Camera settings


        Quick Tips for those who have never photographed the aurora, or who have absolutely no idea how to use their camera:

You can use almost any camera. It does not have to be a “big” camera, a “fancy” camera, or an expensive camera. It does need to have certain features. Most cell phones cannot take pictures of the aurora because of the settings.

1. Turn your camera on Manual, not automatic. This may be marked “M” or “Manual”.

2. If you have a Canon, you may see a setting called “Long Shutter”. For Nikon, this may say “Night Scene”. This will help you set up what you need.

3. Set your ISO to 800. After you get the hang of it, you can play around with the ISO to adjust what you like and what your camera is capable of. For now, just put it on 800 ISO.

4. For the shutter speed, set it on 15″ (15 seconds).

5. For the white balance, keep it on AUTO for now.

6. For colors, you can keep it off or turn it on vivid or green.

7. Set your focus to infinity. Sometimes this symbol looks like little mountains, or a sideways number 8. It is the opposite of macro, which is sometimes shown as a little flower symbol and                                  means close-up.

8. Put your self-timer on 2 seconds, so that when you click the button, your camera won’t shake when the picture is taken.

9. You must put your camera on a surface or use a tripod. You can take a picture while holding your camera, but it will be blurry. If you place your camera on top of your car, turn off the engine.

10. Point your camera to the aurora. Hopefully there isn’t a light source in that direction, such as a streetlight. This will put too much light on your photo.


Chena Lakes Sept 2011

This picture would have been perfect if I only used a tripod! Notice the blurry stars and car lights. ISO 800 and 10 seconds on a Canon point and shoot camera.


No tripod. Major light pollution. The aurora was bright enough that night to shine even in the worst lighting conditions. Again, this would have been a superb picture, if only….I used a tripod and had the correct settings. ISO 80 (not 800), 13 seconds on a Canon point and shoot camera.

This photo would be better if there wasn’t so much noise. This could be remedied by lowering the ISO or with a faster shutter speed.

For more in-depth aurora photography, here are some great articles by professional photographers 

Robert Lype  Alaska Dispatch How to Photograph the Northern Lights

Dennis Mammana Photographing the Aurora

Dick Hutchinson   Shooting the Aurora Borealis

Patrick Endre   Alaska photography blog 




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