Home World How to Photograph the Northern Lights and Keep Warm Doing It

How to Photograph the Northern Lights and Keep Warm Doing It

How to Photograph the Northern Lights and Keep Warm Doing It

Northern Lights photography is not like other night photography; it has challenges that go way vastitude normal night photography challenges – namely…the cold! You only get Northern Lights in the winter when you have those gorgeous visionless skies. In addition, the sunrise oval revolves virtually the geomagnetic north pole placing you in some of the coldest environments on earth. All of this ways you are going to be waiting out in the unprepossessed for the perfect photograph of the northern lights.

If your dream is to photograph the northern lights, then you’ll need to be in the right place, have the right camera equipment, and be prepared with your camera settings. And you’ll want to ensure that you stay warm while you are working on your perfect photograph.

I have spent a lot of time photographing the northern lights in Alaska. I’ve plane been lucky unbearable to see the southern lights on a cruise to Antarctica! From these experiences I’ve piled an wide-stretching list of tips for ensuring your sunrise photography turns out great, you stay warm, and have fun. I’m excited to share these tips for shooting the Northern lights while staying cozy.

What are the Northern Lights?

I’m no scientist – but I can tell you sunrise borealis is a recipe made up of the sun, solar bursts, solar wind, the earth’s magnetic fields, and our atmosphere. If you want an in-depth explanation, trammels out this Northern Lights Defined article.

Indigenous Explanations of the Northern Lights

In wing to the scientific explanation, there are moreover Indigenous explanations too. The Alaskan Native people and Inuit believe that the Northern Lights are the spirits of their siblings hunting in the night sky, and that’s why they are zippy and moving.

Another version is the spirits of the siblings watching over their loved ones on earth. The spirits are so friendly, it is said you can invite them for a ‘dance’. When you dance, they will join you dancing and you can substantially ‘dance them out’.

When I was told this, I wondered if the Hokie Pokie flit would work – it’s the only flit I know! At least if you segregate to ‘dance them out’, it’s moreover a unconfined way to stay warm simultaneously!

Where to Find the Northern Lights

You find the northern lights under the sunrise oval. The oval thickness changes periodically, but in general, you’ll find the sunrise oval virtually the Earth’s geomagnetic poles. You’ll moreover need well-spoken skies in order to see the northern lights. This ways that some of the weightier odds of seeing them are places with well-spoken skies.

My favorite place to photograph the sunrise borealis is Fairbanks Alaska. It’s in the Alaskan interior, which ways increasingly well-spoken skies and a greater endangerment of seeing them. Plus there are plenty of unconfined things to do in Fairbanks (dog sledding, snow mobiling, in wing to chasing aurora!

Some other unconfined places are:

  • Yellowknife Canada (Yukon)
  • Churchill Canada (Manitoba)
  • Northern Norway
  • Iceland
  • Northern Finland
  • Greenland
  • Northern Sweden

Of course, you may be worldly-wise to photograph them in Minnesota or Montana – however, the odds are much lower. I prefer to go to destinations under the sunrise oval where I have a favorable sunrise forecast most of the time, and good odds of well-spoken skies for the weightier photography. That’s Alaska for me.

northern lights photography alaska
Alaska is my favorite place to photograph the aurora

Camera Equipment You’ll Need for Photographing the Northern Lights

There are a few uneaten things that you’ll need for night photography, and specifically northern lights pictures, that are variegated from a typical photography gear list.


I never normally travel with a tripod, but in the specimen of night photography, it is a must. You’ll want a good sturdy one that can deal with wind. Plus – make sure that it isn’t metal. Metal tripods can get incredibly cold, and you don’t want to touch freezing-cold metal, plane with gloves. I use the Peak Design Travel Tripod which is incredibly small but sturdy and fast to get into position!

Peak Design Travel Tripod

This is the smallest and sturdiest travel tripod I have found on the market. This is an aluminum version (3.4 lbs) - but they moreover have stat webbing (2.8 lbs). A travel tripod that packs lanugo to the diameter of a water bottle—without compromising height, stability, or features. Plus, its so easy and fast to setup and take down!

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Wide Wile Fast Lens

Any lens will work, but the wider the lens, the better. Northern Lights can take up a big zone of sky and you want to capture as much of the show as possible in wing to the foreground. In fact, if you are doing northern lights photography underneath the sunrise oval, the sunrise will normally show up arcing wideness the sky like a rainbow. To capture that unshortened shot, you will need a wide-angle lens.

When in Fairbanks, Alaska, photographing the sunrise borealis, I shot with a 10mm or 18 mm most of the time. Generally, a focal length of 14 to 30mm is what you should aim for. Fairbanks is normally directly underneath the sunrise oval, so it’s nice to be worldly-wise to get a big wide view of how upper in the sky the lights climb. However, a 24 mm moreover works, but you’ll likely not get the full arc of the northern lights. Just be enlightened that a 10mm lens tends to misconstrue things in the foreground.

northern lights photography

In addition, the fastest (lowest F stop number such as f1.8 or f2.8) lens you can use the better. This allows you to work with increasingly light – something that is in short supply during night photography. Without a fast lens, exposures will need to be longer, and that will tend to mistiness the sunrise more. My fastest, widest lens only went to f4, and I could still shoot at shutters of 10 seconds without too much of a problem. Use what you have of undertow – considering anything is largest than nothing!

Rent a Lens for Sunrise Photography

If you don’t have a wide angle, fast lens, don’t fear – you don’t need to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a lens just for northern lights photography. Instead, you can rent a unconfined lens for Sunrise photography.

I have rented from both Borrow Lenses in the past. I rented the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2 for Sony E-mount for ten days costing aproximately $120. This includes shipping. I didn’t get the insurance though as I have other travel insurance that will imbricate it. Side note – I unchangingly finger like the insurance is a sham on these things. Surpassing purchasing the insurance out of fear, first trammels to see if any of your other insurance (home, travel, credit card) will imbricate the lens.

This was a unconfined lens with high-quality glass for capturing the northern lights. You can obviously get something plane largest like the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art E Mount. That’s the unconfined thing well-nigh Borrow Lenses – you can try out a lens surpassing you buy it.


I use a Sony A7iii mirrorless camera. Not too long ago I switched to mirrorless from my Canon DSLR system. The main thing to squint for in a camera used to photograph the northern lights is low-light performance (higher ISO). ISO range of 100-51200 is ideal. In addition, shower life and weather sealing are moreover important, which is essential for the long and unprepossessed nights under the Northern Lights.

camera gear for northern lights

A camera with transmission mode is required for northern lights photography. You must be worldly-wise to tenancy f-stop, shutter speeds, and ISO, each manually – increasingly on the settings for northern lights below. Full-frame cameras will moreover produce a better-quality image.

Red Light Throne Lamp

Not only will you need some sort of light to light up the camera controls and retread your camera, but you’ll moreover want a powerful light to help you light up the foreground, trammels your focus, and make your Northern Lights photography plane increasingly picturesque.

It takes well-nigh 20-30 minutes for your vision to fully visionless transmute when doing photography at night. A red light is non-glaring, so it can help you see largest at night. Turn on a white light and ruin the visionless version of you and everyone virtually you. Considering of that white flashlights and lamina phone lights are discouraged at northern lights viewing.

Black Diamond Storm 400 Headlamp, Azul

The Storm 400 moreover has three variegated colored night vision modes and peripheral white lighting for close-range activities like thoughtfully re-racking for the final summit pitch in the dark. The headlamp has our Splendor Memory feature, which allows you to turn the light on and off at a chosen splendor without reverting when to the default, full power setting.

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02/20/2024 06:47 pm GMT

Remote Shutter Release

This isn’t required, but many people use remote shutter releases for night photography to reduce any possibility of camera shake when you physically hit the shutter button. Some remote releases have spare options like an intervalometer, lightning trigger, and remote tenancy of camera settings.

Extra Batteries

In unprepossessed weather, shower life goes fast. Make sure you unchangingly have uneaten batteries when you are chasing the northern lights. Take increasingly than you think you’ll need! In Fairbanks, I was often shooting in -10 to -20, and our camera shower life was minimal.

My rule is to bring double the batteries than what you think you may need. I had 5 with me and there were nights where I practically went through all of them.

northern lights photography tips batteries
Hand warmers are your batteries’ weightier friends!

Hand Warmers

Yes – these are unconfined to have to alimony your hands warm – but plane increasingly importantly they are unconfined to alimony your uneaten camera batteries warm. The unprepossessed will sap your batteries plane if they aren’t in your camera – so hand warmers are really helpful when you photograph the northern lights. I have used the unseemly little disposable handwarmers, but I’m really loving the new electric ones that can be simply recharged with USB and used over and over again.

Magnetic Rechargeable Hand Warmers

Electric Pocket-Sized Handwarmers with 3 heat settings will alimony your hands toasty warm in the unprepossessed temps. These are ultra light and thin and will hands fit in your pockets. In wing they heat up really fast, and will last for aproximately 4 to 8 hrs.

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02/20/2024 08:02 pm GMT

Northern Lights Photography Tips

You’ve got all your gear, but these tips are essential for the unique environment your camera gear will squatter when out in the freezing cold!

Once Your Camera is Outside, Leave It Outside

This is the first thing to know and follow religiously. Your soul can go in and out of the unprepossessed with little dire impact besides stuff uncomfortable; however, your camera cannot. Don’t subject it to the massive temperature swings outside and inside, as it leads to condensation inside your camera, not to mention it’s just damn tough on the camera in general.

Set your camera up on the tripod, situate it outside in the zone where you want to shoot, and then leave it there until you are washed-up shooting completely for the night. You’ll have to weather when you come when outside, but your camera won’t, and that will ensure you can get the Northern Lights photography you are hoping for.

Pro Tip: “If you must take your camera inside from the cold, place it when in your camera bag or walkabout surpassing you go when onto the warm area. Alimony it in the sealed bag, which is filled with the same unprepossessed air that surrounds your camera outside until you go when outside. This will prevent condensation. If you stay inside for a long period of time, eventually, it will warm up gradually, and everything will be fine. If you do wits condensation, your only remedy is to alimony the camera in a relatively warm, dry room until it completely dries out. Only then can you take it outside again.” – Dan Bailey Alaska Photographer

northern lights photography tips frozen camera
Northern Lights photography is a dank business…

Take Your Batteries Out of Your Camera

But wait! Surpassing you just leave your camera sitting outside on the tripod, take the batteries out of it and take them inside with you. If you leave them in the camera outside – they will most definitely phlebotomize and be of no use to you.

Batteries Can Come When to Life

Often unprepossessed batteries are just a big tease. They tell you they are empty, but really they aren’t. Just warm them up then in an inside pocket tropical to your body. Or largest yet, put them in a pocket with hand warmers to get them nice and toasty again. Suddenly you’ll find that they come when to life. When you put them when in your camera it will show they aren’t empty. See…a giant shower tease.

Chasing Fall – Where to Find Autumn Verisimilitude in Alaska

Point the Lens Downward

Hold on! I know I know, you have left your camera sitting on the tripod with the batteries taken out and stored safely in your warm pocket – great. But there is one increasingly key thing to do surpassing you go have that hot toddy inside. Retread your tripod throne and point the lens lanugo towards the ground. This will ensure the glass on the lens doesn’t get frosted over.

I learned this superstitious tip from Frank at the Aurora Bear Photography Workshop. On the coldest night we were shooting (around -15F), I left my camera pointing lanugo toward the snow on my tripod as I waited in a yurt trying to warm up. When I returned to squint for Sunrise periodically, I noticed my whole camera was frosted over! However, the lens pointing at the ground was not. This way when the sunrise did come out suddenly – I was ready! I just popped the shower when in, readjusted the tripod head, and got my shots plane though my camera was completely frosty!

Remove Your Filters

Frank at Sunrise Bear moreover taught me to remove the filters on my lenses as they can produce a series of visionless concentric circles in the part-way of your photo. Plus, some filters will moreover reduce your misogynist light. You are once challenged with low light conditions when shooting the Northern Lights; don’t make it worse!

Pro tip: “Also, watch yellowish noses on ice-cold metal and plastic camera bodies. If it’s unprepossessed enough, you can hands frost-nip the end of your nose when you printing your squatter up to the camera to take photos. I know considering I’ve washed-up it. Either try to hold your squatter slightly yonder from the when of the camera or else use some kind of nose shield or squatter mask. Your skin will thank you.” Alaska photographer Dan Bailey

Protect Your Equipment from the Subzero Temperature

At -15F, you don’t want any yellowish skin to touch the metal lens – the lens is way too unprepossessed to handle. I use LensCoat LensCovers for my lenses. LensCovers are made of Neoprene, And fit snuggly virtually the lens. They protect lenses from bumps and scratches, as well as make them easier to hold on to when it’s freezing outside! This made them perfect for northern lights photography.

You can moreover get tripod leg covers which are recommended for unprepossessed weather; no one wants to grab onto a below-freezing tripod leg!

LensCoat LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers

LegCoat® Wraps are made from soft neoprene are designed to wrap virtually the upper leg of your tripod and are hands affixed with a Velcro closure. The Wraps valuables is designed to tightly grip to your tripod legs so they will not slide. The covers act as a thermal windbreak making the tripod increasingly well-appointed to handle in hot or unprepossessed conditions.

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How to Stay Warm While Photographing Northern Lights

You have to be prepared for unprepossessed weather photography else you will be miserable AND you may lose your opportunity to get photos of this spectacular event.

Fairbanks northern lights tours
Photo by Last Frontier Mushing Coop

One of the coldest activities to do in the winter is photographing the aurora. This is mainly considering you spend a lot of time standing and sitting still waiting- which is the recipe for getting unprepossessed really fast. I do a lot of snowshoeing, and snowmobiling as outdoor winter activities and I am seldom unprepossessed considering my soul is producing heat and using energy. Therefore here are the items I recommend for staying warm while waiting for the Northern Lights to appear!

Warm Photography Mittens

For me one of the most challenging things well-nigh northern lights photography is keeping my hands warm while waffly camera settings. There is often lots of trial and error involved in capturing the northern lights, you are unchangingly fiddling with the buttons and settings. And that ways unprepossessed fingers. I use the Heat Company Gloves for unprepossessed weather photography. I like them considering you can hands fold when the top of the mitten to get to the camera buttons and then quickly fold the top of the mitten when on your fingers to minimize heat loss.

Heat Company Gloves - layering system

The warmest glove system: No increasingly freezing or sweating! Depending on the situation, you can flexibly segregate the right LINER inner glove and combine it with the SHELL mitten and the HOOD pullover mittens.

Learn More

Team these photography gloves up with the electric handwarmers I discussed whilom and you’ll stay warm!

I can moreover recommend heated gloves too. In fact, one of the weightier on the market is the Gordini Heated Gloves. They are pretty smart gloves – they can thermoregulate themselves! You can set the temperature you want them to maintain via a phone app!

Cold Weather Jacket

A heavy parka is recommended for sunrise photography. Or you can layer wind jacket with a puffy jacket. I prefer longer coats though like parkas for stuff out in the middle of the night. You can moreover try a heated underlayer. Heated products have really come a long way in the past few years. They are much increasingly affordable and the heat functionality is unchangingly improving each year.

The North Squatter Womens Lanugo Parka

The North FaceWomens Jump Lanugo Parka provides winter protection from the top of your throne to your knees. This cold-weather stratify features waterproof DryVent fabric and 550-fill lanugo insulation. Not once was I unprepossessed in Alaska in this parka!

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02/22/2024 01:32 am GMT
Sahara Women’s Heated Jacket

Great for a layer under your favorite winter coat.

From Gobi Heat - 10 hrs of Heat | 3 Heat Zones | with Shower & Charger | Machine Washable | All Day Warmth

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02/19/2024 01:02 pm GMT

Socks and Boots

Standing out on the snow for long periods of time doing photography ways inevitable unprepossessed toes. You can use the disposable toe warmers – however I have found that the electric socks are really unconfined alternatives too! Granted – they are increasingly of an investment – but they are unconfined for any unprepossessed weather worriedness like skiing or snowshoeing. I used the Gobi heated socks on my last trip and was really happy with them.

Gobi Heat - Heated Socks

Out of all of the heated products out there - I find the socks work the best.

They use a steel webbing heating technology and dual slim 2,400 mAh Lithium Polymer batteries indulge for extended heat during longer day trips. They warm up within 30 seconds so finger increasingly well-appointed immediately!

12 hours of Heat | Shower and Charger Included

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02/20/2024 05:17 pm GMT
Oboz Bridger 7" Insulated B-Dry Hiking Boot

Sooo - well-appointed and warm! These are my go-to winter insultated boot. I use them for snowshoeing and everyday virtually town stuff when its really cold. O Fit Thermal insoles provide stability and support while reducing heat loss to alimony your feet happy!

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Other Gear to Stay Warm Chasing Aurora

Seirus Magnemask Combo Clava

OMG - I love this for really unprepossessed weather! The mask is secured by a magnet and its easy to pull lanugo and flip when up. Breathable and warm!

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02/21/2024 03:17 pm GMT
Hand Knit Sherpa Hat with Micro Fleece Lining
  • 100% Wool Hand Wash Only
  • 100 % New Zealand Wool Fleece Lining. (Itch free)
  • ❤ Fair Trade and handmade in Nepal. Hand knit one at a time, not mass produced so there may be minor differences in verisimilitude and imperfections.

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02/20/2024 07:47 pm GMT

See my complete list of gear for lattermost weather here

Improve the Overall Wits of Your Northern Lights Photography Outing

Have a Place to Wait Inside

The Northern Lights are unpredictable, and warmth is essential in Fairbanks as you wait. If you can do a Northern Lights trip that has an indoor option where you can wait inside – this is much preferred. And if it has supplies and drink…even better! If you are simply waiting in a car – just make sure you have unbearable gas and alimony the car running and the heat on!

northern lights alaska

Bring Some Hot Drinks

There’s nothing largest than a piping hot mug of hot chocolate while you wait for the sunrise forecast to improve! Many Northern Lights tours will have things like hot chocolate, tea, coffee, and instant ramen to alimony your insides warm. Or if you go on your own, be sure to bring a thermos of hot drinks.

Embrace a Full Moon

Contrary to popular opinion, the full moon can light up your northern lights scene perfectly.

It’s important to note a full moon doesn’t obscure the light of the aurora, in fact, the unexceptionable moon often enhances the unrelatedness between the scenery, snow, and the sunrise providing a nice natural light in the foreground.

northern lights photography tips
The full moon can light up your scene perfectly

Know Your Directions

After talking with physicist Peter Delemere at the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, we learned when you are armed with a little knowledge, you can have a largest experience. Peter suggested knowing your directions (N/S/E/W) and knowing where the sunrise oval is so you are looking in the right direction. In Fairbanks, the sunrise oval normally sits just to the north. So when you get to your shooting location, set up your gear pointing north and watch the northern horizon for the first signs of the aurora.

Take an Sunrise Photo Workshop

northern lights photography workshop
Frank helping me with my settings. Take a photo workshop the first night!

Of course, the fastest and easiest way to modernize your Northern Lights photography is to take a workshop the first night you go out! We went to Aurora Bear Photography Workshop and had a one-on-one wits with Frank Stelges who set us up for our future nights of sunrise chasing!

Best Camera Settings for Northern Lights Photography

I have a little checklist I alimony on my Evernote phone app so I can unchangingly refer to it. All you have to do is make sure you have all camera gear I mentioned above, and just follow these steps to unconfined sunrise photography!

1. Turn on Transmission Mode

That’s right…Northern Lights photography ways it’s necessary to get out of auto. No wheels exposures, no autofocus, no wheels ISO. This is where the rubber hits the road in photography and you will have to understand transmission settings.

If you are currently wondering what transmission settings are, then I suggest you take a matriculation BEFORE your Northern Lights trip so you know how to use your camera’s transmission settings, how to retread them, and why.

2. Turn on Transmission Focus

Sadly, your camera, no matter how fancy it is, cannot auto-focus in the dark. It’s transmission all the way baby!

3. Set Focus to Infinity

If you don’t have an infinity setting, then you’ll want to potentially take your camera out in the daylight and focus it on the most afar object you can see and make a mark on your camera as to what that focus spot is. Or leave it out there and don’t touch it. But honestly, most DSLRs and lenses have infinite settings these days. They aren’t all perfect though so it still may be a little trial and error.

4. Turn Off Wheels ISO

Start with a setting virtually 1600 and retread from there. Dn’t be discouraged if you have to transpiration it a lot surpassing you are happy with it.

photographing nothern lights in alaska

5. Turn on Your Camera Timer

If you don’t have a remote shutter release, then turn on the timer. I normally have a 10-second timer set for night sky photography. This way you can printing the shutter and watch the warm-up while your camera is completely still.

6. Set Aperture

My rule of thumb is to set your vent to the lowest f-stop number you can get to on your lens.

7. Shutter Speed

This is one to play virtually with depending on what other light sources are virtually you, including moonlight. Longer exposures will result in brighter images, but stars will streak, and the sunrise will soften. Short exposures may have sharper details, but dimmer images require increasingly post-processing. Start at 15 seconds and adjust. If you want super sharp stars though, then you will want to play virtually with your other settings (like ISO) to have a slower shutter – like 8 seconds.

8. Focal Length

Zoom out to the widest you can on your lens – this ensures you will capture all of that trappy exhibit in the sky.

You and your camera are now prepared to capture the northern lights! However, the last ingredient you need for sunrise viewing is patience. Northern lights are never guaranteed, but you can unchangingly segregate to ‘dance them out’. Work on your weightier hokie pokie and wait for the northern lights to towards and flit with you!

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