Photographing the Northern Lights … Varying Your Settings

Some folks may be interested in how I take photographs of the Northern Lights (great show last night). I felt posting two images from last night would help demonstrate why it is so important to play around with your camera settings. Both images are “straight out of my camera”. You really need to enlarge both photographs to compare … or better yet, download and toggle back and forth.
These two pictures were taken within one minute of each other. The first image where the line of the Aurora is brighter is with an ISO setting of 3,200. For the second image, I halved the amount of light reaching the camera by dropping the ISO by 50% to 1,600. Everything else was held constant … Aperture was 2.0, exposure was 15 seconds, white balance = auto and focus was set to infinity.
The location is NorthStar Lake in northern Minnesota, approximately 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. The time of the images were taken was about midnight just before the second peak (not as good as the one at 9:05 pm CDT).
I personally like the second image better (ISO 1,600) because it better represents what I actually saw. My camera is a Sony NEX-5t using a Rokinon 12 mm F2.0 lens. I always set my shutter for a 2 second delay in order that I do not jar the camera with pressing my shutter.
NorthStar Lake
Image #1: ISO 3,200; 15 Seconds; Aperture 2.0; Focus Infinity; White Balance = Auto


Image #2: ISO 1,600; 15 Seconds; Aperture 2.0; Focus Infinity; White Balance = Auto


Smith Lake … also about 30 miles north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota

2 thoughts on “Photographing the Northern Lights … Varying Your Settings

  1. Rich good to see you guys this afternoon. These are fabulous pics. Will stay tuned for more! Am sending your web site off to a few buddies including my pal in Canada.

    1. Good to see you also! I’ll try to remember to send you a note when the next big display hits, and you can go down the hill to the narrows and watch!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *