Tips for viewing the Northern Lights

Here at Off the Map Travel we have sent countless happy travellers to see the Northern Lights in a number of different countries. One thing that all our customers benefit from is our in-depth knowledge of the Aurora locales and destination countries. To help you on your own Northern Lights holiday, we have compiled our own list of tips for viewing and photographing the Northern Lights.

SEEING THE AURORA ON YOUR NORTHERN LIGHTS HOLIDAY

  • Topping the list of tips from the Off the Map Travel experts is to plan your trip in prime northern lights viewing conditions. Firstly, choose a destination within the Auroral Oval. Once there, you need clear, dark skies. Use aurora and weather forecasts to help plan your time whilst on location.
  • In order to achieve the dark skies that deliver the most spectacular displays, you need to get away from any nearby light pollution. You can do this by tapping into local knowledge from local guides, your hotel staff and local people you meet to point you in the direction of great aurora viewing spots and experiences.
  • You will need to kit yourself out properly with well insulated and waterproof clothing. It is cold at the latitude’s beneath the Auroral Oval and, when you are enjoying the best display ever seen, you don’t want to have to leave because you’re cold.
  • You need your eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. Use a red torch to find your way around as this will not affect your night vision and therefore ensure your eyes are well adjusted to best appreciate the lights.
  • Take a camera and take photos. A photo will confirm if there are the beginnings of an aurora or not. However, don’t spend the whole time behind your camera as it’s just as important to step back and enjoy them with your eyes.
  • Just like the scouts, you need to ‘be prepared’. Even if you are just popping out to check the sky, you don’t want to leave a great aurora to get changed and pack your bag only to come back out and they have gone.
  • Persistence and vigilance is vital; aurora can come and go very quickly so always keep your eyes open for activity.
  • Finally it is important to never give up. Snow can stop and clouds can clear for just long enough to get a glimpse of a stunning aurora even on a wintery night.

PHOTOGRAPHING THE AURORA ON YOUR NORTHERN LIGHTS HOLIDAY

  • Firstly, you need the right camera if you’re going to capture high quality images. Always use a modern digital SLR camera. Pocket compact cameras, even high-end models will not provide quality results.
  • Get familiar with the ISO settings on your camera. Because you’re shooting the aurora in low light situations you’ll need to use a high ISO, generally this will be 800-1600 ISO for all exposures unless you are using an extremely fast lens.
  • Just as your camera is important, so is using the right lens. If possible try to use a fast, wide angle lens. A minimum aperture of f3.5 will work but f2.8 or faster is recommended. An 18mm lens is a good minimum starting point.
  • A stable tripod is a must. You will need to use a slow exposure to capture the lights and if you try to do this by hand you’ll only get blurry results. Forget about inexpensive, low quality tripods as they often fail under the extremely cold conditions present above the Arctic Circle. It’s worth checking if you can hire these on arrival.
  • A relatively inexpensive pro-tip is to invest in a wireless release for your camera. This lets you take a photograph without touching the camera and works best when the camera’s shutter needs to stay open for a long duration and you want to eliminate all possibility of camera shake. A wireless remote control device is a better option than a cable releases as the cable can become hard and brittle in the extreme cold above the Arctic Circle.
  • Be prepared for the effect that the Arctic climate will have on your camera equipment. You’ll need to bring several extra batteries as they will function approximately one third as long as they usually would under normal conditions. Also, invest in a high-quality memory card. All the prep of the right equipment will be for nothing if you have a cheap memory card, as they can become sluggish and fail in the cold conditions.
  • A headlamp with the option of a red beam is a must. The red beam ensures that you’ll be able to maintain proper night vision while adjusting equipment and you won’t ruin anyone else’s shot.
  • Pack a few sealable plastic bags that are big enough hold your equipment. Before you go back indoors after a night’s shooting session, put your camera gear in the sealed bag. This helps to keep condensation off your equipment.
  • Never breathe on the front element of your lens while you are out in the cold. Ice crystals will form on the glass and cause blurriness, ghosting and overall image degradation.
  • Infinity focus is of the utmost importance. In order to be 100% certain that your images are in focus you need to be sure that your lens is properly set to infinity. There are several ways to do this but Chad would recommend that you use the digital zoom function while in live view mode to be sure that everything is perfect.
  • Before you book your trip, research your destination as some locations offer far better chances of seeing lights than others due to local weather patterns. Jonny would recommend locations such as Bjorkliden and the Abisko National Park which are shielded from some of the arctic weather by its surrounding mountain range.

See the Northern Lights for Yourself

We create tailor-made Northern Lights holiday itineraries to an exciting array of different destinations. Each itinerary is personalised to match your exact needs, ensuring that you enjoy a truly unique Northern Lights experience.

If you are interested in travelling to see the Northern Lights and would like to speak to one of our personal travel experts, simply call us on +44 (0) 800 566 8901 or leave a message through our Contact Us page. We can’t wait to help make your next dream holiday a reality!

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