Amaz­ing auro­ras

Head out to cap­ture the colours and tex­tures of these spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral light shows

NPhoto - - Feature -

The Aurora Bo­re­alis (or the North­ern Lights) and its south­ern hemi­sphere coun­ter­part, the Aurora Aus­tralis (South­ern Lights) are night sky spec­ta­cles that rank high on the bucket lists of many land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers. Hap­pily, Nikon’s sen­sor tech­nol­ogy is now so good that it’s pos­si­ble for any­one to cap­ture high-qual­ity im­ages of this in­cred­i­ble light show, as long as you put your­self in the right lo­ca­tion at the right time (see tip op­po­site) and fol­low these sim­ple guide­lines…


The aim is to record the aurora’s in­ten­sity and shift­ing shape. The sky is ob­vi­ously the star of the show, so base your ex­po­sure on this and don’t ex­pect the fore­ground to be cor­rectly ex­posed un­less it is lit by ar­ti­fi­cial light or strong moon­light. As with starscapes, it will prove eas­ier to shoot a fore­ground im­age sep­a­rately and com­bine this with the cor­rectly ex­posed sky shot later on.

Your cam­era set­tings will de­pend on the pre­vail­ing con­di­tions. Long ex­po­sures will blur the shift­ing lights, so limit the shutter speed to around ten sec­onds to start with, in Man­ual mode. You’ll also need to set an ISO of 1600 or 3200, and as wide an aper­ture as pos­si­ble.


Al­though you may lose some de­tail in the land, it’s worth scout­ing for a lo­ca­tion that has a re­flec­tive sur­face in the fore­ground, whether that’s a lake, a river or ice. This will al­low you to fill the frame with colour and in­ter­est, rather than the ac­tion be­ing re­stricted to the top half of the frame.


Shooting an aurora is a one-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity for many pho­tog­ra­phers, so it pays to keep check­ing that you’re cap­tur­ing sharp im­ages; this will give you an op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect things if you’re not. For in­stance, it’s easy to in­ad­ver­tently nudge the fo­cus ring when you’re zoom­ing the lens to cap­ture the chang­ing light pat­terns and sur­round­ings, ru­in­ing of all your re­main­ing ex­po­sures.

Make sure that the locks on your tri­pod legs and your ball head are fully tight­ened up (a ball head is bet­ter than a three-way head for this type of pho­tog­ra­phy as it makes it eas­ier to point the cam­era to­wards the sky and re-ad­just its po­si­tion quickly). Man­u­ally fo­cus at in­fin­ity, take a test shot, then mag­nify the im­age on the rear screen to check that the stars are sharp.


As with the other types of night sky pho­tog­ra­phy we’ve looked at, a re­mote release is an essential bit of kit. Not only does it al­low you to take a se­quence of ex­po­sures with­out touch­ing the cam­era, it leaves you free to take in the light show as it un­folds above.

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