Settings and lenses for night shots of Northern Lights

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  • Moose
    I was talking with a fellow T2i owner over on my Facebook page and she was wondering which settings and lenses would be best for her trip to Alaska for shooting the northern lights at night. I thought it would be beneficial to share our conversation with all of you...

    Nancy's Question: I have purchased the T2i, and now I'm ready for Alaska. I used to be proficient with my old AE1, but the newer stuff is quite extenstive. What would you suggest for settings for night shots of the Northern Lights? I've got the standard 18-55mm, tripod, and remote. I also have just enough money to spend $500 on an additional lens before my trip. Any recommendations?

    Moose's Answer: In order to capture the Northern Lights, I would shoot in Manual mode (M on the mode dial), set the aperture to f/22 and set the shutter speed to bulb mode (just rotate the command dial to the left until it says 'Bulb Mode' on the LCD screen). When you press the shutter button on your remote, the shutter will stay open until you press the shutter button again. This will allow you to take 2, 5, 10 minute exposures. I would start with one minute and progressively work your way up ...doubling it each time until you're happy with the end result. If you have trouble focusing, try focusing on the moon or something in the distance with contrast and then immediately flip the switch on your lens from AF to MF. This will allow you to take shot after shot without having to focus each time.

    In regards to lenses, I highly recommend a nice wide angle lens in order to capture big skies and wide landscapes. The Tamron 10-24mm is an excellent wide angle lens that sits nicely within your budget. The field of view will be much larger than your 18-55mm lens.

    Other than that, I recommend purchasing a couple extra batteries. Anytime you shoot in cold temps, battery life drops significantly. When you're out shooting, try to keep the extra batteries in a pocket close to your body to keep them warm.

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Moose's Cheat Cards for the Canon T2i

If you've ever been in a situation and wondered which settings to use with your Canon T2i, these nifty little cheat sheets will tell you exactly which settings I would start with. Click here for more info.