Masthead header

20 seconds @ f/2.8, ISO 2000

20 seconds @ f/2.8, ISO 2000

I’m often asked what the correct camera exposure is for the northern lights. And, like many answers to broad questions, the answer could be equally broad due to the many variables involved. However, there are some basic starting points, and I’m including an excerpt here from my eBook on How to Photograph the Northern Lights, which will be updated to the 3rd edition soon.

Aurora Exposure

Because aurora photography occurs in the dark, the exposures require long shutter speeds in conjunction with a wide aperture and a high or “sensitive” ISO. That is why people often say that aurora photography pushes the limits of the exposure variables. This is certainly true for ISO and aperture. Long-duration shutter speeds can be easily set, but because the aurora is often moving, and sometimes moving quickly, a shorter shutter speed is preferred because it captures the shape better. A long exposure blurs the shape of the aurora, making it less defined.

4 seconds @ f/2.8, ISO 6400

4 seconds @ f/2.8, ISO 6400

When creating an exposure for the aurora, setting your camera to an acceptable high ISO and opening your lens aperture to its widest opening is a good starting point. With those variables set, the shutter speed is most often the changing variable, and the shutter needs to stay open long enough to let in enough light. How long is long enough? Try a test shot. If your picture is too dark, increase the shutter speed, or increase the ISO if your camera can handle it. If the picture is too bright, reduce the shutter speed, or reduce the ISO. Eventually, you will find the appropriate settings for the brightness of the aurora display. This varies from night to night, based on the intensity of the aurora and other factors of ambient light, such as the moon. How to evaluate your exposure using the camera’s LCD display is a topic I discuss in a later chapter in the Book. 

For a starting point, you can use this chart to calculate an initial exposure. Then, after taking a shot, make some evaluations and adjustments based on the conditions of that specific moment.

This chart can be used as a starting point when photographing the aurora. Take a test shot and make adjustments as necessary due to variable degrees of ambient light and aurora brightness.

This chart can be used as a starting point when photographing the aurora. Take a test shot and make adjustments as necessary due to variable degrees of ambient light and aurora brightness.

  • Young Dae Kim - Absolutely amazing info. you have shared!! thanks a lotFebruary 27, 2015 – 8:21 pmReplyCancel

  • Mick Stevens - Patrick,
    Good article and chart. This am I thought I was in AK when my temperature on my deck read 21 below zero! Yikes!!I tried to copy the article with the chart but the chart won’t copy. Do you have any suggestions?February 20, 2015 – 1:18 pmReplyCancel

  • Chuck Ashley - Thanks much Patrick as I plan to get out this evening if it stays clear here in Wasilla to get some pics. My 50D only goes to 1600 ISO your chart helps me a lot in having a starting point of settings.Saw some thin green ribbons last night @2 am but my camera wasn’t ready and I was too bushed to get out but maybe tonight. Thanks againFebruary 19, 2015 – 11:32 pmReplyCancel

Being somewhat given to the metrics behind our lives, I usually do a quick analysis of the lenses that I used in the course of a year. 2014 showed quite a change over 2013, as I favored the 24-105mm lens considerably. This was in a large part due to all of the human powered trips I did, which limited my gear considerably. Especially, taking the Canon 500mm. It is also worth noting that this chart reveals only the images that I chose to keep, not the totality of images taken.

My lens use in 2014.

2014 Lens Use

2013lensuse

2013 Lens Use

 

  • প্রিয় কবিতা - nice images.you can send your image there http://tinyurl.com/k7wbjdg
    and you can get money for your imageFebruary 19, 2015 – 5:30 pmReplyCancel

  • What’s My Go To Lens? | JanNews Blog - […] what about the other lenses in my bag?   I saw a blog this evening by Patrick Endres that showed how often he used his lenses and showed the numbers in a pie chart. His top lens was […]February 18, 2015 – 12:26 pmReplyCancel

  • Ratan Roy - http://www.clippingpathadept.com is an online based photo editing organization which offers the maximum quality work at lowest price. Clipping path adept is the basic photo editing technique which support in clipping path, image masking, resizing, removing background, image manipulation, retouching as well as making shadow. Professionals like photo editor, website designer, advertisement agency and catalog companies are always searching clipping path services to make their image look able and optimize with website.February 14, 2015 – 1:46 pmReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Parnis - I agree!January 23, 2015 – 7:56 pmReplyCancel

  • Jim McCann - I couldn’t live without my 500 Mk II or my 24-105. But the new 7DMk II attached to the new 100-400 Mk II will likely see plenty of use this year.January 12, 2015 – 11:58 pmReplyCancel

  • Steve DuBois - Thanks for your lens analysis Patrick. Which brand 14-24 are you using? Thanks again.January 12, 2015 – 3:04 amReplyCancel

  • Mark Van Bergh - Interesting analysis. It might be interesting if, at some point, you could explain your thought process when deciding whether to use your 14-24, 16-35 and 17-40, as they have such significant overlap. I assume the 14-24 is mostly for aurora shooting, but not always. Perhaps you use the 17-40 when on backpacking trips, and the 16-35 when weight is less of an issue? Also, any thoughts on the relative optical merits of the 16-35 and 17-40 (I have a friend trying to decide between the two).January 8, 2015 – 1:53 pmReplyCancel

  • Betty Meyers Pauwels - 24-105 is my most use lens. I don’t own a 500 :( but own 100-400 using with 1.4 extender.January 8, 2015 – 12:33 pmReplyCancel

  • Baranof Island Photography - Thanks for the info Patrick.January 8, 2015 – 7:01 amReplyCancel

  • Karen Casebeer - This was an interesting analysis, Patrick. It made me think about getting the 24-105 and using it along side my new 100-400. I could eliminate the 24-70 and 70-200. I’m always looking for ways to lighten my load.January 8, 2015 – 5:32 amReplyCancel

Picking 10 top photos from any year is an impossible task. But the process does provoke some fun reminiscence and thought. My last post included 100 favorites, but drilling that down to 10 led me on a path which resulted in all vertical images, and those that had a particular experience attached to them. Unfortunately, much of the experience  will be lost on you, but I’ll give a brief comment to explain my choice.

26011580

The northern lights filled the skies during two weeks of aurora photo tour guiding in Alaska’s Arctic. What fun sights and displays we had!

I took this shot in March when I was standing in the middle of a frozen river in Alaska’s Brooks Range. The northern lights erupted and filled the giant sky with vivid and moving displays. I felt the immensity of this landscape by standing between the icy river under my feet and the colorful river in the sky above.

25019916

Mark Simon jumps over a mini river in the ice covering the Ivishak River on our 7 day wilderness journey.

In June I ventured with a friend on a 180 mile wilderness trek into Alaska’s Brooks Range in the Arctic. It was raw, wild and rugged wilderness. We hiked 60 miles on foot up the Ribdon River, then 120 miles in our packrafts down the Ivishak River. This shot defines one of hundreds of little river crossings, some in water, some on aufeis. What an awesome journey.

26014447

Pure Alaska! There is nothing like kayaking among icebergs in flat calm water.

In July I ventured south to the Kenai Peninsula to do some photography with friends Ron and Janine Niebrugge. We had a blast exploring the area, and especially the overnight trip to Bear Glacier Lagoon, where we paddled in perfectly calm weather. The second day was so sunny and warm that I took a little dip in the Gulf of Alaska and then we all sat in the sun on the black sand beach, looking out at the immense open ocean.

26014509-pano

Just before sunrise, the clouds, the great artists of the sky catch some hints of the sun’s warm light over Bear Glacier Lagoon.

Summer in Alaska for the photographer means early mornings. It gets a little more reasonable in the southern part of the State. I took this shot at about 5:30 A.M., in Kenai Fjords National Park, before the sun rose. You never know what the weather will do in mountain country, and it is exhilarating when such good conditions greet you, regardless of how early it is.

26017815

The beginnings of the night sky above my tented camp in the Gates of the Arctic National Park. I set my alarm to check the sky for the northern lights. I took this shot at 2:45am, and it did not get much darker.

In August I flew into the remote regions of the Brooks Range with my friends at Coyote Air. They dropped me off and I spent a week trekking around Mt. Igikpak, the tallest mountain in the Brooks. It was a vigorous week of climbing and scrambling up mountain slopes looking for wild views. It was mix of rain and sun, and some high solo adventure. Highlights were bathing in a mountain stream at 5000 feet, and feeling the physical exhilaration of human powered travel across rugged country.

26018886

Early morning in Refuge Valley in Denali National Park. The first really chilly morning of the autumn.

In early September I packed my backpack for a short hike and packraft trip in Denali Park. I started out in falling snow, encountered a big male grizzly bear, crawled into a sleeping bag and woke to clearing skies. I then hiked up a river and over a pass and chose this spot to camp, due to that beautiful mountain view. It was a cold night, and I remember my hiking boots were frozen that morning.

26010892

Autumn colors explode on the ridges of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the Seward Peninsula.

In mid September I packed my backpack again and flew to Nome, Alaska, where I planned to hike 35 miles or so into the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the Seward Peninsula. As luck unfolded, I got a ride in on a plane instead, which saved days of slogging through the tundra. This image shows one of a hundreds of wild granite tors that define this tremendous landscape. This days started out in constant rain and gray skies, but unfolded into some wonderful light. This shot is particular special since I sprained my ankle two days earlier, but still managed to trek the ridges and make some wonderful shots.

26019964

Lenticular clouds catch the early morning light over the Serpentine River in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.

Serpentine Hot Springs is located along the Serpentine River in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. Need I say that sliding into a natural hot springs tub after a long day of hiking and photographing is pure delight. This is the Serpentine River, right next to the natural hot springs. If you know anything about clouds, these mean high winds, and the day turned out to be crazy windy. So windy, I chose to camp at the Serpentine Cabin instead of up in the hills.

26011607

The northern lights reflect in the pure clear water of the Koyukuk River in Alaska’s Brooks Range.

During October, I was back in the Brooks Range guiding a photo tour and the clouds parted for just a short time to let the color of the sky come down to the river. I sat on the ice with two other photographers marveling at the silent beauty of this special place.

26011882

Eye to eye on the ice with such a magnificent king of the Arctic.

We had some crazy weather this last year during the photo tours I guide in October. Blizzards, blowing snow, high winds, all made for some interesting sights and experiences. The ice was forming on the Beaufort Sea, which put a group of us in a small boat eye to eye with this beautiful male polar bear. The media card I used for this shoot was corrupted and it took $400 and a few weeks at a data recovery lab to recover the photos.

  • Kathleen Milush - Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!February 17, 2015 – 5:19 amReplyCancel

  • Thought’s on Jim Goldstein’s Best of 2014 project - […] Alaska Photography Blog […]January 25, 2015 – 8:13 pmReplyCancel

  • Marcus Dinkler - Patrick, you absolutely made the right decisions. Wonderful!January 7, 2015 – 6:28 amReplyCancel

  • Lynn Bowers - Beautiful work Patrick. Happy New Year. Look forward to your wonderful posts.January 4, 2015 – 5:27 pmReplyCancel

  • Clemens Vanderwerf - Beautiful stuff Patrick. Happy New Year.January 4, 2015 – 4:45 pmReplyCancel

  • Phyllis Burchett - What a wonderful set of images Patrick….best wishes for a great 2015.January 4, 2015 – 4:38 pmReplyCancel

  • Kathy Richardson - Hard to pick a favourite from this selection of wonderful photos, Patrick! I love them all!! Best wishes for the New Year!January 4, 2015 – 4:00 pmReplyCancel

  • Pat Ulrich - Really great collection, Patrick! Love the expression of the bear in your last image. Interesting too that you ended up selecting all vertical compositions. I thoroughly enjoyed browsing through your larger set of favorites as well. All the best for 2015!January 4, 2015 – 11:24 amReplyCancel

  • Buff Corsi - Thank you, Patrick, for sharing these inspirational photos. May your 2015 be filled with gorgeous pixelsJanuary 4, 2015 – 10:04 amReplyCancel

  • Chuck Ashley - love your work Patrick J.EndresJanuary 4, 2015 – 4:50 amReplyCancel

  • Lois Bryan - … ?? … I”m not seeing a tweet button … may I tweet?January 3, 2015 – 11:48 pmReplyCancel

  • Lois Bryan - absolutely breathtaking beauty!!!!! Truly magnificent … each and every one!!!January 3, 2015 – 11:47 pmReplyCancel

  • Walt Anderson - Outstanding work, as always, Patrick!January 3, 2015 – 8:56 pmReplyCancel

2014 delivered some fantastic photographic journeys. I browsed through the year’s photos and relived some of the good memories. I tagged 100 images that were notable to me in some way, for a variety of reasons. My favorite trips were the self-powered adventures in Alaska’s Arctic, where the raw and rugged wilderness landscape of Alaska is as invigorating as it is beautiful. With the Holiday season approaching, there will be little photography left for me in the year, so cheers to 2014, it was a good one!

  • Mark Van Bergh - Patrick, it does indeed look like you had a great year. May 2015 be filled with more great adventures.December 19, 2014 – 9:44 pmReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Parnis - Fabulous photos. They have whetted my appetite to go to Alaska for the eighth time.!December 19, 2014 – 8:35 pmReplyCancel

  • Jim Frye - Patrick, You bring Joy to my day every time I look at all of your pictures. Never can wait to see more. Merry ChristmasDecember 19, 2014 – 8:31 pmReplyCancel

  • Joseph Jordan - looking forward to the great photographs!December 19, 2014 – 12:03 pmReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Parnis - FabulousDecember 19, 2014 – 11:35 amReplyCancel

  • Brian Friedmann - Thanks for sharing 2014 with us and looking forward to 2015. Happy Holidays.December 19, 2014 – 11:22 amReplyCancel

As the year comes to a close, I’m selling a few lenses that I no longer use. Instead of going to Ebay, I thought I’d post them here first. Both lenses are suitable for aurora photography, so if you are looking for a lens to capture the northern lights, these may work for you. Both are for a Canon DSLR. The glass is perfect, no marks or scratches.

14mm Rokinon f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC – $250

24mm Canon f/2.8 EF USM -$250

If you have questions, please let me know.

25015870 25015874 25015881 25015882 25015883

  • Wendi - Do you still have both the lens for sale? I am interested in both of them but cam only afford one. The Rokinon sounds interesting but maybe too much for my brain to handle.

    I don’t do portrait photography, it would be mainly landscape. I live in the Yukon so shipping shouldn’t be to much.

    One day my dream is a decent macro lens, but for now, no way.

    Thanks in advance, Wendi
    (I can’t use the e-mail link)December 12, 2014 – 5:03 pmReplyCancel