camera settings for northern lights dslr


Hello everyone! Welcome to our guide on camera settings for capturing the mesmerizing Northern Lights with your DSLR. Are you fascinated by the beauty of this natural phenomenon and eager to capture it in all its glory? Well, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we will walk you through the essential camera settings and techniques that will help you create stunning photographs of the Northern Lights.

So, grab your camera and let’s get started!

Understanding the Northern Lights

Before we dive into the camera settings, let’s first understand what the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, actually are. The Northern Lights are a breathtaking display of colorful lights dancing across the night sky, caused by the interaction between charged particles from the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field.

Now, let’s explore the camera settings that will allow you to capture this incredible phenomenon:

1. Aperture 📷

When shooting the Northern Lights, it’s essential to set your aperture to its widest possible value, typically around f/2.8 or even wider. This allows more light to enter the camera sensor, resulting in brighter and more detailed images of the Aurora.

2. Shutter Speed ⏱️

The ideal shutter speed for capturing the Northern Lights is around 5 to 15 seconds. Longer exposures may cause the lights to appear blurry and less defined, while shorter exposures might not capture the full intensity of the colors. Experiment with different shutter speeds to find the perfect balance.

3. ISO 🌟

ISO determines the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light. To capture the Northern Lights, set your ISO between 800 and 3200, depending on the ambient light conditions. Higher ISO values will allow you to capture more light but be aware of potential noise in your images.

4. Focus 🔍

When it comes to focusing, switch your lens to manual focus mode. The Northern Lights can be challenging for autofocus systems to lock onto, especially in low-light conditions. Set your focus to infinity (∞) or experiment with manual focus until the lights appear crisp and clear in your frame.

5. White Balance ☃️

White balance plays a crucial role in capturing the true colors of the Northern Lights. Choose the “Daylight” or “Custom” white balance setting for accurate color reproduction. If shooting in RAW format, you can adjust the white balance during post-processing to fine-tune the colors.

6. Shooting Mode 📷

For capturing the Northern Lights, switch your camera to manual mode. This gives you full control over the exposure settings and ensures consistent results throughout your shoot. Manual mode allows you to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and ISO independently, giving you the flexibility needed for capturing this dynamic phenomenon.

7. Tripod Stability 🗼

Using a sturdy tripod is paramount when photographing the Northern Lights. Since you’ll be using long exposure times, any camera movement can result in blurry images. Mount your camera securely on a tripod to keep it steady throughout the shoot, allowing you to capture sharp and crisp images of the Aurora.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Camera Settings for Northern Lights DSLR


1. Aperture: Using a wide aperture allows more light to enter your camera, resulting in brighter and more detailed Northern Lights images. However, be cautious not to use extremely wide apertures, as it may introduce lens aberrations.

2. Shutter Speed: Longer shutter speeds capture the mesmerizing movement of the Northern Lights, creating stunning light trails. However, be careful not to overexpose your images by using excessively long exposures, as it may wash out the colors of the Aurora.

3. ISO: Higher ISO values allow you to capture more light, revealing more details in the Northern Lights. However, be cautious not to set the ISO too high, as it may introduce unwanted noise and grain in your images.

4. Focus: Manual focus allows you to precisely focus on the Northern Lights, ensuring crisp and clear images. However, it can be challenging to achieve accurate focus in low-light conditions, so practice and experiment with different focusing techniques.

5. White Balance: Choosing the right white balance setting ensures accurate color reproduction in your Northern Lights photographs. Custom white balance or the “Daylight” setting helps capture the true colors of the Aurora. However, be cautious as incorrect white balance can distort the natural colors of the Northern Lights.

6. Shooting Mode: Manual mode provides complete control over your camera settings, allowing you to adjust exposure parameters as desired. Shooting in manual mode ensures consistent results and enables you to adapt to changing lighting conditions. However, it requires knowledge and understanding of exposure settings.

7. Tripod Stability: Using a tripod keeps your camera steady during long exposures, resulting in sharp and blur-free Northern Lights images. It also allows you to compose your shots more precisely. However, carrying a tripod can be cumbersome, especially in harsh weather conditions.


1. Aperture: Using extremely wide apertures may introduce lens aberrations like chromatic aberration and distortion, affecting the overall image quality.

2. Shutter Speed: Extremely long exposures can overexpose the Northern Lights, washing out the vibrant colors and details of the Aurora.

3. ISO: Setting the ISO too high can introduce noise and grain in your images, reducing the overall image quality.

4. Focus: Achieving accurate focus in low-light conditions can be challenging, and manual focusing requires practice to master.

5. White Balance: Incorrect white balance settings can distort the natural colors of the Northern Lights, resulting in inaccurate color reproduction.

6. Shooting Mode: Shooting in manual mode requires a good understanding of exposure settings and may not be suitable for beginners who are still learning the basics of photography.

7. Tripod Stability: Carrying and setting up a tripod can be inconvenient, especially in remote locations or extreme weather conditions.

Camera Settings for Northern Lights DSLR – Quick Reference Table

Camera Setting Recommended Value
Aperture f/2.8 or wider
Shutter Speed 5 to 15 seconds
ISO 800 to 3200
Focus Manual focus (Infinity or experiment)
White Balance Daylight or Custom
Shooting Mode Manual
Tripod Stability Sturdy tripod

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can I use a smartphone to capture the Northern Lights?

While smartphones can capture basic images of the Northern Lights, DSLR cameras provide more control over settings, resulting in higher-quality photographs.

2. Do I need a specific lens for photographing the Northern Lights?

Wide-angle lenses with low aperture values, such as f/2.8 or wider, are ideal for capturing the vastness of the Northern Lights and allowing more light into the camera.

3. Should I shoot in RAW or JPEG format for photographing the Northern Lights?

Shooting in RAW format allows for more flexibility in post-processing, as it captures all the data from the camera’s sensor. However, JPEG format can be more convenient if you prefer minimal post-processing.

4. What time of year is best for photographing the Northern Lights?

The best time to capture the Northern Lights is during the winter months (September to March) in regions closer to the magnetic poles, such as Iceland, Norway, and Alaska.

5. Can I photograph the Northern Lights in urban areas?

Urban areas with high light pollution make it challenging to capture the Northern Lights. It is best to travel to remote locations with minimal light pollution for optimal results.

6. How can I prevent my images from being blurry?

Using a sturdy tripod, setting a higher shutter speed, and avoiding camera movement during exposures can help minimize blurriness in your Northern Lights images.

7. Are there any special safety precautions to consider while photographing the Northern Lights?

It is important to dress warmly and carry necessary equipment for extreme weather conditions. Additionally, be cautious of your surroundings and take necessary safety precautions, especially when shooting in remote areas.

8. Can I capture the Northern Lights with a budget DSLR?

Yes, budget DSLR cameras can also capture the Northern Lights. While high-end cameras may offer more advanced features and better low-light performance, with the right settings and techniques, you can still capture stunning images with a budget DSLR.

9. How can I incorporate foreground elements in my Northern Lights photographs?

Including interesting foreground elements, such as mountains or trees, adds depth and context to your Northern Lights images. Experiment with different compositions to create visually captivating photographs.

10. Should I use manual or auto white balance for capturing the Northern Lights?

Using manual white balance or the “Daylight” setting allows for more accurate color reproduction of the Northern Lights. Auto white balance may result in incorrect color interpretation.

11. How can I make my Northern Lights images stand out?

Experiment with different compositions, foreground elements, and creative editing techniques to make your Northern Lights images unique and visually stunning.

12. Can I use a remote shutter release for capturing the Northern Lights?

Using a remote shutter release or the camera’s built-in timer helps minimize camera movement during exposures, resulting in sharper Northern Lights images.

13. What post-processing techniques can enhance my Northern Lights images?

Post-processing techniques such as adjusting exposure, contrast, and color balance can help enhance the overall look of your Northern Lights photographs. However, be cautious not to overdo the editing, as it can lead to an unnatural appearance.


Now that you’re familiar with the essential camera settings and techniques for capturing the Northern Lights with your DSLR, it’s time to head out and let your creativity shine! Remember, patience and practice are key when photographing this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.

So why wait? Grab your camera, venture into the night, and prepare to be amazed by the dazzling beauty of the Northern Lights. Happy shooting!

Closing Statement

We hope this guide on camera settings for Northern Lights DSLR has provided you with valuable insights and knowledge to capture breathtaking photographs of the Aurora Borealis. It’s important to respect nature while photographing the Northern Lights and make sustainable choices when visiting these delicate environments.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. The photographers are responsible for their safety and their impact on the environment while capturing the Northern Lights.

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