What are the best tips for photographing the Northern Lights from UK campsites?

Photographing the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. These magical lights paint the night sky with an ethereal glow, creating a spectacle that is truly a feast for the eyes. Whether you're a professional photographer or an amateur with a passion for capturing natural phenomena, getting that perfect shot of the Northern Lights can be quite a challenge. You might be wondering, how can you photograph this natural spectacle from the comfort of your UK campsite? In this article, we'll delve into some of the best tips to help you capture the perfect shot of the Northern Lights.

Choose Your Location Wisely

The first step in photographing the Northern Lights is choosing your location. While the lights can be seen from various places around the globe, they are typically most visible in high-latitude regions like Scotland and Iceland.

In the UK, Scotland is your best bet for capturing the aurora. The dark, clear skies of the Scottish Highlands and the northern islands such as the Shetland, Orkney, and the Outer Hebrides offer the best views. You can set up your camera in one of Scotland's many campsites, away from the light pollution of the cities.

Choosing the right location is not just about the geographical area, though. You must also consider factors such as the landscape and the direction you're facing. A picturesque backdrop can help frame your photographs and add depth to your compositions. It is ideal to position your camera northwards, towards the direction of the lights.

Timing is Everything

The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon and, as such, their sighting is subject to various factors such as solar activity and weather conditions. However, there are certain times when you are more likely to see them.

In general, the best time to view and photograph the Northern Lights is during the winter months, from late September to March. This is when the night sky is the darkest, which allows the colors of the aurora to stand out more. It is best to plan your trip around the New Moon phase, when the moonlight won't interfere with your views of the lights.

As for the time of night, the hours between 9 pm and 2 am tend to be the most active. It's worth staying up late or waking up early to capture this exquisite spectacle.

Pack the Right Gear

Equally important as the location and timing is the gear you bring with you on your trip. The Northern Lights are not like regular landscapes or cityscapes that you can photograph with any camera. They require specific gear to capture their full beauty.

You will need a good, sturdy tripod to keep your camera steady during the long exposure times necessary for night photography. A DSLR or mirrorless camera with manual settings is also crucial. You should also pack a wide-angle lens to capture the vast expanse of the sky, and a fast lens with a large maximum aperture (f/2.8 or wider) to let in as much light as possible.

Don't forget about extra batteries, as the cold weather can drain them quickly. A remote shutter release can also be helpful to avoid camera shake when pressing the shutter.

Master the Camera Settings

To photograph the Northern Lights, you will need to use manual settings on your camera. Auto settings won't give you the control needed to properly expose the lights.

Firstly, set your lens to its widest aperture to let in as much light as possible. Then, adjust the ISO. A good starting point is somewhere between 800 and 3200, depending on the brightness of the lights and the ambient light conditions.

As for the shutter speed, it will largely depend on the movement of the lights. A good starting point is to set it between 15 and 30 seconds. However, if the lights are moving quickly, you may need to shorten the exposure time to avoid overexposure and keep the stars sharp.

Finally, remember to set your focus to infinity to ensure sharp images.

Practice Patience and Persistence

Photographing the Northern Lights requires a lot of patience and persistence. Sometimes, the lights can be elusive, and you might need to spend several nights out in the cold before you get the chance to see them.

Moreover, it's essential to experiment with your camera settings and compositions. Take multiple shots and adjust your settings as necessary to capture the lights in their best form.

Be prepared for the unexpected, as the Northern Lights can change quickly. One moment, they could be a faint glow on the horizon, and the next, they could be dancing across the whole sky.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to photograph the Northern Lights. The most important thing is to enjoy the experience and the magnificent spectacle unfolding before your eyes. After all, it's not every day that you get to see and capture one of nature's most beautiful displays.

Understand the Weather and Aurora Forecast

Photographing the Northern Lights requires a clear night sky. Cloud cover can completely obstruct your view of the aurora borealis, so it's ideal to check the weather forecast before heading out on your trip and aim for clear or partly cloudy nights. Also, keep an eye on the moon phase as a full moon can lead to a brighter sky, which may dull the colors of the Northern Lights.

Just as important as the weather forecast is the aurora forecast. Websites and apps like AuroraWatch UK provide real-time updates on the likelihood of Northern Lights sightings across the UK, particularly in Scotland. These forecasts measure geomagnetic activity on a scale known as the Kp index. The higher the Kp index, the stronger the aurora activity and the further south it can be seen.

The level of the forecast is not a guarantee you will see the lights – you still need clear, dark skies. However, during periods of high solar activity, the lights may be visible even in areas with moderate light pollution.

How to Process Your Photographs

After you've captured the Northern Lights on your camera, the next step is processing your photographs. While the raw images may already look stunning, a bit of post-processing can really make the colors of the aurora pop and enhance the overall composition of your photo.

Most photographers use Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop for post-processing. Adjust the white balance to bring out the colors of the Northern Lights. Boosting the exposure can make the lights appear brighter, but be careful not to overexpose the image.

Adjust the contrast to make the lights stand out against the night sky, and increase the saturation to enhance the colors. However, avoid oversaturating the image – the aim is to create a photo that looks natural and captures the beauty of the scene as you saw it.

Sharpening can also help bring out details in your photograph, especially if your photo includes a landscape along with the Northern Lights.

Remember, post-processing is a creative process, and it's up to you to decide how you want your final image to look. Don't be afraid to experiment with different settings until you're satisfied with the result.


The Northern Lights are one of nature's most breathtaking spectacles. Photographing them can be a bit of a challenge, especially when done from a UK campsite. However, with the right knowledge about the best locations and times, the correct gear, the mastery of camera settings, and patience, you can successfully capture the majestic beauty of the aurora borealis.

Understanding the weather and aurora forecast is key to increasing your chances of sighting the Northern Lights. And once you've captured them, knowing how to process your photographs can bring out the best in your shots.

Whether you're a professional photographer or a hobbyist, the experience of seeing and photographing the Northern Lights is truly unforgettable. So wrap up warm, head to your favorite spot and keep your eyes on the night sky. You never know when the aurora borealis will make its next breathtaking appearance.

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