How to best prepare to photograph the Northern Lights

Over three days I am going to be posting information on how to better capture the northern lights… where to go, when to go and what gear to use.

Yesterday we took a look at when is the best time to photograph the northern lights. Today we are discussing how to prepare to photograph the northern lights.

Before you go out aimlessly looking for the northern lights, there is a much more effective way to know when they will be visible, and when they will be visible.

I use two apps. I have a weather app that shows me local area cloud cover and I use an aurora forecast app from TINAC inc. called Aurora Forecast. Here are some screenshots from the app.

This application shows you the overall rotation of the aurora and explains the geomagnetic activity probabilities. It also shows real time solar activity and has what’s called a “nowcast”? Nowcast looks at your exact location and shows you where the aurora is pertinent to your location.

What Gear do I use?

Camera Body is usually a Nikon D800e - Aimed at studio and landscape professionals the D800E begins to rival medium format digital equipment in terms of resolution.

Lenses are a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8, a Sigma 35mm f1.8 or a Nikon 14-24 f2.8.

Tripod is a sturdy Manfrotto MT290XTC3 - Like the rest of the 290 Carbon range, the 294 carbon tripod is built to be transportable without compromising on stability. To achieve this, it uses a “next-generation” carbon tubing: an innovative composite tube derived from Manfrotto’s experience in professional supports with optimized fibre angles that provide consistent advantages over aluminium tubing in terms of rigidity, lightness and stability. 294 tripod legs use a 3-section construction with larger diameter carbon tubing than the 293 models, in order to maximize camera stability and minimize vibration, ideal for zoom lenses that amplify any camera shake. Durable tension-adjustable aluminium leg locks can be tightened to suit your preference and to counteract any effects of wear and aging, keeping the tripod fully functional throughout its long life. Two-position leg angle settings make low-angle shooting possible, while a rapid center column adds flexibility and extends the min-max height range. The disk at the top of the center column is compatible with any Manfrotto head, ideal for photographers who want to put together a custom support, fine-tuned to their own specific preferences or to the demands of their photographic style.

My tripod head is always a Manfrotto 057 - The new 057 are the best Manfrotto pro tripods, designed to offer the best performance of stability and precision to the keen amateur and pro user. Developed with the most modern technologies, it features the best materials and technical solutions available in the Manfrotto collection. The 057 comes in 4 different models with various configurations of height and column, rapid or geared. Ideal for outdoor, studio and architectural applications, it is extremely versatile, ultra-stable and incorporates many different settings. The 057 features the new ground level system and a smart friction control for the column.

Tomorrow on our blog we will deal with how to take a great image of an aurora. I hope you come back and read that post.

Other accessories include a cable release to eliminate camera shake, a headlamp so I can see in the dark, and I tie a glow stick around the neck of my tripod so everyone can see my camera and tripod in the darkness.

But let’s not forget clothing. Aurora photography can sometimes be all about patience. It’s a waiting game. For that reason, I wear layers. I put on a warm pair of socks and hiking boots to keep my feet warm. I wear base layers and to keep my legs and upper body from getting cold. It is important to eliminate sweat from your core body and keep your body dry and warm. I also wear a hat. The majority of heat loss comes from your head, so it’s important to wear a winter hat or baseball cap.

If you want to come with us on one of our tours to photograph the northern lights, please visit our Canadian Workshop and Tour page here. We visit the Yukon quite often,


Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: