Ultimate guide for photographing the Northern Lights in Finland.
When, where and how? Those are the most common question's I hear about seeing and photographing the Northern Lights. In this ultimate guide I will explain and share my experience on how I have been able to see the Northern Lights in Finland and how I capture pictures of this magical phenomenal.
The best months to photograph the Northern lights.
So, let's take thing's from the beginning. Over the past years Finland has become an popular tourist destination for the Northern Lights experience. Most people are travelling to the north
part of the country and above the arctic cycle, to the famous and beautiful Lapland. Lapland is a perfect place for those who seek a bit of an adventure in the wonderful wilderness as well for those who wish to see the northern lights. What makes Lapland such a special place it's because of it's location to the north. In general, the farther north you get the more chances you got to see the northern lights. The best months to see them is between September and March. But why? What makes April-August not so good? It's because of the midnight sun. During the summer in Finland we have night-less night's and we have really long day's. That means that during the summer the night's don't get dark at all and dark night's are essential in case you would like to see the northern lights.
So if you happen to be there during September-March and there is a starry/clear night, just look up! You may see something green moving around in the sky!
I recommend checking also the northern light forecast. You can check the northern light/aurora Kp strength here: aurora-service . There are as well a various amount of apps you can download to your phone.
Yes you can see the northern lights also in southern Finland!
In case you happen to visit only the southern part of Finland, I have some great news for you! Yes, you can see them also there, even though many people don't know about that. It's funny also that so many people living in Finland don't know that you can see them also there and also really many have never seen them. That's because it very rare to see them in the southern part, comparing to the northern part. That's unfortunately the bad news. For the northern lights to be visible in southern Finland the Kp strength of them should be somewhere between 6-8 Kp. You can check the northern light/aurora Kp strength and forecast here: aurora-service . There are as well a various amount of apps you can download to your phone.
One other important fact is that you need to get to a really desolated and dark place to see them. So if you are in the center of Helsinki you won't be able to see them. Finding a dark place is though very easy here in Finland in case you have a car and you are willing to drive out of the city for avoiding light pollution. For finding a dark place I recommend you using this site darksitefinder before you go out. It will help a lot for finding a dark location perfect for seeing them. My personal top 3 places for northern lights near the Helsinki area are Kirkkonummi, Inkoo and Tammisaari.
This is what you will need and how to photograph the Northern lights.
We went through how to find the Northern lights. Now I'll share with you some tips on how to photograph them. Night-photography in general is harder than daylight photography. I recommend you to practice night-photography a little bit before you jump into Northern light photography. The reason is that sometimes the northern lights can be visible just only for 30 minutes and then they disappear. So if during that time you are trying to learn night-photography you could miss that magic show and return home with zero good pictures.
Camera equipment you will need for photographing the northern lights:
Camera- You will need a camera in which you can adjust manually the settings of it and preferably one that can handle shooting with high ISO's.
Wide lens - I would recommend you having a wide lens so you can capture more of the sky and the foreground in you picture and also because you can also use a much longer shutter speed without getting star trails comparing with a telephoto lens.
Tripod - You must have tripod because you will be shooting with long shutter speeds.
A remote control or an intervalometer - I recommend you having one of those with you. When you have you camera on your tripod you can trigger the shot remotely and avoid any camera shaking ( camera shaking can provide blurry images). You can also of course use the self- timer on the camera to trigger the shot.
Flash light or headlamp - This is something you must not forget to bring with you as you will not be able to see anything in the darkness. Preferably bring a good headlamp so you have completely freedom with your hands for using the camera.
Hand warmers - Hand warmers is something you need for your self to keep you warm but also for you lens. Attaching several of them around your lens will help so that the lens don't get moisture or frozen.
( I am using a Nikon D850 & Nikon D750 as camera bodies and a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 & Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 as my lenses for northern light photography )
Where to focus?
For getting crispy focused pictures of the northern lights you will need to focus on infinity . Some lenses have an infinity symbol on the focus ring when other don't. I recommend always to focus manually for the best results. When you have you camera on manual focus you can simply use the live view on you camera and zoom into a bright star. The you move you focus ring. If the star looks like a circle ( O ) it meas that the stars are out of focus. If the star looks like a dot it means that it's in focus and you are then focused on infinity. When moving around you might accidentally move the focus ring. Then all your pictures we be out of focus, so I recommend always to check it again and again during the night. Nothing worse than coming back home with pictures out of focus!
Camera settings for photographing the northern lights:
Unfortunately I can't tell you to use always a specific camera setting for photographing the northern lights, as it various a lot on the different conditions you have.
In general you will need a high ISO, an open aperture and a long shutter speed. I have always as a base setting to start with ISO 3200, f/2.8 and a 15 second shutter speed. After that I'll check my picture and I'll adjust it according to the conditions I have. What I mean with conditions is how fast the northern lights move and how dark or how much light there is at the place you are. The northern lights sometimes can move faster and sometimes slower. With that said you need really to consider what shutter speed you will use. If the northern lights are moving very slow you can even use a 30 second shutter speed. On the other hand if they are moving very fast you may have to use a faster shutter speed something like 4 seconds. The reason is because you want to keep all the textures and details of the northern lights while they are moving. If they are moving very fast and you are using a 30 second shutter speed it will capture every movement for 30 seconds and the northern lights will not have any structure left in your picture.
Here are some sample picture's with settings: