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It’s best to use your camera’s full manual mode: not only can you adjust the shutter speed, you’ll also have control of aperture (f:stop), which determines how much light reaches the image sensor, and ISO, which measures the sensor’s sensitivity to light.

“Depending on your lens’s biggest aperture, select an f-stop between 1.4 and 2.8” Ragnar says, “shooting wide open to allow as much light as possible to enter the lens. Don’t choose a lens with a maximum aperture of f.5.6, as this will require a more than one-minute exposure to get even a half-decent northern lights photograph.”

Once your camera is set up and you’ve selected your preferred initial exposure and aperture settings (bear in mind that there will be an element of trial and error once the aurora grace you with their presence), it’s time to select the correct ISO setting.

“Somewhere between 400 and 1,000 is fine,” Ragnar explains, “as this will increase the sensor’s light sensitivity. By exposing for 5 to 30 seconds, you can determine from the histogram if the exposure is satisfactory. Be aware that, in the darkness, the images will appear bright on your camera LCD, especially after your eyes have adjusted to the low light. And remember to bring spare batteries – not only will you be regularly reviewing your pictures on screen, you’ll be using long exposures, which drains power more quickly, as does using your camera in the cold.”


Photographing the Northern Lights: An expert’s view
Digital Mag

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