Introduction to the Northern Lights
Northern Lights in the Lofoten Islands are one of the unforgettable natural phenomena. Lofoten Islands are beautiful at any time of year and in any weather. But you can’t see the Aurora Borealis for a whole week because of the changeable weather. Pre-adjust yourself so that the Aurora will be a bonus to your visit here.
Have you seen that many guides write in a disclaimer? They guarantee you everything you want, except that you will see the Northern Lights. Therefore, if you decide to come to the Lofoten Islands only to admire this natural phenomenon, then you can be really disappointed.
This guide will help you plan your trip and I’ll give you some practical tips for your the Northern Lights shooting.
There are dramatic landscapes of the skyward peaks, sandy beaches, rocks, wide open spaces with a beautiful backdrop. Also there one can find many interesting locations for shooting and almost all the points of view are near the road. You don’t have to go far on foot, just a few dozen meters from your car. In Reine and Hamnøy there are locations from which you can shoot directly from the door of your room in the hotel. It is amazing.
You can drive and stop for a shoot anywhere. But always think of your safety. On Lofoten always wear a light-reflecting waistcoat in the dark.
The Northern Lights on the Lofoten Islands is a light show that will change you forever. I froze when I saw the green glow of the sky the first time. I did not know what I should do? To look, to start shooting… I was shocked. When I saw that the light began to move across the sky, changing shape, fade and flare up again, I felt like a speck of the universe at this moment. I did not want to take photographs anymore. I just stayed and looked fascinated at the sky. Around me, there was nothing and no one. I still do not cease to admire the Northern Lights.
Perhaps my first piece of advice is just to enjoy this amazing spectacle.
What time of year do you see the Northern Lights in Lofoten Islands?
The strongest activity (KP Index) of the Northern Lights is in October and early March. You can see the Northern Lights on Lofoten around from 8 to 9 p.m.
August – October. The Northern Lights can be seen from the end of August. But its intensity is not strong and the night is still very short. In October things change. October is one of the best months to watch Aurora.
November – December. Not the best time for a visit to the Lofoten Islands. The weather is terrible, with prolonged rains and storms.
January – March. From early February to mid-March the best time for a visit to the Lofoten Islands and photographing the Northern Lights too. The day becomes longer. There is more sunny days and precipitation is less.
End of March – April. By the end of March, the opportunity to watch Aurora Borealis is getting smaller. This is due to the days getting longer. I’m not sure you can see it in April.
The intensity of the Northern Lights is not the same throughout the year. Plan your visit for October or from February to the first half of March.
As you can understand from the name, the Northern Lights can be seen not only on the Lofoten Islands but also everywhere in the North, i.e. in Iceland, Alaska, Canada, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Sweden and other places in the North. Aurora Borealis can be seen further in the South. Once I saw it in Southern Finland. But its intensity will be weak.
Contrary to the misconceptions, the Northern Lights are a year-round phenomenon. But you can see it only from late autumn to early spring. In the summertime, in the North, it is light all day. And you cannot see it.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Lofoten?
Beaches of Flakstadøy and Vestvågøy:
- Uttakleiv beach
- Haukland beach
- Vik beach
- Unstad beach
- Skagsanden beach
- Storsandnes beach
I wrote about some of these beaches in my article 5 the best beaches of the Lofoten Islands.
A lot of scenery can be found near Reine and Hamnøy.
Lofoten beaches are one of the best places for shooting the Northern Lights in Norway and around the world. With breathtaking landscapes around you, they offer an excellent background for the photo of Aurora Borealis.
Uttakleiv beach is the best place for photographing the Northern Lights, with its excellent foreground and a memorable mountain ridge in the background the sky. A small light pollution on the right side of the beach will not spoil your photo.
Haukland beach is an excellent location for shooting the sunset in winter and at the same time a good start for your Northern Lights shooting. The mountains on the right block the sky but this is not always a problem. After this beach, you can continue on Uttakleiv beach or Vik beach.
Vik beach is not the most expressive beach compared to the likes of Uttakleiv and Haukland. But it is well located and has beautiful mountain views. If you have the strength to shoot and you are watching the Northern Lights at this time, you can continue to shoot on this beach.
Undstad beach is very beautiful at sunset, but hard for shooting Aurora Borealis at night. This beach does not face the North and there is nothing in the background. You have to look for a good point for shooting. There are a lot of big and round boulders on the beach. This is the original foreground for shooting. I would visit it last after you have shot all the other beaches from this list.
Skagsanden beach is one of the popular beaches among surfers, this beach has become attractive to photographers recently. This small sandy beach with mountains in the background is oriented to the North and there is a good point for shooting the Northern Lights.
Storsandnes beach and Mirland beach are very cozy places located away from the main roads. Large open water spaces don’t obstruct the Aurora. Guess your visit so that the stones on the shore are washed by the waves.
Reine is the most famous city in the South of the Lofoten Islands. If you come to Lofoten you will definitely visit the Reine. It is very difficult to shoot the Northern Lights in the Reine. There is a backlighting here. You should use exposure bracketing.
Hamnøy is a fishing village near the Reine. The world famous view from the bridge is a wonderful view point for the shooting of the Northern Lights in the Lofoten Islands.
What to do to see the Aurora Borealis?
- Find the dark sky. This is the most important condition. It should be watched away from any major city. If the KP index (the intensity index of the Northern Lights) is high, you can watch it near small towns. But best of all, if there is no light pollution around. Use site Dark Sky. The map of light pollution is on this site. You should go where it’s dark. If the full moon, Aurora Borealis may not be visible. The parasitic illumination of the Moon will not let you make a good photo.
- Use special software. The intensity of the Northern Lights is not the same. Every day it is different. There are days when Aurora Borealis can be seen at all. The intensity of the Northern Lights is not the same. Every day it is different. There are days when Aurora Borealis can be seen at all.
- Check the weather forecast. If there is a dense cloudiness, the Northern Lights are not visible. Partly cloudy weather can create good conditions, and you will take a creative photo.
Photo Gear and Equipment
This is a very important aspect.
What kind of photographic gear is needed for shooting the Northern Lights? Let’s see what you will need.
I often hear questions. What is the best camera for Aurora? Choice of the camera is not of fundamental importance. I’m using Canon 5dsr. You can use similar ones for Nikon or Sony.
Recommendations, at the choice of the camera
- Preferably to use a camera with a full frame sensor
- Manual focus function (optional)
- RAW function is mandatory
- Low noise at high ISO
EF 11-24mm f/4L USM or similar for Nikon. These are expensive lenses. You can shoot with a lens 16-35 / 2.8 or even 24-70 / 2.8. Really, you want to use a wide-angle lens to capture the landscape and the sky. The Northern Lights flow across the sky and you want to capture it entirely.
Northern Lights can be shot only with the Ultra wide-angle lens – it’s a myth.
Several spare batteries
Batteries will be discharged quickly during the cold time of the day.
A strong carbon tripod with spikes is necessary since the shutter speed will be 5-25 seconds.
Center Ball Head
I do not like 3d heads. They are not convenient.
L-bracket for your camera
One of the most necessary accessories of the supporting system. Do you have it yet? You should take your skill to a new level – buy an L-bracket.
Remote Release Shutter
Since shooting Northern Lights is a long exposure shooting, you will need a remote release shutter or remote control.
Microfibre wipes (2-3)
Night shooting, in the north, in the winter. … There is always dampness. Your lens will be covered with moisture. It must be constantly wiped. Or all your photos will be blurred.
Waterproof protection for the camera
It can be a plastic bag from a supermarket. You have found an amazing angle for the picture, but Aurora Borealis is not yet visible. Cover the camera and lens.
- Warm clothes according to the system of layers
- Waterproof pants
- A cap
- Warm socks
– Head Torch
The flashlight will be useful for you when setting up the camera and focusing.
Install in advance all the applications specified in this guide.
– Thermos and snacks
Hot tea, coffee, and snacks, this is a great solution to get warm and have a snack.
Software and web services for shooting Aurora Borealis
There is special software. I have already mentioned some of it in the guide, and I will talk about something else further. In this section, I showed you a list of everything you need.
yr.no – Weather forecast
Norway lights forecast – Northern Lights forecast
Aurora Forecast – for IOS and Android
The Photographer’s Ephemeris – all about the light
How to photograph the Northern Lights?
Reconnaissance of the location is desirable. You have to shoot at night. It will not be fun if you break your neck in the dark. Of course, if you are a participant in the photo tour, you rely on your guide and his knowledge of the area. Moreover, a professional guide will always show you the place of shooting in the daytime.
Why do this?
In the afternoon, you can find an interesting landscape in advance and plan a future shot. Do not be lazy to do it.
Plan your way from the auto to the point of shooting, find dangerous places. Try to remember everything. At night you should be free to navigate.
PRO tip: Never leave your camera bag on the ground while shooting. Most likely, you spend the rest of the night looking for it.
How to set the camera to capture the Northern Lights?
Did you shoot M in the daytime? It’s hard for a beginner. Photographing the Northern Lights in M mode is very difficult. But you will have to master this skill. Any other camera mode is not suitable for Aurora Borealis. Since the brightness of the sky changes constantly, you should often change the basic settings of the camera. Do it in the dark and fast. The metering of modern cameras does not work correctly for the shooting of the Northern Lights. For this reason, you will have to select the M mode.
Basic camera settings:
- Evaluative Metering или Matrix Metering for Nikon.
- Apertures 2.8-4 / f.
- The shutter speed is 5-15 seconds.
- Start out shooting with an ISO of 800.
ISO and shutter speed, we will adjust during shooting.
You set up your camera. It’s time to go photograph.
How to focus the lens at night?
The first thing you should do is not to fuss. Or do you have time to shoot the Northern Lights or not. Let your eyes get used to the dark and walk slowly to the pre-planned shooting point.
The main difficulty of night shooting is focusing. Camera autofocus works properly is not always the case. You should be prepared for this. Unfortunately, modern lenses are not adapted to manual focus. This is a problem. And it should be solved.
There are 4 tips.
- Using Live-View of your camera. This is a lottery, as there is little to see on the screen. You will most likely make defocused shots. In the dark, autofocus works not exactly.
- Focus the lens on the flashes of the Northern Lights. This is a good choice, but if you do not have a landscape in the foreground.
- Take out the flashlight and highlight the foreground of 2-3 meters in front of the lens. Focus the lens on a light spot in the AF mode and gently turn off the AF on the lens. After that, do not touch the lens and make a shot. A wide-angle lens has a huge depth of field. The frame should be sharp, even at an aperture of 2.8-4 / f.
Do not shine a flashlight for a long time. It is advisable not to use it at all, if possible. You will interfere with other photographers. You must have respect for your colleagues. With the group, the lighting time should be coordinated with all participants. And before the shot, loudly notify everyone: I’m shooting!
Calculate the exposure
It is very important to remember the sequence of actions and perform them.
Do you already know what the Histogram is? This is the main tool that you will use to analyze the shutter speed. Do not pay attention to the current shutter speed. For example, in the basic setting, it will be 20 seconds.
I’ll remind you once again of the basic settings
- Aperture 2.8-4 / f (depends on your lens)
- Evaluative Metering or Matrix Metering for Nikon (optional)
Mounting the camera on a tripod, selecting a frame and focusing the lens, you begin to shoot.
The first frame will be experimental. It is important for you to understand the intensity of the Northern Lights.
If the frame is dark you increase ISO (1600 – 3200). You can adjust the ISO more about the likelihood of noise rising.
If the frame is light you do ISO-less (400 – 200). A smaller ISO value causes less image noise.
If the frame is still bright with ISO 200-400, you should decrease the shutter speed. For example 20s – 15s – 10s…
Once I shot Aurora Borealis at ISO settings 400, f / 4, 3 Sec.
You did not ask yourself why you cannot increase the shutter speed? It would seem so simple. Increase the shutter speed to 30 … 60 … 90 … 120… Sec. Usually, this should not be done. Star tracks are a problem. Stars in the photo will be blurred at a high shutter speed. But the shutter speed is not large enough to take a shot with beautiful star tracks.
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What shutter speed do I need?
It all depends on the focal length that you use for this shot. Guided by the data in the table and do not think about it.
|Focal length||Maximum shutter speed for shooting static stars|
How to edit Northern Lights Photos?
I’ll show you how to edit the photos of the Northern Lights. These are the basic settings. But most of them will be enough for a beginner photographer. In any case, you should experiment.
Basic settings for RAW
- Lens Correction. This is the first thing you should do when processing any photo. Also, you can fix the horizon. These settings are automatic.
- White Balance. For Northern Lights shots, AWB doesn’t a perfect work. Most of the photographers agree that the White Balance for shooting the Northern Lights is 2800-4500 K.
- Exposure. Most often your photo will be underexposed. I adjusted the exposure in two stages. Immediately and after adjusting the basic settings.
- Contrast. The picture should be as natural as possible. Increasing the contrast will make the color noise higher. In this example, I lowered the contrast.
- Highlights. Shift the slider to the left to recover some details in the highlights. I bring the highlights down when I edit Northern Lights photos.
- Shadows. I will bring my shadows up to lighten up a foreground and I need to recover details.
- Whites. A little shift to the left gives my more dramatic.
- Blacks. Usually, for Northern Lights, I ’m removing the black in the shadows making it gray.
- Clarity. There are branches in my photo. I wanted to make it clearer.
- Vibrance. I wanted brighter colors and increased vibrance.
- Saturation. Northern Lights are a bright natural phenomenon. Some saturated colors will make a photo better.
- Dehaze. This is a very good tool that many people forget. In my example, I used dehaze (+50) to create a rich blue color of the night sky.
- HSL. I will edit the individual colors. Since I edit the Northern Lights and the night sky, I will use green and blue colors. Some correction was enough.
Noise Reduction. Color noise is a problem of night photos and especially images of the Northern Lights. I reduced the color noise and was pleased with the result.
The photo was dark and expressive before post-processing.
After processing, you can see the foreground on the photograph, the Northern Lights has a more intense color and contrast and the night sky has a dark blue color.
I’ve finished the processing of the photo of the Northern Lights in the camera RAW. As you can see, I used only the camera RAW converter and d a good result. I think you should not complicate the process if it’s not needed.
Please rate 🙂
There is an interactive Google map of the Lofoten Islands. This will help you plan your trip. Save this Google map in your smartphone or tablet and use during the trip.