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How to capture the northern lights in Iceland

Northern Lights (Iceland)

What you need to photo the Northern Lights

  • An SLR (single lens reflex) or DSLR (digital single length reflex) camera
  • A sturdy tripod with a hook for weight and a 360 rotating head
  • A camera remote control
  • A infrared light head torch
  • Warm gloves and clothing

How to do it

Before your shot

In the days before you travel, check the northern lights activity. You want the KP Index, which ranges from 0-9, to be the highest possible. There are many apps you can download for your smartphone or android.

On the day, focus your camera on a point in infinity and switch the focus setting to ‘manual’ to stop your camera hunting for a point to focus on.

Try using a small piece of tape or a non-permanent marker to mark the focus point on your lens, in case you knock it.

Get ready by wrapping up warm with plenty of thermals! Think about wearing a liner under your mittens so that you can change the settings of your camera without feeling the cold. If you want to invest in something more serious try some gloves that allow your fingers to be free to move the controls

Always take a fully-charged battery or carry a spare in a warm place, the cold temperatures will drain battery life.

Setting up

When on location, set your camera on its tripod, use the hook to hang a weight to make it more stable. The infrared head torch will preserve your night vision and help you compose your shots in the dark. Using a remote control to make the pictures sharper by removing camera shakes.

Take a few trial shots, experiment with exposure; think about how fast the lights are moving. A shorter exposure will capture fast moving lights but long exposures can be creative and provide better image quality when you use the tripod.

Try and aim to open your aperture at f/2.8, if your kit lens has a smaller aperture than this you may want to consider upgrading your lens. ISO should be between 400 and 1600 to let more light in during the dark conditions, anything above this and there will be too much noise (the film grain effect).

First attempts

Northern lights iceland

Start off with a long shutter speed of around 20-30 seconds, try not to touch the camera during the exposure and use the remote if you have one.

Try to use the surrounding landscape in your composition to make your shots more interesting. Elements such as trees, lakes and cabins will add a story to your image.

Finally, do not focus too much on getting the perfect photo. You may be the best photographer in the world but sometimes all it takes is being in the right place at the right moment. Take time to enjoy the scenes around you as well.

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