Aurora Shooting

Guys, I need guidance here.. I have a D5300 & I want to have some nice shots on Aurora Borealis. Any of you have any experience on this? What lens & settings should I go for? Thank you very much.


  • edited June 2018
    Your best bet is probably to look around and see what Google comes up with. It's been a long time since I shot any auroras (poor showing here in Vermont in recent years), and last time was on film.

    But I can give a couple of hints. First of all, you will want a pretty wide open aperture. There's no depth of field to worry about.

    You'll want a fairly high but not brutally high ISO. I'd look at something around 800 or 1600 as a first try. You can shoot at lower ISO (back in film days one had to) but the higher you go, the quicker your shot, so try to calculate the compromise between long exposures and noise.

    Shutter speed will likely be for something between 30 seconds and a minute or two, so obviously you will need a tripod. edit to add: a bit of looking around suggests probably faster these days, so I'd experiment with speeds below 30 seconds down to a few seconds, depending on how bright things are. I forget that when I last did it I was shooting ISO 100 slides!

    Widest angle is probably going to be the best. If you can get a little foreground object, a hillside or the like at the edge, it can give you a little more interest.

    Your main challenge if you're using an AF zoom lens these days is going to be focusing. It's almost guaranteed that you'll need manual focus here. Most lenses these days will focus past infinity, and that makes more blur than coming up a little short. For this reason, you are best off trying to focus on some very distant object - a hillside, a far away building, or the like. You can't just crank the lens out to the stop (once upon a time with all-metal manual lenses you could).

    If you can experiment a bit in the daytime, see what focus you get on a distant hillside or far-away tree, and it may be possible either to note the position on the lens or to mark it. Though there may be a tiny change from thermal expansion it won't be enough to worry about. If you're in doubt, it's better to err slightly on the close side than the long.

    Since you're going to be shooting in manual mode, and not relying on the camera's meter, make sure that you take the camera out of Auto ISO, otherwise it will likely crank the ISO up higher than you want.

    If your camera is set for "long exposure noise reduction" you should probably turn it off. In some cameras this is a separate item, and in some, like the D3200, it's bundled into the "noise reduction" setting, but I think it's separate on the D5x00 family. What this does, usually in shots over a second in length, is that after the shot it makes a second picture at the same speed with the shutter closed. Noise and hot pixels seen in that blank shot are then subtracted from the finished shot. It's a nice idea, but on long exposures, it means that the camera will be essentially dead between shots. If you take a two minute exposure, you'll wait nearly two more minutes before you can take a second one. On a colorful aurora, the difference is probably just not worth it.

    Oh, and while adding, I might add first of all, don't forget to use either a remote release or the self timer so as not to shake the camera, and don't forget to have a spare battery in your pocket staying nice and warm.
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