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Eyes on the sky: Tips for photographing the aurora borealis

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2012 11:52 pm | Updated: 12:16 pm, Fri Apr 12, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - When the northern lights come out, so do the cameras of many of our readers. Our inbox gets lots of great aurora photos, and we like to share many of them with you, both on this page and on our website.

But getting a good aurora photo can be a challenge. It takes patience and skill.

Where to turn for advice if you’re new at aurora photography or want to improve at what you’re doing? Here are some tips, which we published here in late 2010. The advice is as good today as it was then.

• Check the aurora forecast at UAF’s Geophysical Institute’s website at Photo-worthy aurora is probably a level 3 (moderate) or higher.

• Single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are the best way to get a good shot. They have the features that allow for better aurora photos.

• ISO levels, shutter speed and lens width work off each other to produce a good photograph. ISO is the measurement of sensitivity to light. With higher ISO levels, a person can take photographs in darker areas. More sensitivity to light reduces the need for a long exposure. Long exposures capture more movement. Lens width will determine the span of the photograph’s coverage.

• Don’t have a DSLR camera? You can try it with a point-and-shoot camera. You just have to try a bunch of different settings to see what works.

• Trying different exposure lengths gives different results. If the exposure is left on for 10 minutes, the picture’s whole sky might be covered by the aurora, but you won’t get the good definition of a shorter exposure. Starting at about one minute, long exposures can capture the movement of the stars across the sky.

• Bundle up. Clear nights tend to be the coldest, and photography can be an inactive venture.

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