Chasing the Lights: How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis

December 2, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 13 Comments | |
Chasing the Lights: How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis Image

The first evening I witnessed Aurora Borealis dancing across the sky was a night I will remember for the rest of my life. I was an addict on the spot. In the three years since that evening I have returned over 20 times and can’t wait for every single trip I have to come in the future.

I was stood on a frozen reservoir, surrounded by stunning snow covered mountains and well away from the light pollution of towns and villages. The temperature was heading towards -25, the coldest we had experienced during our week-long trip and I remember experiencing frozen nostrils , a strangely hilarious feeling!

Every ten minutes or so, the giant sheet of ice I was standing on would expand and rumble, it must have been hilarious to see a group of frozen Englishmen panicking in the moonlight! There was no need to worry however, the ice was so thick we could have driven a bus across it and the beauty of the unfolding light show in the dark night sky soon took our minds away from the unnecessary worry of the ice.

Chasing the Lights: How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis

For years I had wanted to witness this phenomenon, to photograph such a spectacular display the first time around was truly something special. The first glimpse of the aurora we had was a pale green hue on the horizon, slowly but surely this built and grew until bands of green aurora was tearing across the sky. Occasionally we would be treated to needles of varying colours as the aurora separates, seemingly falling to earth. Although I have the seen the northern lights many times since, nothing will ever come close to that first evening.

Tromsø is regarded as one of the best places on the planet from which to witness the Aurora Borealis. The landscape up there is absolutely stunning. It certainly helps when making images like this to be surrounded by fantastic landscapes. The city of Tromsø lies at nearly 70 degrees North and also it lies perfectly in the centre of the auroral oval. This coastal section of Arctic Norway is consistently warmer than nearly all other locations at similar latitudes across the arctic. This is due to the North Atlantic Current, it is often possible to drive two to three hours inland and see the temperature drop form -10 on the coast to -40 inland.

Chasing the Lights: How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis

Technically, photographing the northern lights is not easy. A major understanding of many factors is necessary up here to be more than just lucky. At latitudes of around 70ºN the aurora is present on most clear evenings. However, this may be nothing more than a slight pastel green hue on the horizon, so an understanding of what causes the Auroras to occur will be a massive help.

Websites such as will offer a guide as to what has been happening on the sun and the chances of geomagnetic activity for certain latitudes. This is definitely helpful but I have found this to be far from accurate on many occasions. Most of the best displays I have ever seen have occurred on a night where the % chances of geomagnetic activity were extremely low - you always have to be prepared!

Entry Tags

how to, landscapes, photograph, winter, northern lights, Aurora Borealis, lights, northern

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13 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 vignesh

i m doing my it in tamilnadu,INDIA.i so much interested in photography and i need sucess in my interest ..........for that wat shoud i study and wr should i do it ............/pls help guide me

5:22 pm - Friday, December 2, 2011

#2 julia

can you recommend a good photo course please, love your photos

9:40 am - Saturday, December 3, 2011

#3 hamdinger

Fantastic photos!

1:47 am - Friday, December 9, 2011

#4 Sourav Chakraborty

What were the settings for the 2 middle photographs of the last page? They look like pretty long exposure shots to me.

5:54 pm - Monday, December 19, 2011

#5 Barrie Photographer

Looking forward to photographing the aurora borealis myself someday. The first shot is just stunning, well done!

5:04 pm - Saturday, February 25, 2012

#6 bill car

Poopy poop,Mcpooper scoop,ploopy doopy plop plop.

9:04 pm - Thursday, March 8, 2012

#7 Asian wedding photography

Thank you. This will be very useful for my hobby. I would love to find a way to mix this with my work. Just can’t think of a way.

10:48 pm - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#8 Hank

This would have been very useful for one of the better observing opportunities that took place just weeks ago. Better late than never. Maybe they will reprint it AGAIN next time. After all, it is 2.5 years old now! They could time it better by just using a calendar though. For most, lately the articles here are just BORING reprints, unless of course they comment just to insert their link. I’m not sure if Asian Wedding Photography has much in common with this, but who can resist a free plug? Good for you #7. Get it together PB, stop printing reprints at the wrong time. Btw, the best observation locations is never the same exact spot. bla, bla, bla….

5:59 pm - Saturday, May 11, 2013

#9 Chrome Table Lamps

It is very nice post. I really enjoy the reading. Thanks for the information.

6:45 pm - Monday, August 19, 2013

#10 Ben Procter

Another great article as always. I found more information on this website the site also had some intreating reviews and tips on where to go to see the lights.

7:58 pm - Monday, September 16, 2013

#11 Bernice A. Johnson

The first photo are nice. In your post photos and article are very nice.

10:57 am - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#12 download

Great photos!

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#13 Clipping Path

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5:18 pm - Thursday, November 5, 2015