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Aurora Borealis Photography Tips by Rich Seiling

Aurora Borealis Photography Tips by Rich Seiling

By: Rich Seiling Comments: 0

Tonight is another rare chance to see aurora at low latitudes so you should start preparing now for tonight. Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of this unique opportunity. 

Aurora don’t follow a schedule!

Multiple news stories are saying “the best time to see them is …”. That is complete bunk. If I had followed the news stories last night, I would have missed the best display. The aurora can happen at any time so start looking as soon as twilight begins, and stay up as long as you can. 

Get away from city lights

Light pollution overwhelms the faint light of astronomical events. Get away from city lights, to someplace you can actually see lots of stars if at all possible. It will make a profound difference in your experience and your photographs. 

Don’t expect to see color

From suburban Nashville light polluted skies (where I'm located), the aurora looked like faint gray clouds to the naked eye, with just hints of color. But even in a dark location, this may happen to you. Your eye does not see color as well in low light, so use your camera to reveal colors your eye can’t see.

Photograph even if the sky looks clear

Does the sky look clear with no color? Take photos anyway. The photo above was taken with no evidence of aurora, but the faint red glow was picked up by my camera. Trust your camera, not your eye. 

Don’t forget your tripod!

If you want more than a snapshot, you need a tripod.


Take darker and lighter versions of the same photo. Exposure at night is very tricky, so solve it by making multiple guesses. The histogram will show you if you are greatly underexposed, but you need the bracket and blinkies to make sure you don’t overexpose. 

High ISO

You are going to have to use high ISO to freeze the motion as best you can and keep the stars from trailing too much. Expect to be in the 3200 to 6400 ISO range. Use whatever you need.

Wide Aperture

You need as much light to enter your lens as possible, so you will want to use your widest aperture, or stop down only slightly.

Charge your batteries

Make sure all your batteries are charged. If your camera eats batteries, this applies doubly. 

Water makes great reflections

Water that mirrors the sky is much more interesting than dark ground. If you can get next to a body of water, do it. 

Cable release or self timer

Avoid camera shake by using a cable release or self timer. 

Star Trails

Do you want star trails or not? The stars will leave trails as the earth rotates. If you don’t want this, you need to follow the rule of 500. 500/lens focal length = exposure time. For a 20mm lens, 500/20 = 25. So you can expose for 25 seconds before the stars begin to trail.

Wide Angle

Auroras are like western landscapes, they are BIG! You will likely be using your widest angle lenses. 

Prime vs Zoom

If you have a wide prime, use it. It will likely avoid optical distortions that make the stars stretch and blur. 

Pano Stitching

If you need a wider view, try to take a pano and have your software stitch it. Stitching sky and aurora photos can throw some error messages from your software, but it is worth a try. 

More from Rich Seiling

If you enjoyed this blog post from Rich and would like to see more from him, he has a Substack called "Rich Seiling on Photography" that you can subscribe to. You'll find ongoing conversations that will help you become a better photographer. Learn more here:

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