Where and how to photograph the Northern Lights?

Experts predict that this yearit will be possible to observe the aurora borealis in regions where they normally do not appear, such as southern Spain, because our star is expected to reach its “solar maximum”, a peak of activity that occurs approximately every eleven years. Prediction platforms such as Space Weather Prediction Center from NOAA or applications My Aurora Forecast AND Northern Lights Forecast, can help you predict the most favorable time to observe the aurora borealis and track the extension of the auroral oval southward. However, only colors visible above 250 kilometers altitude, i.e. a gradient of red, will illuminate the sky in southern Europe, due to the angle from which the northern lights can be observed.

The Kp index (Kp index or planetary K index) is often used to determine the probability of seeing the polar auroras. This index measures disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field. Privately reported on the website of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Observing Agency (NOAA), allows us to know the activity of the magnetic field with a delay of three hours, and thus estimate the probability of seeing the aurora borealis appear at high and low altitudes.

“As it is only checked every three hours, the Kp index can miss sudden changes in auroral activity, especially during periods when solar activity is low”, explains Carlo Alberto Cacopardo. “Furthermore, the data used to determine the Kp index is collected by different monitoring stations in different locations, which can make predictions inconsistent. »

We finally arrived at the Aurora Alps campsite. The sky is clear, the number of stars is infinite. My weather app says -27°C, it felt -40°C. Before I put on my two pairs of gloves, it’s time to set up my camera.

Although it is possible to photograph the Northern Lights with your smartphone in night mode, with newer models becoming more sensitive to low light, the ideal is to have a camera that can be set to manual mode. Some smartphones have manual settings; in this case, set the shutter speed between 2 and 30 seconds. For your camera, the shutter speed can vary between 5 to 10 seconds if the aurora is very bright and active, and 20 to 25 seconds if the aurora is moving slowly.

Choose a wide-angle lens (between 10 and 18mm), with an aperture between F2.8 and F4. “You then have to play with the ISO sensitivity” he advises Tor-Ivar Næss, a photographer specialized in photography of the Northern Lights who accompanied us that night. What is called ISO sensitivity is the amount of light your camera captures. “A high sensitivity, between 1600 and 6400, allows you to capture more light”, explains Tor-Ivar Næss.

Whether you opt for a camera or smartphone, remember to bring a tripod, essential for your photos to be sharp with manual adjustments. Finally, remember to take your charger, or even a second fully charged battery for your camera, as the cold quickly drains batteries.

With the camera mounted on the tripod, I make my way through the snow as best I can to find a frame I like, while I wait for dawn. “Try to tell a story. And the most important. Focus on an element in the foreground, which will create contrast or reflect the northern lights,” explains Tor-Ivar Næss. “Photographing the emotion of a person seeing an aurora for the first time is, for example, a beautiful story to tell.”

I adjust the focus to Venus, which shines in the night sky. During the adjustment, which requires removing one of the gloves, my fingers feel cold. I barely have time to heat them up and everyone is amazed. We didn’t have to wait long for the sky to light up.

As Alex predicted, these first sunrises are almost imperceptible to the naked eye. But its colors are revealed by our cameras. Above all, the green, which seems to invade the frame. The pristine mountains provide visual clues, interweaving the dark sky. We are alone in this immense nature, aware of our opportunity to observe such a spectacle.

I press the shutter button again. A person enters the frame from the left, creating an effect of movement that contrasts with the unchanging landscape, the light of the Moon and this aurora that extends to the right. The photography isn’t spectacular, but I liked it. It captures the essence of this spectacle that I dreamed of watching.

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