10 things you need...

Dan Steinbakk, 10 February, 2023
...to successfully photograph the Northern Lights.

Inntravel’s Northern Lights guide in Tromsø, Dan Steinbakk, is an accomplished nature photographer. He has taken some incredible shots of the Aurora over the years, so we asked him how he does it. Here are his top ten requirements:

1. Determination – my advice is: get out here and give it a go! What have you got to lose (apart from time in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and the cost of your trip)?

2. Curiosity – about the Lights but also about long-exposure photography. It will open a whole new, wonderful world for you. You can use this not only for awesome night-time and Aurora shots, but also in ordinary nature and landscape photography.

3. A decent camera – be prepared to use the manual settings option; DSLR or mirrorless is good.

4. A wide-angled lens – preferably it should have an aperture of around f/2.8 – f/3.5.

5. A tripod – shooting long exposures means that you have to have a stable "platform" without any shakes or movements. (I provide a tripod for all of the guests on my tours.)

6. A willingness to learn – if all this sounds rather complicated: don't worry! If you come on one of my tours, I will show you how it works on your camera, and teach you how to get the best results. And if you don't have a camera, I will take a bunch of pictures and email them to you for free after the tour!

7. A desire to experiment – start by setting the aperture to the lowest number – an ISO of between 800-1600, and the shutter speed (exposure) to 6-15 seconds. This will usually give you an indication of how to adjust your settings. If the picture looks ‘grainy’, take the ISO down and the exposure up – for example, you could set the ISO to 600 with an exposure of 20 seconds. You have to balance these two settings: a high ISO and low shutter speed will create more ‘noise’ and grain but allow you to capture sharper ‘spikes’ on the Aurora. A lower ISO and faster shutter will create less grain and noise, but the edges won't be as crisp as they will be smudged by the movement of the Lights.

8. Flexibility (and awareness of the conditions) – these settings are also dependent on the amount of ‘natural ISO’ (moonlight, prevailing cloud cover, etc.). Moonlight makes it easier to take nice pictures, due to the scenery being brighter; whereas an overcast sky will make things darker. This means that, if the Aurora is really strong and bright, you must reduce the ISO and shutter speed, to prevent the picture from becoming over-exposed or ‘burnt out’.

9. A remote control – this prevents ‘camera shake’ while pressing the shutter button. It’s also possible to use the self-timer on the camera: just set it to a two-second delay.

10. Patience – probably the most important requirement of all! When I shoot pictures on my own, I often take several days to plan my next shot. Location, weather, light conditions and likely Aurora activity are just some of the factors that I consider. I sometimes shoot between 200-300 pictures a night, and perhaps only 20 of them will be any good. We photographers are always looking for ‘the perfect picture’; we know we’ll never get it, but there’s a lot of fun and reward to be had in trying!

Further information

Images of the Northern Lights
Dan Steinbakk is Inntravel's expert Northern Lights guide, based in the island city of Tromsø.
More about our man, Dan >

Seek out the Northern Lights
Tromsø is not the only destination that we offer where you have a chance of spotting the Northern Lights. When conditions are right, they can also be seen in the skies above Ylläs in Lapland.
More about our Northern Lights breaks >
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