Photographer Daniel Alford shares this guide to capturing the elusive aurora borealis, which he was fortunate to witness in the wilds of Wales.
SHOOT FOR THE STARS
To avoid light pollution, get as far away from the city lights as possible by heading out to the coast, the mountains or countryside. If you’re looking to capture a frame full of stars or the Milky Way, you should check the moon cycles to ensure there will be little to no moon light. You want the sky as dark as possible to ensure the only light your camera is capturing is ancient star light. It can be quite tricky to ensure a sharp image, so select manual focus and put your camera into live view mode so you can see the image from the lens on the back of the camera. Then use the digital zoom function to isolate the brightest star you can find and zoom in as far as your camera will allow; manual focus on that. Zoom back out, get out of live view and you’re ready to shoot.
Shutter speed: Ensure your shutter speed is very low. As a standard, I use a shutter speed between 25-30 seconds to ensure I let as much light into the lens as possible.
ISO: As a standard I set my ISO to 1600 and go from there. Most modern DSLRs will have very little grain at this number but be flexible as every camera is different.
Aperture/lens: Use a lens that has a very low f number, anything below and including f2.8. This is to make sure you let in as much light as possible.Tripod/camera remote For astrophotography of any kind a tripod is essential. To avoid any extra blur, use a remote shutter.
THE AURORA BOREALIS
The above settings are also a good base for photographing the Northern Lights, but do try adjusting your shutter speed up and down depending on how quickly the lights dance across the sky. The Aurora season in the northern hemisphere is most visible from September to the end of March. Your best chance to see them will be in the far northern countries, but if you’re lucky they can be spotted in the UK. There are plenty of websites and apps that can alert you to the amount of solar activity hitting the upper atmosphere. The Kp-index represents the amount of activity and how far south the lights can be seen. For the UK there needs to be a lot of activity, so look out for a Kp value of around 5 to 7.
To discover more about Dan Alford's unexpected encounter and for more tips on capturing lights in the night sky turn to Issue 6 of Ernest Journal available in store.