Northern Lights Photography

I am still new to the art of northern lights photography. I have done a fair amount of work with long exposure photography and know that there are many challenges that must be overcome including camera shake, long exposure noise, unexpected lighting, to name a few, but these are compounded when dealing with the northern lights.

Fairbanks in the winter

Not only are you shooting in low light, making composition difficult, but to add to the difficulty you are often shooting in very cold temperatures often bellow zero, possibly windy, and who knows if the darn things are going to be out anyways right? This link to the UAF geophysical institute on aurora forecasting may help in that department.

Another thing to consider is that strange circle you get in the center of your images when you get home. If you look closely you may be able to see them in the photo bellow.

Northern Lights in Livengood mining camp

Northern Lights in Livengood- f/4.5 159/sec ISO 100

corp of concentric rings

Crop showing concentric rings

These rings are caused by something called the Fabry-Perot interferometer effect which you can ask Harry Manos more about. But the gist is that the color spectrum of green or oxygen in the aurora interferes with the parallel planes of the lens filter. In the end the best thing to do is to just shoot without your UV filter on.

Speaking of lenses and filters, you really need to shoot with wide lenses in the 24mm and lower range in order to capture as much of the sky as possible. Not only will a wide lens help but the faster the lens the better, something in the f/2.8 or lower range for best results in “freezing” the movement of the aurora so you don’t get washed out green skies like in the photo above.

For a more in depth tutorial from a very experienced aurora photographer visit Patrick Endres’s article with very useful tips and tricks. As for my photographs, lets hope that this winter affords me the time for some late night photo sessions!