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10 tips for Northern lights photography in Lapland during winter

The photography season for the northern lights near the Arctic Circle lasts from mid-August until the beginning of April. The whole winter is quite a great time to experience the dance of Aurora borealis on the northern sky. In this blog post, we give you ten useful tips for photographing northern lights in Finland during winter.
Northern lights in Lapland in winter
  1. Track space weather through some external service. Although the whole winter season is a potential time to spot and photograph northern lights, it is not advisable to leave in the cold during winter just to try your luck. Of course, northern lights can also occur contrary to expectations, but the best chances of witnessing a light show are when the sun is active. Good places to follow in space are, for example, the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s space weather service and the Northern Lights photographers’ groups on Facebook. For example Revontulikyttääjät.

  2. Learn how to set up your camera well in advance and, if possible, adjust the settings before going out. For example, if you plan to shoot northern lights in a specific location, you can manually adjust the lens focus during the day and use these settings later in the evening at dark.

  3. Use proper equipment. The minimum requirements for photographing the Northern lights are good camera frame (nowadays it’s also possible to use your smart phone for decent images), a good quality tripod and luminous camera lens. A lens with F value 2.8 is a good minimum, with a focal length of less than 30. You should reserve more camera batteries with you, if possible. Cold air is poison to the camera’s battery, which, even when fully charged, may lose its charge instantly due to cold weather. A good idea is to store your batteries somewhere warm, such as inside your jacket and close to your body heat. 

  4.  High-quality headlamp is also a convenient tool, which makes it easy to find the camera’s small buttons even in the cold. Photographing northern lights is often a hobby for the ones with patience, in which case the importance of warm winter clothes and footwear, as well as well done layering. Your fingers are the most prone for freezing and that’s why I recommend good quality mittens for everyone visiting Lapland. The problem with gloves is that your fingers will be separated and this makes the areas prone for freezing way smaller. Inside a mitten, it is way easier to keep the “whole unit” warm as your whole hand is close together. 

  5. You should look for the filming locations during daytime. The further north you go, the better the chance of seeing the northern lights. This is despite the fact that in Finland, northern lights can even occur throughout the country. If you can see the stars on the sky, you should also be able to see the northern lights. The brilliance of color usually appears in the sky between nine in the evening and midnight. During larger solar storms, the northern lights can be seen as early as five in the afternoon, and the light show can very well continue until the wee hours of the night. Northern lights activity is usually at its best during the autumn and spring equinoxes, so it is possible to enjoy the best shooting moments with a spring hike or even during an autumn hike.

  6. Use the self-timer of the camera or remote control. When shooting northern lights, the camera must be kept as still as possible both at the time of shooting and during the shutter speed. Even if you trust the stability of your own hand, the best results are definitely achieved by using either the camera’s self-timer feature or a separate remote shutter release that allows the camera to take a picture without the need to touch the camera.

  7. When shooting Northern Lights, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that with long exposures, the camera can even see much better than a person’s own eye, and afterwards, you may find even shades of color in your own image that you haven’t noticed on the spot. Green light is released from the molecule almost immediately, but the red charge stays in the molecule longer. Because of this, green light appears to form a variety of shapes and moving regular patterns, but red light may be just formless light. For example, it has happened to me on a few occasions that the camera has even recorded clearly northern lights that my own eye has not even noticed.

  8. Dare to try. As northern lights appear in the sky, you may want to try different shooting settings and angles. In addition, it is possible to edit images afterwards with various image editing programs. Of the free programs, for example, Gimp is quite good for editing northern lights images.

  9. Combine the photography of northern lights with useful exercise. Getting to the scene itself often requires you to move even a little outside the population centers. This transition is easy to combine with comfortable nature exercise. You can go to the shooting location with forest skis or snowshoes, for example.

  10. Enjoy the surrounding nature. I already mentioned in paragraph four that photographing northern lights is a matter for the patient. It is often worthwhile to combine a long waiting period with enjoying nature. So book, for example, firefighting equipment, a little firewood and a hot drink, not forgetting a good seat base. Namely, there is nothing better than to heat up in the middle of nothing, watch the beautiful starry sky and look forward to the dance of the northern lights in the northern sky.

Basic camera settings and photography equipment

  • Shutter time: 15 seconds
  • Lens aperture: as large as possible, preferably f / 1.4-2.8
  • Focal length: as small as possible (e.g. 8 -18mm) because a widescreen lens is better for landscape photography.
  • ISO sensitivity: 1600-4000
  • Focus: use either manual focus on a specific point (such as a highly visible star or a landmark) or set the focus to infinity
  • Use a self- or remote shutter release and a high-quality tripod.

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