Photographing the Northern Lights

Fairbanks, Alaska

Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 6 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
  • The Auroras ovals in the northern and southern hemisphere are nearly mirror reflections of each other
  • Besides Earth, auroral emissions have been observed on Jupiter, Saturn & Uranus
  • The total power output of the auroras exceed the present electrical consumption of the US
  • Auroras can give off different lights, depending on the altitude and energy / excitement of the electrons. The typical color is green because oxygen at about 60 miles up gives off this color. Oxygen at higher altitudes (about 200 miles above us) can emit red auroras. Nitrogen produces blue auroras but can emit red when excited
Camera: Nikon Z6 with full spectrum conversion from LifePixelLens I used: NIKKOR Z 24–70mm f/4 S Z-mount
Ideal Lens: A 12mm-20mm, f/2.8 or lower
Filters: None, very important to remove any filters including UVCamera settings
Aperture:
Smallest possible, f4 on my lens
ISO: ISO 3200 (for my camera/lens combination)
Off mode: Long Exposure Noise reduction, Vibration Reduction
White Balance: 3,800k for new moon and 5,200K for full moon
Focus: Manual set to infinity
Metering: Matrix
Tripod: Manfrotto carbon fiber with lever lock. This is the best combination for extreme cold. Avoid aluminium since it can cause frostbite and twist locks can fail in the cold
Cable release
  • Pick the Northern hemisphere since it is easier to see the auroras there
  • Choose a time of the year when it is winter and the moon is half and waning
  • Be patient and plan to watch over atleast 3 nights, I did not see the auroras till the 3rd night
  • Use a good guide. I went with Aurora Chasers & Alaska Skies Aurora Tours in Fairbanks and recommend both
  • Take aurora forecast apps with a grain of salt. All the aurora forecast apps I used mentioned a less than 10% chance of seeing the aurora on Feb 20, 2020 at my location, but I went anyway and saw the aurora for over an hour
  • Watch your histogram. It is okay to underexpose. Do not blow your highlights and have a histogram on the right. Below was the typical histogram for most of my images
Histogram
  • Go without warm clothing (insulated/goose down tops & bottoms, hand warmers and cold weather boots)
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 6 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 8 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 3 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 5 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 4 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 4 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 3 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020
Nikon Z6 Nikkor Z 24–70mm 24.5mm ƒ/4 3 seconds ISO3200. Feb 20, 2020

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Prakash Hariramani

Interested in landscape photography, payments, education & meditation