Northern Lights

Northern Lights

A guide to viewing the Northern Lights would have to start with where the best places to view this astoundingly beautiful and mystical natural phenomenon would be.  The lights from a city or town will make seeing the Northern Lights a lot harder, but they will still be visible at far-northern villages.  Although a trip to Northern Siberia may not be overly enticing, Alaska has some of the most photogenic views of the Northern Lights.

One thing that many people are not aware of is that the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, gives off a rather ominously sounding noise as well, not dissimilar to the grinding of tin foil.  The far northern reaches of any country that lies far into the Northern Hemisphere should have a pretty good view of the Northern Lights, especially in areas that have no nearby towns or cities.

Although digital cameras have come a long ways lately, the best way to photograph the Northern Lights is still with an SLR camera, although the digital SLR cameras on the market can take some wonderful pictures.  There are many filters that come in handy for the advanced photographer, and tripods are a necessity.  Since the Northern Lights are best viewed at night, visiting the far north during their shortened daylight hours is the best time to view them.

From Alaska to Siberia, and Northern Quebec to Greenland, any place that is above the permafrost tundra in North America, or anywhere in the northern climes where snow is on the ground longer than it is not is a great place to view the Aurora Borealis, the icy sky at night (Neil Young, “Pocahontas“).  A guide to viewing the Northern Lights in Canada would also include how to take photographs, because nobody will really believe the splendor if not shown proper pictures and video of it.

In order to take a good photograph or video of the Northern Lights, a self timer, or an automatic shutter release should be used.  Your camera must be set up on a good, solid tripod, with no chance of it being knocked about or even slightly nudged, and it should be protected from the winds and other weather.  Using an f-stop of at least 2.8, you should leave your shutter open for at least 5 to 15 seconds.  For digital cameras with pre-set modes, use either the night-viewing or the fireworks settings for best results.

As the reds and greens seem to shuffle to a music of their own, the sound of the relentless tin foil shuffling is as reassuring as that of a bubbling brook.  In order to capture the sounds that the Northern Lights makes, make sure that you have your white noise filter set to on, and that there is no ambient noise whatsoever around the camera.

For best viewing, the Northern Lights should be seen as far north as possible, and as close to the salt water of the Pacific or Arctic oceans as possible,  In Canada, the far northern towns of Rankin Inlet and Nunavut are perfect destinations for capturing the Northern Lights in all of their splendor.  From mid-November to mid-January, Barrow, Alaska enjoys near total darkness, all day long, and is one of the best overall places to take pictures of the Northern Lights, with a sheer white background of snow.