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Thread: Northern Lights Help!!!

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    Default Northern Lights Help!!!

    I would like to start taking pictures of the northern lights but dont know what settings I should be at. I am brand new to photography and have a Nikon D40 but cant figure out the right settings to use for the lights. Can someone who has experience walk me through on the right settings so I can get some great pics and which lens I should be using. I have a 18-55mm lens and also a 70-300mm lens. I have also heard that you should use manual focusinstead of auto? If anyone can be a book of knowledge for me on this it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

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    Quote Originally Posted by bowtechshooter View Post
    I would like to start taking pictures of the northern lights but dont know what settings I should be at. I am brand new to photography and have a Nikon D40 but cant figure out the right settings to use for the lights. Can someone who has experience walk me through on the right settings so I can get some great pics and which lens I should be using. I have a 18-55mm lens and also a 70-300mm lens. I have also heard that you should use manual focusinstead of auto? If anyone can be a book of knowledge for me on this it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
    I use my Canon XTi with a 16-35 f/2.8. Shut the autofocus off, use manual. Set it to infinity. That's the little sideways "8" on your lens. ISO of around 400-800. I try many different settings during a shoot but find I get the better results with a f/stop of around f/4 to f/8, ISO 400 and a 10-20 second exposure. The longer the exposure the more noise you will have. I'm anxious to try my 5D out this year and hopefully have less noise.
    EricL

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    I would just add that the key to night shoots is to gather as much light as you can. Therfore you want the f-stop to be low (bigger apperature), the lens to be short and wide, and the exposure time to be fairly long. You might be looking at anything from a couple seconds all the way up based on the brightness of the night sky. If you have a bright moon, the sky background will wash bright if you expose too long. If you have no moon and no city light pollution, you might be able to run very long exposures.

    I recall getting some exposures of the Hale-Bopp comet into several minutes to get the shots I wanted. I was developing film daily and checking my results, then going back out the next night and trying something different to find the right shots.

    With a bright green and active aurora, your exposure will be a bit shorter. Too long and the movement of the lights will blurr them in the image, although some blurring is generally ok. When you have the purples and darker tones, you need to push the exposure as long as you can to capture them without ruining the brighter portions. It can be difficult, so you generally have to take lots of pictures with slight variations and just see which ones look the best afterward.

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    Default sort of

    I sort of understand, now my camera has options for ISO Sensitivity 200,400,600,800,1600 and HI1. should I stick around 800 ??What about white balance ,Flash Compensation -3.0 - +1.0 , or Exposure Comp. -5.0 - +5.0. Do any of these settings have to be changed? Now what about the shutter speed. it goes from 4oooF - bulbF-- Which speed do I put it on. Thanks for all your help.

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    I am not a Nikon user, so if someone else has specifics for this camera, please jump in. I did go and look the the specs for this camera on the web and it will do what you need.

    Instead of ISO settings (which are auto exposure settings) you should be going to full manual mode (if you have to set an ISO, just put it on 800). Set the focus to infinite, set the f-stop to the smallest # (looks like 2.8 for this camera), and set the exposure to about 10 seconds to start with.

    The "bulb" setting is for a manual control via an external switch, so stick with numbers between about 10-30 seconds. The "4000f" setting would be 1/4000 of a second, so that is a very fast speed. I'm not sure how Nikon displays it, but you want the long settings in full seconds just before you get to the "bulb" setting. If you had to exceed 30 seconds, you would get a remote actuator (formerly an air bulb, but mechanical methods are more common), then you push the shutter release via that and hold it for the time you want and release it manually.

    You also want to set the shutter self timer so that you can put the camera on a tripod and push the button, then be able to let go of the camera before it starts taking the picture so it remains steady throughout the exposure.

    Increasing the exposure compensation value (+) will lighten the image. That is one of those settings you'll probably have to try a few times to see what works best for the lighting conditions. I would use the exposure time to deal with this. If minor brightness adjustments are needed, you can do that with editing software after the fact.

    Turn the flash off, unless you have foreground stuff you want to see. For instance, if you had a log cabin in the foreground that you want to see in addition to the aurora above it, you could use the flash to illuminate the cabin for just enough time to get its image, while the shutter stays open to capture the low light aurora above. The trick is that the foreground object must be close enough for the flash to illuminate it, then it must be dark enough not to be ruined during the rest of the exposure (i.e. no bright lights on outside or close to the inside of windows). The pros would use a separate manually operated flash to do this. The foreground can be "flashed" at any time during the exposure window.

    White balance should have no impact on night aurora shots. I'd just leave it on the auto setting. But again, it is something you can play with to see what it does for your shots. The nice thing about a digital is that you can immediately look at the images to get an idea of how things are going.

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    For starters try this formula: 400 ISO, f/4 for 30 seconds.

    The Nikon D40 exhibits a fair bit of digital noise at 800 ISO and higher, especially with long exposures, so I would stay at 400 ISO unless the above formula is not bright enough. Still you would probably be better off just using a longer shutter, but that will require buying a wired remote release cable for it. This is one area that Canon's digital Rebel series is better than the low end Nikons, and can be used at 800 without too much noise penalty.

    Nikon would love for you to buy a remote release, and it would be easier to use, but if you have an old style screw in cable type laying around you can make one for any camera. I put some instructions & pictures at the Canon eosdoc site some time back. http://eosdoc.com/manuals/?q=CableRelease

    Use daylight, cloudy or shade for color temp. Better yet would be to use RAW (NEF for Nikon) and convert with the color temp that looks best later. But you also want to shoot in manual exposure mode so you can control the aperture and shutter without the camera messing things up. In manual mode you can ignore exposure compensation.

    Flash Exposure Compensation can be used if you use flash to expose nearby objects like JOAT mentioned. Normally though, you would use a separate manual hand held flash and, while the shutter was open, go around and fire it off in a few places. You can do the same thing with a flashlight, sort of "painting with light" on the objects you want exposed -- a bush, a rock, sombody's tent, etc. This really only works well in very dark situations though.

    Jeff Schultz of Alaska Stock, has a very interesting shot of an ice igloo with a lantern inside shining through the ice, and the northern lights in the sky above. This idea has been duplicated many times, and most of us have seen some version of it, but Jeff's shot was the first one I ever saw. You can do the same with tents. I believe the lights in the tent/igloo only need to be on for a few seconds of the 30 second exposure. You can check out Jeff's photo's here and do a search for "northern Lights": http://www.alaskastock.com/about_jef...otographer.asp

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    One thing that you will notice (at least I did) on your longer exposures, the camera will see colors you can't see with the naked eye. It will pull out some reds and purples that you didn't even realize were there. Jim covered this a little. Again, usually with the longer exposure times comes more noise. Some cameras have some type of noice elemination setting. If yours has it I'd suggest turning it on to "Auto". It is probably located in the custom settings if it has it. There are some pretty good programs out there to remove some of this noise with "Noise Ninja" being one of them. Do you have the Aurora websites saved on your pc to check for activity each day?
    EricL

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    Default Remove Filter

    One more thing ... For best results, be sure and remove the filter from the lens.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tull777 View Post
    One more thing ... For best results, be sure and remove the filter from the lens.

    Oh, great point there Tull!!
    EricL

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    A coworker of mine e-mailed me this link to a famous auroras photo:
    http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap071009.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by EricL View Post
    Oh, great point there Tull!!
    Glad I could help out.

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