My name is Dave, and I’m an au­ro­ra­holic

WARN­ING: pho­tograph­ing the North­ern Lights is ad­dic­tive

The Sunday Times - - EXPERIENCE - David Evans es­corts small group tours to Swedish La­p­land each Jan­uary, in­clud­ing pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy tu­ition and a lo­cal guide. trav­e­len­

“IS IT AS BRIGHT to look at as it is in photograph­s?” This is the ques­tion I am most of­ten asked about the aurora bo­re­alis. The an­swer is a frus­trat­ing, “well, that de­pends”.

Hav­ing seen the aurora dozens of times, I can say it is al­ways dif­fer­ent and you know when you’ve seen a good one. And you know it’s a good one when the snow turns green and the face of the per­son next to you is lit up, as if watch­ing a fire­works dis­play. This gen­er­ally hap­pens at a Kp of 5 or more – the Kp-in­dex be­ing a scale of 1 to 9, rat­ing the in­ten­sity of an aurora and the ra­di­a­tion burst from the sun that re­acts with the Earth’s mag­netic field, re­sult­ing in the aurora. I have seen up to Kp7, which filled the sky with a daz­zling, danc­ing dis­play for hours – pho­tos didn’t do it jus­tice. I’ve never met any­one who’s seen a Kp9, but I sus­pect they’d have a per­ma­nent green tan.

But what if it isn’t that bright? Is it pos­si­ble to photograph a dim aurora? Ab­so­lutely, but it’s here that it’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to know how to use your camera.

Pho­tograph­ing the aurora is pop­u­lar for vis­i­tors to the far north, with Ice­land, Nor­way, Swe­den, Fin­land and Canada be­ing top van­tage points, es­pe­cially in win­ter when nights are long and “aurora sea­son” is in full swing. Chances are best un­der the “aurora oval” which runs like a ring around the top (and bot­tom) of the globe, gen­er­ally at 66 to 69 de­grees lat­i­tude, co­in­cid­ing with the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of mag­netic field lines. It is best pho­tographed with no moon, or up to halfmoon, en­sur­ing more night sky dark­ness and there­fore more aurora colour and con­trast.

Cam­eras are so good to­day that al­most any camera can be used. I’ve even seen some­one cre­ate a de­cent photo us­ing an iPhone, rest­ing it atop a car to keep it still. But get­ting truly great images re­quires an SLR camera where set­tings can be man­u­ally con­trolled, and a tri­pod to keep it steady over sev­eral sec­onds.


The skies light up in Jukkasjärv­i, main, and Lake Tor­neträsk, Swedish La­p­land.

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