn’t have time to rehash what to do; we just chucked our stuff in the car, drove 15 minutes out of town, and tried to set everything up in the freezing cold extremely windy night. I struggled to even put my camera on my tripod (I should have practiced such a basic thing before I went on holiday)… I didn’t know what settings to use, and because I was rushed to set everything up (because it was so friggin cold), I forgot how to even change my settings!!
Thankfully my friend was nice enough to help me out and get my camera all set up before his. After that night, I knew how to set everything up for next time.
The following two times went a lot smoother. I had everything set up before we got in the car, my camera settings done, and camera actually attached to the tripod, so all I’d have to do when we got there was take it out of the car and press a button.
This is how I set my camera up to take photos of the aurora:
- Switch the dial to ‘M’ (manual mode)
- Turn the dial on the lens to the infinity symbol (I used my 18-70mm lens)
- Change aperture to f 3.5
- 8 second exposure
- Turn Auto ISO off and make ISO 6400
- Turn self timer on for a few second delay.
That’s it. I just positioned the tripod where I thought the scenery would be nice (trial and error in the dark), and had my self timer taking photos every few seconds.
Things you’ll need:
- DSLR camera
- ‘My aurora forecast’ app (to see the strength of it and when it will be visible where you are)
My photo’s didn’t turn out amazing but I got something at least. The camera captures much more than what the eye can see, so what you see in photo’s is different to what you see in real life. The strength of the aurora was about a 3 when we were there and you really had to know what to look for to even see it.. it would easily be mistaken for clouds.