How to photograph the Northern Lights

Updated: Sep 26, 2018

Aurora season is upon us!

Picture by Sævar Helgi Bragason

At Hotel Rangá we offer a wake up call for our guests so that they won’t miss the lights if they show up during the night – we recommend signing up at the front desk.


1. If you request a wake up call when we see the lights, please use your room phone to sign up for the northern lights wake up call with our front desk.

2. Have your clothes and camera gear prepared – the call could come while you are asleep and it’s best to respond quickly.

3. Dress in multiple, warm layers as your body will cool down quickly while standing still outside in the cold night.

4. The lights are most commonly seen in the general direction of north. If you don‘t have a room with a north-facing balcony, please come out to the front porch.

5. Have the camera ready, use your fastest wide angle lens, the ISO (ASA) number from 500-1600, F- stop wide open or largest, and on a good tripod.

6. When exposing, you will have to experiment with times from 5 seconds to half a minute.

7. Keep in mind that the Northern Lights will come and go. Should they disappear, they will probably reappear within 30-60 minutes. If not, they will show up later, most often when we are back in bed.



Checklist for the more serious amateur photographer when photographing the Northern Lights

  • Shoot in RAW format.

  • Turn on Long Exposure Noise Reduction.

  • Set LCD Brightness to low.

  • Remove the filter from your lens.

  • Pre focus your lens on infinity or use live-view with loupe.

  • Test exposure, consult histogram.

  • Have 2 batteries and 2 flashcards.

  • Use a tall but sturdy tripod.

  • Use a cable release (not a wireless one).

  • Check the aurora forecasts.

  • Scout a location in daylight.

  • Don’t breathe on your viewfinder.

  • Use your lens hood to protect against frost/condensation on your lens.

  • While waiting for Aurora, point your camera lens down to prevent frost gathering on the glass.

  • Have a luminex cleaning cloth accessible to clean frost from lens if needed.

  • Put black tape over your red processing light under the wheel (for Canon users-your fellow photographers will like you).

  • Please note that if you forgot your tripod, we have some extras in the reception.

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