Best Lens for Photographing the Northern Lights

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  • 2nutz
    Hi all, I'm a forum newbie here.

    I'll be heading to Iceland in February to hopefully photograph the Northern Lights. I currently have only the lens that came with my 60D (EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Zoom). Do I need to buy a wide angle zoom lens to get the best pictures? If so, which lens would you recommend? Are the Canon lenses better or should I consider another brand?

    Thanks!
  • PBked
    Don't worry about a new lens. You will be shooting against a night sky in dusk conditions, so 18mm should be wide enough. If you haven't got one, invest in a good tripod instead. You can either take pictures or shoot video and extract pictures later.

    P.S. Welcome to the forum.
  • 2nutz
    Thanks for the welcome! Hoping to learn lots here!

    The tour actually starts at dusk and ends in the middle of the night; does that make a big difference? Luckily I have a good tripod.

    Looks like I'll be out at night practicing. Thanks :)
  • PBked
    Dusk is one of the worst times to photograph simply because the light intensities fluctuate so much, as little as every few seconds. As you progress into night filming things become easier. The problem of shooting the northern lights is that the light intensity from them is also fluctuating constantly.

    I am not the best one to advise you on this because I tried to shoot the lights once and made a complete hash of it. I used 4 rolls of 36 exposure film and only got 3 or 4 half decent shots.

    Perhaps someone else on the forum can offer better advice.
  • Moose
    Hey @2nutz - Sorry for the slow reply...thought I'd throw in some advice. Ideally you will want to shoot with a lens with a low aperture f-number and a wide-field of view. Something like the Canon 15mm f/2.8 fisheye, the 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM or the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. If the prices are beyond your reach, you might think about renting one of them for the trip.

    I know it seems a bit backwards, but when shooting stars or northern lights, you want to combine a low aperture f-number with a high ISO. The key is to key the shutter speed below 30 seconds. Beyond that, noise levels will go through the roof and the stars will start to "move".

    Once home, you'll want to enhance your images a bit. Do you use photoshop or lightroom? Let me know. All the best!
  • 2nutz
    Thanks Moose - I actually picked up a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8; hopefully that'll do the trick. Now the challenge will be to actually see the Northern Lights!

    I don't use photoshop much and have never used lightroom; I may have to learn that one. I typically shoot in RAW + jpeg, just in case.

    Thanks again!

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