shooting photos at night

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At 27 degrees below zero, there’s no shame in dressing your camera in a winter coat.

Bonnie out to shoot photos of the aurora
Photographer and camera all parka’d up

Bonnie, here, coming to you from our first-ever Northern Lights Photo Expedition at Chena Hot Springs in the interior of Alaska. It’s so cold here that when you breathe in through your nose, it crackles.

But then this happens… and it’s all worthwhile:

shoot photos of the aurora

Here we are, out braving the cold and making memories together under the aurora:

shoot photos of the aurora

So far, the biggest lesson we’ve learned is: Be prepared. Hand warmers, toe warmers, fluffy coats, and hot chocolate keep us going.

And the second-biggest lesson is: Practice with your gear!

If you think your camera is frustrating now, try operating it inside a fluffy camera parka with ski gloves on, at 20 degrees below zero… in the dark.

It sounds impossible. But if you spend a little time practicing in a warm room with the lights on, getting to know your camera’s buttons and dials, it’s not so bad. And it makes you a better photographer in the end.

To shoot photos of the aurora, you need to first put your camera on a tripod… then put it in manual. Here are the settings to start with:

ISO: HIGH – around 1600 or higher

Aperture: Wide open. Use the lowest f/stop number – around f/2.8 or f/4.5

Shutter Speed: Up to 20 seconds. It’s hard to say for sure without being there, because some aurora displays are brighter than others. Start around 10 seconds and go up to 20 if you need to – but don’t go beyond 20 seconds, as you’ll start to see movement in your stars.
As a photographer – whether you’re braving super-cold temps or casually shooting in your backyard, it’s always a good idea to get familiar with your gear before you go shoot. Spend some time learning how to change the settings when you don’t have something exciting happening in front of you. 

That way, when something exciting DOES happen… you’ll be ready. And much more likely to get the shot. 

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