Sep 9, 2016

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How to photograph the Northern Lights - Step-by-step instructions

The northern lights, polar lights or aurora borealis, is a beautiful natural light, and getting to see it dance above your head is a magical and surreal experience.

I share quite a few of my northern light photos on my Instagram feed, and sometimes people ask how to take pictures of this beautiful natural phenom.

So I figured I'd take you along on one of my typical nights of northern light photography. This is pretty much what I do, step-by-step:

  1. The northern light app goes off, saying there's a good chance of seeing the aurora in my area.

  2. Step right outside to take a trial shot to see what the conditions are like. If there's any green to be seen, then the race is on.

  3. Spend 30 minutes finding everything needed for a long night of freezing temperatures, while trying to eat something and not tripping over the dog - who is sure that the world is about to end.

  4. Pack camera, tripod, dog, backpack, snacks and two extra pairs of mittens into the car. And drive off to a place I've scouted in daylight.

  5. Park, and take everything out of the car.

  6. Realize that I've forgotten to bring a flashlight.

  7. Put everything back into the car and drive back home to get said flashlight.

  8. Drive back to the location and take everything out of the car while trying to keep the dog from running off.

  9. Stumble around in the dark for 15 minutes through lots of snow while thinking that this is better than any StairMaster. Why not use the flashlight? Because I want let my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

  10. Trip over a stick that was hidden by the snow, and fall flat on my face because I tried to save the tripod instead of using my hands to catch the fall.

  11. Finally get to the "perfect" spot, only to realize that light pollution from a nearby oil refinery completely ruins the view.

  12. Hike back to the car, and drive off to a better location.

  13. Walk through snow for another 10 minutes while the dog is running around like crazy, having the time of her life.

  14. Setting up the tripod and camera, taking care to find a nice spot and make sure the camera is leveled.

  15. Start taking pictures, only to have the dog run into the tripod just as you've clicked the button.

  16. Repeat step 15 about 20 times.

  17. Pull out some treats for the dog to distract her from bumping into the camera.

  18. Take about 100 photos while enjoying the view and cuddling the dog...

  19. ...and finally remember to look at the results, only to realize that I should have used different settings.
  20. Find the correct settings, and stare in awe at the beautiful lights dancing across the sky.

  21. Realize that I've forgotten to take pictures while admiring the stunning Aurora.

  22. Take some photos that actually turn out okay.

  23. Move the camera, making sure it's leveled again.

  24. The dog, who's now getting bored, insists on standing in front of the camera, blocking the view.

  25. Find more treats for the dog and try to distract her.

  26. The dog gets sick of her treats and starts wondering what this "camera thing" is, and decides to sniff the lens.

  27. Wipe the lens clean from the dog's nose marks.

  28. Bring out the extra pairs of mittens. -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) is freaking cold!

  29. Continue to enjoy the show, while trying out some different settings and camera placements.

  30. When I can't feel my fingers or toes anymore, it's time to walk back to the car, making sure I've left nothing behind.

  31. Get home and transfer the pictures to Lightroom.

  32. Look through them, and be disappointed that I didn't move the camera just a few centimeters to the right, or that I didn't try a slightly lower shutter speed...

  33. Go to bed, a bit sad that none of the pictures turned out okay.

  34. 2 months later: Look through the pictures again, only to find that they are pretty okay after all. YAY!

  35. Spend hours editing them - and then - Share on Instagram!

So, that's basically my whole creative process :)

And if you've read this all the way to the end, you've probably realized that there are many hours and a lot of hard work and every single photo I share.

I'm not a photographer, nor are my photos always as good as I'd like. But I am learning, and I am enjoying the process. So I really hope you enjoy seeing them.

If you are looking for some useful information, I did highlight some tips for you in the text above. I hope it will be useful :)

And should you have any questions or comments, just let me know in the comments below. I am more than happy to answer.

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