A lot of people ask us if we see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). The answer is yes! There has to be several conditions met – ie clear skies, not too full a moon and, of course, they have to be there! We see them several times a year and we can see them from our garden right by the lodges. If they are really strong, we will see some colour in the lights….however, a camera will see more than we do and really pull out the colours. This is a little blog about how to take photos – some simple tips and ideas on camera settings.
This is aimed at an amateur photographer using an interchangeable lens camera, a bridge camera or even a phone.
I use the Aurora UK app on my mobile phones and set it to alert me at an amber status which gives a pretty good chance of seeing the lights. This app shows the intensity of the lights and a reading of 100nT or more is good! I also use the Glendale app for more detail, although this is slightly more difficult to get. Use the map function on either app to see where the Aurora is. The Glendale app shows the cloud cover and will give points where others have successfully seen the lights which is helpful.
If there is an alert we go out to the garden and look north and north west over the lodges. The photo below was taken from our garden!
The most important thing you need to do when taking photos at night (no flash!) is to keep whatever camera using 100% steady. I really mean steady! The best way to do this is by using a tripod. Even for phones, you can get little cheap tripods. These are absolutely fine – all you need to do is to keep it still!
At night, the camera will often struggle to focus – as it is dark! So, I usually set the focus to manual and then to infinity. When I first started taking pictures at night, I let auto focus take over and for starry skies and the northern lights, I was often disappointed with the results. With a phone, you will need to make sure it is very steady, and tap the screen in the sky area so that it can also focus effectively on infinity.
I have tried Aperture priority too – but have not found better results by using this mode (normally an ‘A’ on the mode selector). You may notice that my lenses are all at F4 – this is the lowest they go. If you have a lens that goes lower (my phone goes down to F2.8) which is better for low light then you may get a less grainy photo – it’s worth experimenting for sure.
Alternatively try the Struie Viewpoint or Loch Fleet as can be seen above and below. Just look north! Perhaps, with a little bit of west too.