The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, are one of Earth’s most beautiful wonders. For someone who has never seen this in real life, how could we best describe this miracle? Let’s say they are… breathtaking, stunning, colorful, and so so impressive… a pure beauty you can hardly believe is real! But in fact, no words can properly describe the experience. You should see them once in your life! It’s always hard capturing them, as they require some weather conditions, good cameras and lenses, warm clothes and a whole lot of luck! In this article, we like to share how to capture the Northern Lights in 8 easy steps, the best time to see the Northern lights in Iceland and the camera gear we used to capture the Northern Lights.
When is the best time the see The Northern Lights in Iceland?
The best time to see The Northern Lights in Iceland is between November and March as these are the darkest months of the year. Regarding the aurora activity, The Northern Lights are most active in March, April, September, and October and usually, between 11 pm and 1 am.
There are three things you need to keep in mind to have a chance of seeing the northern lights: darkness, clear skies and aurora activity. To check if there is enough aurora activity you need to check out this website, super-useful!
Read also: Best places to stay in Iceland
What kind of settings should I use to capture The Northern Lights?
Set your camera and lens to manual. If you leave it to automatic, your lense will continuously zoom in and out it will not find a focus in the dark.
Set your ISO between 100 and 3200. higher the ISO, the more the sensor becomes sensitive to light. But beware; a high ISO causes more grain, noise pollution, and lower quality. We used both ISO 800 and ISO 1600 for the pictures below. We use a Sony A7III which performs perfectly in low light conditions.
When taking photos in the dark, you want your lens to be as wide open as possible. Use the lowest f-number you can get up to f/1.4 or f/2.8, which is the ideal setting.
The lower shutter speed you can use, the quicker you can capture your shot which gives you more detail in your picture. Try a shutter speed between 5 and 25 seconds, but it will all depend on how quickly the lights are moving. If you have strong lights, use 5 seconds, if you have soft lights take the shutter speed up to 20 or 25 seconds.
You won’t get a great shot of the lights without a tripod. A tripod allows you to take clear photographs with longer exposure time and is especially effective when there is a lot of wind. We can highly recommend the Manfrotto Element Traveller
A good wide angle lens will allow you to cover as much of the sky as possible, more of the light show and will give that extra effect. We shoot with a Sony 16-35 f/4 but the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 has a better aperture for low light conditions
Use remote control, it will make life easier and ensure your camera is stable.
And the last one…
Make sure you have a memory card with a lot of storage or bring a few memory cards with you. If you plan on editing your photos, you best shoot in RAW format. But RAW takes up a lot of memory space.
It’s as simple as that… Good luck!
The camera gear we used for this article:
Our favorite camera: Sony A7III
Allround lens: Sony 24-105mm f/4
Landscape lens: Sony 16-35mm f/4
Polarisation filter: Hama Polarisation Filter
Drone: DJI Mavic Air
ND filters for the drone: PolarPro ND filters
GoPro: GoPro Hero6 Black
Tripod: Manfrotto Element Traveller
Camera backpack: Thule EnRoute 25L
Now you know how to capture the Northern Lights in 8 easy steps, you might be ready to go. Following websites can help you plan the perfect trip:
- Skyscanner to book the best and cheapest flights
- Booking.com to book your accommodation
- Lonely Planet to purchase a detailed Iceland travel guide
- Tourradar to join one of the amazing group tours