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Seeing and photographing an aurora has been long on my bucket list. Like many people, I have spent most of my life looking at other people’s amazing photos and thinking I would have to travel far north from the urban sprawl to see one. I would never know if the weather would make the trip worthwhile. Of course, if you have the opertunity to see one, you’ll want to photograph it! Below are some aurora photography tips, but here’s was my experience to boot.
On September 1st, 2019, I had an opportunity for a layover in Iceland, and I jumped at the chance. I had been travelling with family for eight days and nearly forgot to check the space weather during my twenty-four layover homeward. I was tired and not prepared to find the perfect spot. We were lucky to find the aurora outside Reykjavík but had to contend with light pollution. I had done all I could to fix the photos at the time, but it wasn’t practical. There was too much ugly color reflecting on the rocks, the water, and underneath the clouds. It simply wasn’t worth going to Photoshop to perform surgery.
On April 14th, 2022, I received a notification from my Aurora Pro phone app. There was a thirteen percent chance of seeing one from the park where I live. It was a short walk, so I had nothing to lose. I included it below to illustrate that you don’t always have to be far north to see one, albeit it does help. In this case, my camera’s sensitivity had to be set to the maximum to see the aurora. It looked like a wisp of a white cloud using just my eyes. If the solar storm were more intense, the results would be better.
After seeing the aurora for the second time, I was inspired to revisit my aurora photos from Iceland and found new ways to clean up the light pollution in a shorter amount of time. The above images are the result of that correction.
If you would like to capture your Aurora and cross it off of your list, download the Aurora Pro app. It will give you advanced warning notification that the conditions in your area are ideal, both in solar weather and cloud cover. As an alternative to the app, you can also use these links in North America to read the space weather conditions and follow them on twitter
To photograph the event, really depends on the weather, your location and light pollution. Ideally, you will want to shoot with a tripod as the exposures could be anywhere from 1/15 of a second to 11 seconds long and will introduce motion blur. For those people who shoot with smartphones, there are accessories to allow a smartphone to be mounted to a tripod. My favorite is by Peak Design. They make excellent gear that is functional, robust and stylish. (FYI, I am not sponsored with Peak Design at this time).
On whatever camera you use, you will want to use the fireworks or night mode on the camera to make the photos. For those people with dedicated camera, shoot at the widest aperture and set your iso (camera sensitivity) to 1600 as a starting point. A smaller number will yield less noise in the photo, but if your hand holding the camera, set it as high as you can. Remember, take a test photo even if your eye doesn’t see anything just to see what the camera sees. Good Luck! E
UPDATE: 13 Months later
I recently received a local Aurora Pro notification and decided to head out to the same spot armed with both my Canon 5D Mark IV and my new iPhone 14 Pro. Although the conditions were slightly brighter than my previous visit, the aurora was still not visible to the naked eye. It wasn’t until I took photos with my cameras that I could see the overcast haze of the aurora.
Comparing the two cameras, the Canon provided sharper details, while the iPhone excelled in bringing out the colors and contrast. However, the iPhone’s smaller pixel pitch and megapixel count could result in noisier images if enlarged to the same degree as the Canon. Additionally, the iPhone revealed shadow rings around the stars, which the Canon did not. On the other hand, the Canon could produce finer noise if reduced to the iPhone’s resolution.
In summary, the Canon offers much higher resolution and sharper details, but requires some manual post-production work. Meanwhile, the iPhone 14 Pro leverages computational algorithms to enhance images at a lower resolution.”
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