Aurora Northern Lights in the Scottish Highlands

How to photograph the Aurora in the Scottish Highlands

It has always been a dream to see the Northern Lights in Scotland. I remember years ago camping out on the West side of Jura and being treated to an amazing display. But I didnt have my camera with me!

Last night much of the UK was witness to some incredible Northern Lights displays. I set off around 10 pm and headed to the Ryvoan pass, in the Cairngorms National Park. It’s tricky to know where is best to go to see them. As the name suggests, they will be seen to the North so thats good to remember. I think it’s also a good idea to get up a hill as they are generally strongest lower to the horizon. BUT, it’s also nice to have something in the foreground when you re shooting them, to give some context to the scale and epic-ness of what’s going on above you.

My thinking was also that the Ryvoan Pass is very sheltered from any local light pollution, the darker the better. Another reason they were extra visible last night was due to the lack of Moonlight. It was a New Moon phase meaning there is no visible moon, unless it’s seen in silhouette in solar eclipse.

Check the Aurora forecast online: click here. You can also set up email alerts so you re updated if theres some activity on the way!

What do you need?

Camera Gear

Well you need a camera with manual controls so you can set a long shutter speed and a really wide aperture. You also need a Tripod so that the camera can be left alone to do its thing. I like using a wide angle lens, 16mm or lower to take in as much of the sky and view as possible.

Camera Setup

Shutter Speed – this is how long the shutter will stay open during the photo. Ideally you want this between 30-45 seconds. Any longer than 45 seconds and the stars will have moved to produce star trails. This can be a nice effect but I find you either want to really exaggerate it or try and avoid it completely.

Aperture – as I mentioned, set this as low as possible. 2.8 and lower is best.

ISO – this is what you need to boost up to ensure that the photo you re making will be bright enough. Last night I was shooting at 3200 ISO.

Focus – I find I need to set the lens to manual focus and move it to the Infinity setting (∞). However, I usually then take a couple of photos at this setting, zoom in on the stars in my LCD screen and tweak the focus slightly around the Infinity setting to get the stars as sharp as possible.

Timer – I then set the camera to take a photo using the countdown timer. 2 or 5 seconds is fine. This means you arent touching the camera at all when it takes the shot and will eliminate any camera movement which may blur the photo.

There you have it. Best of luck!




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