Capturing images of the Northern Lights

Winters in Thunder Bay can be tough to live through. Bone-chilling temperatures and piles of snow are the norm, but being in this particular part of the world does come with some perks. One of those perks is the ability to catch a glimpse of one of the 7 Natural Wonder of the World - the Northern Lights. The flashes of green, red, blue, and purple that light up the sky are wonderful to behold, but what if you want to capture that show in a photograph or video?

What are the Northern Lights anyway?

The sun is continually emitting charged particles in bursts, which are known as solar flares. When those charged particles collide with gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere, they create the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis. The different colours you see are the result of different types of gas particles hitting the charged particles.

 

Increasing your odds of seeing the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights don’t always make an appearance on a winter’s night. Whether you’re able to see them, and just how bright they’ll be, depend on your timing and location. Areas to the north of Thunder Bay will offer better viewing opportunities than those within the city. Try to situate yourself in a place with little or no light pollution – cottage resorts and campgrounds are good options. The best time of year to see the aurora borealis is during the fall or winter months, when nights are clearer and offer longer stretches of darkness. During those nights, the period between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. is considered the best time to watch for the Northern Lights.

To aid your chances of seeing the aurora, you can monitor the weather in space through a website like spaceweather.com. Space weather websites will offer information on the intensity of solar flares, which cause the Northern Lights. The larger the flares predicted, the more likely you’ll see the aurora. Also, the more intense the aurora, the easier it will be to capture a photograph of it.

Capturing images of the Northern Lights

It is possible, but very difficult, to capture the Northern Lights with a point-and-shoot camera. The problem with the Northern Lights is that while they appear bright to the naked eye, they appear much darker to many devices. The result is often dark or grainy images.

For the best results, a digital SLR camera is the go-to piece of equipment. With a DSLR, you can utilize long exposure, meaning one photo can display up to 60 seconds of what appears in the sky. It’s recommended you use a DSLR with moderately low noise at ISO 400; a wide-angle lens; a good tripod that’s capable of pointing straight up; and a shutter release cable or wireless trigger, which will let you keep the shutter open as long as you want to.

You might have to experiment with the manual settings on the camera to get shots that you’re happy with. It can be a challenge to get the equipment and settings just right, but the end results can be spectacular!

You might have to experiment with the manual settings on the camera to get shots that you’re happy with. It can be a challenge to get the equipment and settings just right, but the end results can be spectacular!