How to Photograph the Northern Lights eBook

How to Photograph the Northern Lights eBook


Second Edition Update 11/2013

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What's New in the 2nd Edition?

  • Added 80+ new pages (now 280 pages)
  • Added many new photos, graphs, illustration
  • Added 50 new photos (now 150+)
  • Added 50 new Figures and Diagrams (now 150+)
  • Added Camera and lens information for all aurora photos
  • Revised all diagrams and charts
  • Added more detailed weather charts
  • Added 2 new chapters and many new sections
  • Aurora Science and Forecasts
  • Timing Season and Weather
  • Understanding the aurora
  • Aurora forecasts
  • Aurora colors
  • Circumpolar Destinations
  • Where to go in Alaska
  • Expanded and added to almost all of the chapters and sections
  • Updated camera and lens models
  • Added more links to camera gear and cold weather clothing

How to Photograph the Northern Lights by Patrick J. Endres and Neal Brown.

If photographing the northern lights (aurora borealis) is on your bucket list, then this book is a must for you. How to Photograph the Northern Lights is a wonderfully illustrated, comprehensive and thorough 280 page eBook  that will equip you with the information necessary to capture your own photos of the northern lights. Two long-time Alaskans and specialists in their fields have teamed up to create this resource. Professional photographer Patrick J. Endres, one of Alaska's most prominently published nature photographers, has mined the secrets of his two-decade career of aurora photography and outlined them in great detail, providing you with critical information to ensure your aurora photo quest is successful. Scientist and aurora specialist Neal Brown supplies the answers in layman’s language to often-asked questions about the aurora in his science notes sprinkled throughout the book. The chapters contain a blend of technical and creative information that both the beginner and professional photographer will find invaluable. Topics discussed include where to go, when to go, what time is best, working in the cold, what camera and lens to use, aurora forecasts, composition, how to expose, moon and moonlight, and much more. The text is augmented with more than 100 of Patrick's luminous aurora photos, thoughtful quotes, and many illustrations, graphs, and figures to instruct you in the do's and don'ts of nighttime aurora borealis photography.

Patrick says: “Over the years I've seen countless errors made when photographing the aurora. This book equips both the beginning and professional photographer with all the necessary insider information to skip those costly mistakes—and offers the inspiration for the armchair photographer to get out there and explore the night skies on their own.”



Chapter 1 - Aurora Science and Forecasts

Section 1:1 | Aurora Science

  • Understanding the Aurora
  • Space Weather and the Aurora
  • The Sun and Aurora Science
  • SOTERIA Flare Predictor Tool
  • Sun-Earth observing spacecraft
  • World Space Weather Science

Section 1:2 | Aurora Forecasts

  • Understanding Aurora Forecasts
  • Types of Forecasts
  • 27-Day Solar Cycle
  • Short-term Forecasts and Current Data
  • Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF) and Bz
  • Solar Wind Speed and Density
  • Planetary Kp-index
    • Kp-Index Map for North America
    • Kp-Index Map for Eurasia
  • University of Alaska Geophysical Institute
  • POES
  • SWEP Ovation Prime Model
  • Aurora Web Cams
  • Aurora Alerts
  • In Summary

Section 1:3 | Aurora Colors

  • Color and the Aurora
  • Altitude and Aurora Colors
  • The Colors of the Aurora

Section 1:4 | Aurora Shapes

  • Aurora Shapes and Movement

Chapter 2 - In Search of the Aurora Borealis

Section 2:1 | Circumpolar Destinations

  • The Polar Auroral Zone
  • The Circumpolar Countries
  • Links to airports on Google maps

Section 2:2 | Alaska

  • Alaska, the U.S. Destination
  • Aurora Destinations in Alaska
  • The Fairbanks Area
  • Alaska Aurora locations
  • Sharing Photo Locations
  • Northern Alaska
    • Bettles and Nome
    • Coldfoot
  • Considerations for Remote Alaska
  • Travel on the Dalton Highway
    • Communication and Road Etiquette
    • Traveling with Emergency Safety Gear
  • Central Alaska
    • Richardson Highway
    • George Parks Highway
  • Southcentral Alaska
  • Winter Camping

Section 2:3 | Fine-tuning Your Location

  • Refining the Destination
  • The Specific Location
  • Scouting Your Location in Daylight
  • Choose Multiple Locations

Section 2:4 | Photo Tours

  • Choosing an Aurora Photo Tour
  • Trip Duration
  • Local Guides
  • An Experienced Guide
  • Transportation
  • It Should Be About Your Photos
  • Get References

Chapter 3 - Timing, Seasons, and Weather

Section 3:1 | Seasons and Weather

  • Choosing a Season to Photograph the Aurora
  • Spring and Autumn Equinoxes
  • Geomagnetically Disturbed Days
  • Clear Skies and Weather
    • Average Sky Conditions in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Diagram)
  • Temperature
    • Fairbanks temperatures (Diagram)
  • Daylight and Darkness
  • Snowfall
  • Average monthly snowfall in Fairbanks (Diagram)
  • Reflective Surfaces: Water and Ice
  • In Summary
    • Weather and aurora considerations for Fairbanks, Alaska (Diagram)

Section 3:2 | Circumpolar Arctic Weather

  • Circumpolar Destinations
  • Average Weather Conditions
  • Weather Graphs
    • Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
    • Whitehorse, YT, Canada
    • Ivalo, Finland
    • Tasiilaq, Greenland
    • Reykjavik, Iceland
    • Tromso, Norway
    • Murmansk, Russia
    • Kiruna, Sweden

Section 3:3 | Time of Night

  • What Time of Night is Best?
  • When is Magnetic Midnight?
  • The Critical Hours
  • Be Persistent

Section 3:4 | The Moon and Moonlight

  • Is There a Preferred Moon Phase?
  • Is a Full Moon Bad?
  • Where is the Moon?
  • Moonlight Presence
  • Moonlight Absence

Chapter 4 - Dealing with the Cold

Section 4:1 | Clothing for the Cold

  • Dressing Appropriately for the Cold
  • Inner Layers
  • Outer Layers
  • Head
  • Feet
  • Hands
  • External Heat Sources
  • Shooting in the Cold Summary

Section 4:2 | Cold and Camera Gear

  • Photographing in the Cold
  • Will My Camera Work in the Cold?
  • Battery Consumption and the Cold
    • Battery depletion in -31°F / -35 °C temperatures (Canon 5D Mark III) (Diagram)
  • Media Cards
  • Plastic and the Cold
  • Tripods and the Cold
  • Frost on the Lens
  • Keep a Warm Backup Camera and Lens
  • Preventing Condensation

Chapter 5 - Aurora Exposure

Section 5:1 | Understanding Exposure

  • The Importance of Exposure Fundamentals
  • The LCD Display, Your Learning Tool
  • ISO Sensitivity
  • Lens Aperture
  • Camera Shutter
  • Aperture
    • The Relationship of Aperture and Shutter Speed (Diagram)
  • Shutter Speed
    • The Relationship of ISO and Shutter Speed (Diagram)
  • ISO
  • Pushing the Limits
  • Aurora Exposure
  • Exposure values for average aurora brightness (no moonlight) in ½ stop increments (Diagram)

Section 5:2 | Achieving Exposure

  • Achieving Correct Exposure
  • The Histogram
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Histogram
  • The Importance of Proper Exposure

Section 5:3 | Perfecting Exposure

  • Do Not Overexpose
  • Don’t Be Fooled by the LCD Display
  • RAW or JPEG?
    • RAW Lossless File Format verses JPEG Lossy File Format (Diagram)
  • What Should my Highest ISO Setting Be?
  • Post-Production Adjustments

Chapter 6 - Choosing Cameras and Photo Gear

Section 6:1 | Digital SLR Cameras

  • Digital Single-Lens Reflex Cameras
  • Cameras and Sensor Size
  • Digital Camera Sensor Sizes (Diagram)
  • Focal Length Magnification Per Sensor Size (Diagram)
  • Benefits of an FX Sensor
  • Drawbacks of a Small Sensor
  • The Importance of High ISO
  • The Tradeoff of High ISO
  • Know Your Camera’s ISO Limits
  • Live View

Section 6:2 | Point-and-Shoot Cameras

  • Basic Point-and-shoot camera requirements
  • Caution About Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Section 6:3 | SLR Lenses

  • Choosing a Lens for Aurora Photography
  • A Note About Terminology
  • APS Lenses
  • The Importance of a Wide Angle Lens
  • Fast Lenses
    • Faster lenses = shorter shutter speeds and more frames-per-minute (Diagram)
  • Compromises of an f/1.4 Lens
    • Which Lens for which Sensor Size? (Diagram)
  • Choosing a Prime or Zoom Lens
  • Why a Prime Lens?
  • Why a Zoom Lens?
  • Prime Lenses
  • Wide-Angle Zooms
  • Lenses for APS Sensors
  • Renting a Lens

Section 6:4 | Tripod Legs

  • Choosing a Tripod
  • Tall and Sturdy
  • Limit Center Column Extension
  • Leg Clamps and Collars
  • Tripod Feet
  • Insulate the Legs
  • Tripod Weight
  • Leg Sections
  • Benefits of Carbon Fiber Tripods
  • Tripod Manufacturers

Section 6:5 | Tripod Ball Heads

  • Tripod Ball Heads
  • Quick-Release Plates

Section 6:6 | Gear Accessories

  • Aurora Camera Accessory Kit
  • What to Look for in a Head Lamp
  • Headlamp Etiquette
  • Remote Release Options
  • Viewfinder Light Leak
  • Third Party Firmware
  • Loupe

Chapter 7 - Preparing Your Camera Gear

Section 7:1 | Preparing Your Camera

  • Basic Camera Settings
  • Set the Histogram to RGB
  • Set the Date and Time
  • Turn On Highlight Warning
  • Cover the LED Card-Writing Light
  • Set Quality to RAW or RAW + JPEG
  • WB, Color Temperature and Picture Style
  • LCD Display Brightness
  • Drive Mode
  • Metering Mode
  • Exposure Mode
  • When to Use Aperture Priority Mode
  • When to Use Bulb Mode
  • Benefits of Exposures under 30 Seconds
  • Set Appropriate ISO
  • Noise Reduction
    • Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR)
    • High ISO noise reduction (HINR)
  • Post Production Noise Reduction
    • Luminance Noise
    • Chrominance Noise
  • Know Your Camera

Section 7:2 | Preparing Your Lens

  • Remove Your Lens Filter
  • Use the Camera’s Lens Hood
  • Achieving Critical Focus
  • Pre-focus using autofocus
  • Focus Using Live View
  • A Final Note About Focusing

Chapter 8 - In the Field

Section 8:1 | Lens Focal Length

  • Selecting the Correct Focal Length

Section 8:2 | Composing the Aurora

  • Composing the Aurora
  • Utilizing the Foreground
  • Bring the Aurora to the Ground
  • Ambient Light and Composition
  • F/Stop and Depth of Field
    • Closest sharp object using infinity focus (Diagram)

Section 8:3 | Taking the Picture

  • Preserving Night Vision
  • Looking Through the Viewfinder
  • Light Leak through the Viewfinder
  • Check Your Horizon
  • Take Periodic Test Shots
  • Reposition Frequently
  • Check Your Lens for Frost
  • Avoid the Wind
  • Don’t Forget to Check Your Battery Level
  • Be Mindful of Light Pollution
  • Use Two Cameras

Section 8:4 | Photographing Star Trails

  • Star Trails and the Aurora
  • Shutter Speed and Focal Length
  • Dark Skies and Light
  • Excluding Star Trails
  • Long Exposures Eat Batteries
  • Star Trail Exposure Times: Examples

Chapter 9 - Wrapping Up

Section 9:1 | Aurora Pre-flight

  • Aurora Photography Quick Review

Section 9:2 | Aurora Photo Checklist

  • Resources for Aurora Photography
  • Photography Websites
  • Aurora Information Websites
  • Books
  • Smartphone Apps

Section 9:3 | Aurora Resources

  • Aurora Photography Quick Review

Section 9:4 | Good Luck

  • May the Aurora be with you
  • Share this eBook
  • Patrick’s Network

Below are a few screen shots from the book:















chapter 8

Some Comments and Endorsements

“Only the gazillions of trips out to photograph the aurora could render the thoughtful, practical insight this little concentrated book yields! This source of experience and scientific background will prepare anyone heading out into the cold to photograph the aurora (wished I had this to learn backward and forward up to 10 years ago on my first trip North). Patrick has shared valuable in-the-field secrets in his signature generous style (second only to his in person presentation on his photo tours). There are HEAPS of value in this one ebook for any photographer looking to photograph a star-filled sky, photographing in the cold North, or as fascinated by the science and art of photographing the aurora.”

~ Sue Rakes
Master Photographer

“This book is the authority on photographing the Aurora. Beginning photographers to seasoned pros will learn valuable tips from Patrick's vast experience photographing Aurora in the far north. Not only does Patrick explain photographing the Aurora, but he shares valuable information on predicting displays, dealing with the cold, and composition guidelines. All this is illustrated with stunning Aurora Borealis images.”

~ Tom Bol
Professional Photographer

“If you dream about chasing the Northern Lights then buy Patrick J. Endres’ book because it will strengthen your resolve and encourage that dream. If you have an actual plan to try to see them then this book is an essential read. As we would expect from Patrick, it is magnificently illustrated with thought provoking quotations, but it is much more than a pretty ebook. This is a substantial and authoritative work, with contributions on the science of the aurora borealis from Neal Brown. Yet it is a compelling and enjoyable read and extremely well laid out. You will learn where, when and even what time to photograph the Northern Lights, how to prepare, what to wear, how to actually capture them on camera and much more. This is the book to read on the Northern Lights.”

~ Cecily O’Toole

I LOVE THE BOOK! I downloaded it on my iPad and read it in one night. Am taking it with me next week to Alaska where I am sure I will refer to it time and time again. Thank you Patrick. My only suggestion for future editions would be to make it easier to navigate.

~ Diana Frost

This is an absolutely 'must read' book for anyone hoping to photograph the Aurora. I'm off to Northern Norway (Tromso) on March 10 (New moon)and for the first time feel really well prepared. I picked all kinds of tips - and the checklists are brilliant as a last minute form of preparation. Nothing is left to chance in this wonderfully illustrated book. Highly recommended!

~ Sam Hall
United Kingdom

This is a remarkably well designed book, well suited to viewing on a screen of your choice. You get not just the how, but enough where and why to build an understanding of the phenomena. I appreciate the practical details surrounding actually photographing — lenses, iso, care of both the photographic equipment and the photographer in the cold. I hope that this is the first of a series of ebooks on photography in Alaska

~ Marvin Falk

I just purchased your book (as pdf, I could perfectly open it) and also via iTunes on my i-pad when I am underway. I had a first glimpse and will read it in the coming days with very much interest: a very complete book, and even when I am already 7 years photographing the aurora, there is always some new stuff I will learn !! Not only how to photograph the Northern Lights is explained, but also some technical side aspects as clothing, material, some statistics, post-production of the pics, avoiding mistakes etc etc … a book I was waiting for. Thank you again, Patrick, and keep up the nice work. You have indeed excellent aurora and awe-inspiring aurora pictures.

~ John Van Marcke

Just wanted to let you know I have been able to open it and your advice is priceless! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us non-professional folk! I took some pictures last night and feel much more confident with the results after taking the advice you offer in your book. I am heading out there again tonight and hope to shoot at least one picture which I will feel confident enough about to have printed and hung on my wall! That's if there is activity tonight, but I am being very hopeful there will be.

~ Sanet Basson
South Africa

Just bought the book in pdf form so I can reference it on my upcoming trip to Alaska using my laptop, and also bought the itunes version for my wife's iPad. Really fantastic so far, as I'm reading every word and loving it. The science part of it is very understandable, and I like how it is separated out on the page. Patrick's tips and advice are critical, and it was Patrick's website six months ago that inspired our planning of this imminent trip. I just love the quotes by famous photographers at the beginning of each chapter. These really resonate with me. And Patrick's photographs are so inspiring, as teaching examples, and for their incredible beauty! I'll post more after I finish the book and come home from the adventure of photographing The Northern Lights !

~ Mike Shaw

Since 2007 I used to travel to Lapland every February/March for hunting daytime / dawn lights and nothern lights- first with analogue Canon EOS, later on with EOS 7 D. Just being in Swedish Lapland I found your book and devoured it last have done an excellent job by writing this fantastic book full of informations. Especially the detailed diagrams, tables and links are extremely helpful. With your recommendations my pictures really improved (fortunately we have a lot of northern lights for trying different settings) and last night I caught wonderful northern lights with a lot of clear stars, with a shooting star, and green horizontal lights with a vertical red curtain. Your book will join me on all following tours, thanks again. If wished you can put this email on your website as example for enthusiastic customers.

~ Dr.Iris Ernst

Hey just wanted to thank you for all the great advice…I rented the Canon EOS 5D MKII and the Canon 24mm IIL F/1.4 lens with a good Ball type tripod… I was not sure I wanted to invest that amount of money without trying it out first and the rental was a great option. Thank you for making it possible for an “amateur” to take some great photos…..there were probably 30 others that went up to get photos….but I was the only one prepared (even though I was up from Texas) all thanks to you.

~ Thomas Kepczyk

Our family just came back from a week+ trip into and around Fairbanks. We went specifically to see the aurora and studied Patrick’s advice religiously before we started our trip. Like many before us I’m back to report the advice was priceless!!! We felt very prepared, came back with tons of great photos (we got very lucky with clear nights and two level 4 aurora alert nights) and lots of great memories....the advice on cold weather gear, camera equipment and locations was excellent. Can’t thank Patrick enough for all his experience, advice and (more than anything else) his willingness to share all this.

~ Rick LaRosa

Hi Patrick, I bought your book for a northern lights trip to Tromso and Spitsbergen a few months ago. I am a serious photographer yet this book gave me a wealth of knowledge that I was unaware of, and definitely helped me bring back better images. This is the best reference book I have seen, so congratulations, your images are extraordinary,

~ David Worswick