How to photograph the Northern Lights

Here’s a guide on how to capture this special moment

Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson


Photographing the Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights is a once in a lifetime experience for many people who come to Iceland. Capturing this special moment on camera isn’t easy though (except with the iPhone :-) )

You can find the Aurora forecast on the Icelandic weather site. This is no guarantee but gives you a good indication if something is going to happen:

Make sure to check your specific location or consider adjusting your travel plans to photograph the lights somewhere cool.

Here are some tips on how to photograph the Aurora Borealis and get those banger shots:

  • First, you will need to find a place where there is little light pollution - meaning light from cities, cars etc. Sometimes, if the Aurora is strong you can photograph it in the city, but this is more the exception than the rule.
  • You will need a tripod, preferable a sturdy one since it is often windy in Iceland. Tripod is essential since you will need to do a long exposure.
  • Ideally you find a good composition and interesting foreground. Photos of the lights are nice but much cooler if you’ve got an interesting landscape in the shot.
  • Camera (ideally full frame and photo that has little noise at higher ISO levels)
  • Wide angle lens. For example 16-35mm equivalent or 24-70mm equivalent. If you’re more serious, you can get prime lenses such as 14mm, 20mm or 24mm fixed lenses.
  • Remote shutter - alternatively set a 2 or 10 sec shutter to eliminate camera shake
  • Setting the focus manually on the stars or on the landscape if you have an interesting foreground. You can also use a flashlight to illuminate your subject to get the focus just right.
  • Long exposure settings. For example Aperture f/2.8, Shutter 4-6 sec, ISO 800. You might need a slower shutter or adjust the ISO a bit higher if needed. Try to take some sample shots once you’ve set yourself up to make sure you are ready for when the lights appear.

Here are a couple of cool spots to photograph the Northern Lights.



Check out my map to find more amazing spots to shoot.