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Aurora Photography: GoPro Camera Settings for Northern Lights

by Lisa Stentvedt
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Curious about Aurora photography? I know I was before my trip to Lofoten earlier this year! Having only seen the Northern Lights once (or the Aurora Borealis as they are so fancily named), I was quite curious as to how to take pictures of the Northern Lights, and what were the right camera settings for Northern Lights. I was especially curious as to whether I could use my GoPro for taking photos of the Northern Lights, and whether the action camera was able to catch them properly. Well, I am excited to say that in the end, I found the perfect GoPro settings for Northern Lights, and so I wanted to share them in this post!

First of all, let me say that I am not a photographer. At all. I don’t have that much fancy gear or equipment (you can see all my favourite travel gadgets and camera gear here), and I am still learning every step of the way. I am proud to no longer be shooting in automatic mode with my Canon (I use the Canon EOS M3), and I am slowly starting to enjoy playing around with it.

In addition to my Canon (which is a hybrid, not a pure DSLR), I have my trusted GoPro Hero 6. I absolutely love it, and it has been my trusted friend for over a year now (when I upgraded from the GoPro Hero 3+). It’s super easy to use, and figuring out how to take pictures of the Northern Lights with the GoPro was great fun!

Side note: This photo was taken with my Canon, just to illustrate the quality you can get with the GoPro vs a hybrid camera.

Visiting Norway soon? Don’t miss my Norway itineraries, including Lofoten self-drive itineraries! Find them all here!

Aurora photography, northern lights over Lofoten Norway
Keep reading for my best Aurora photography tips!

How to take pictures of the Northern Lights: First things first

So you want to know how to take pictures of the Northern Lights with your GoPro? You’re not alone. The Aurora Borealis is one of many reasons people choose to visit Norway, and with very good reason. Prior to the trip, I had only seen them once, when they were strong enough to be shown in the village where I grew up (Aurland, in Western Norway).

Ever since I had wanted to see them again, and I’ll admit I wasn’t even that fussed to get a photo of them when I went to visit Lofoten in winter. I just wanted to see them again.

So, what are the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis? Basically, when there is an explosion on the sun, it sends particles towards earth that are electrically charged. This, apparently, happens all the time. Due to the solar winds (and the magnetic “shield” of the earth), these particles hit our atmosphere around the north and the south magnetic poles of the planet. When these particles collide with gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen, they create an incredible show of light that can (some times) be seen with the naked eye. For a more scientific (and probably better) explanation of the Northern Lights, head this way.

You may have noticed how I said that the Aurora Borealis can some times be seen with the naked eye. This is something I learned the hard way during my trip to Lofoten, as I actually believed that the Northern Lights always looked like they did when I saw them at home. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Apparently, the lights can only be seen when they are sufficiently strong. Your camera, however, can probably catch it even when you can’t see it yourself. This makes Aurora photography a little easier, yet I still hope you get to see the Northern Lights yourself, and not just through your GoPro. It is such a stunning sight, there truly is nothing that can compare to it!

So, bear this in mind before your trip up north to see the Northern Lights. I’d hate for you to get disappointed (like I was at first). Luckily, we were lucky to catch an amazing show on our final night there, and I’ll be crossing my fingers for you too! All the photos in this post are from the same night. Also, all photos were taken with my GoPro Hero 6 (except for the first one).

6 Tips for Aurora Photography with a GoPro

Now, when you are heading out to catch photos of the Northern Lights with your GoPro, there are a few things I would like to point out first. If you just want to head right to my GoPro camera settings for Northern Lights, scroll a little further. Here, you’ll get my best GoPro photography tips for the Northern Lights (and for taking GoPro night photos in general).

#1 Check the forecast

Now, if you’re wondering whether I mean the Aurora forecast or the weather forecast, I mean both. First of all, it is difficult to predict the visibility of the Northern Lights, but one thing is for sure, and that is that if it’s cloudy you can’t see them (duh). So start by checking the weather forecast in advance, to make sure that you have a clear sky, or at least that the sky isn’t completely covered by clouds. Ideally, you can see the stars.

Then, check the local Aurora forecast, on websites such as this one. Again, do keep in mind that it is not easy to give an exact estimate of the Aurora on a specific night in the future, but on the same day (and in the hours leading up to the evening/night), it should be quite accurate. The Aurora Borealis is measured on a scale from 1 to 9, where anything above a 5 or 6 can be seen in Southern Norway and further south (as the strength grows).

On the night we saw the lights in these photos, the measure was a 5, if I remember correctly.

#2 Dress well

You may think that this goes without saying, but it needs to be said regardless. In order to see and get photos of the Northern Lights, you need to go quite far north. And the further north you travel, the colder it is. In addition, if you are interested in taking photos of the Northern Lights, you’ll need to be very patient and prepared to spend hours outside. Naturally, this means that you must dress well. As in, not only dress for the cold, but dress for enduring the cold for a long time.

My (Norway) winter packing guide should have you all set for your trip!

#3 Get the right gear

Like I’ve said before, I don’t have the fanciest of gear for my camera or GoPro (except for when I go diving). But I do have some basics, and without them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to use my GoPro for shooting the Northern Lights. So before you go, do invest in at least a proper Tripod or Gorilla Pod. Why? To keep your GoPro as steady as possible for your photos. Otherwise, they’ll come out blurry.

#4 Avoid light (when you can)

It’s quite well known that when you want to take photos of the Northern Lights, you need to head somewhere dark. In addition to this, you need to avoid as many sources of light as you can. To put it in photographer language (and remember guys, I am in no way a professional photographer), you need a very long shutter speed when shooting something in the dark. Such as the northern lights. This is to allow more light to be “captured” by your camera, and it also means that any sources of light will be amplified. This is great when it comes to taking photos of the Northern Lights, and very important to know when learning how to take pictures of the Northern Lights.

Here’s an example for you. See the extremely bright light in the photo below? Believe it or not, but that’s actually the moon! Even though the moon seemed quite small and far away with my eye, with my GoPro night settings it came out so strong and bright it actually seems to have rays. So try your best not to get any other sources of light in your photo.

Gopro camera settings for northern lights

#5 Take into account the wide angle

Additionally, as you can see from the photo above, the GoPro Hero has a very wide angle. You may be able to see the people in the far left of the shot? That’s due to the (incredible) wide angle of the GoPro. As far as I know, it is not possible to turn off the Wide Angle function when shooting in Night Lapse Mode (more about the exact GoPro camera settings for Northern Lights I used below).

So, take into account that the GoPro Hero (all of them, as far as I know) has a very wide angle, and set up your shot accordingly. The newer GoPros actually have a touch screen where you can get an idea of what the photo will look like, so try to use it wisely. Alternatively, if you have an older version of the GoPro (as mentioned above, I had the GoPro Hero 3+ for ages and I loved it – you can get it for less than $100!), connect it to the GoPro App and check your frame on there.

#6 Be patient and leave it!

Patience is a virtue that I usually don’t possess, but I quickly learned that when it comes to Aurora photography I didn’t have much choice. The camera settings for Northern Lights I’m gonna share with you below involves using the Night Lapse Mode, which is a setting where your GoPro continues to take photos until you stop it yourself (or it runs out of battery). Thus, in order to get the best photos possible; leave your camera alone once you’ve got the settings right!

Seriously, you have no idea how many of my photos turned out a little blurry because I just had to check what they looked like as I was going. My tip is to allow the GoPro to get at least 5 photos before you check to see if you need to rearrange something or edit any of the settings. Trust me.

How to take pictures of the northern lights with a Gopro, northern lights in Lofoten, Norway
Here’s how to take pictures of the Northern Lights!

My Exact GoPro Camera Settings for Northern Lights

I know this is what you came here for, but I hope you have gotten some value out of the Aurora photography tips I have shared above. When learning how to take pictures of the Northern Lights I still have a long way to go myself, but thought I would share any tips I could think of. In short, using your GoPro night settings is very different from taking photos with it in the day time, and it becomes slightly less challenging when wanting to shoot the Northern Lights using your GoPro.

So, here are my exact GoPro camera settings for Northern Lights. Start by setting your GoPro into Night Lapse Mode.

Shutter Speed: 10-20 seconds

I started at 15 and ended up going down to 10 for the shots in this post. This will depend on the light near you, and of course, it could be that you need to go up to 25 or even down to 5 seconds.

ISO limit: 100-350

Interval: Continuous

So it just keeps taking photos without you having to press the button for each one. This avoids any blurriness in the photos, as you don’t have to touch the camera in between shots.

White Balance: 3000k

This can be adjusted depending on the look you want. I’ll be honest and say I was too excited to see the lights to even bother trying to change it.

Aperture: F/2,8

I believe the GoPro finds this automatically on its own, and it is not something you change/edit yourself. But I’m keeping it here so you know what I shot my photos in.

Protune: On

Spot meter: Off

GoPro night settings for shooting the northern lights

Now, again, please note that I am not a photographer, but this is how I managed to shoot the Northern Lights, so I am simply sharing my Aurora photography settings with you. If you want a specific example, the photo above had a 10-second shutter, an aperture of f/2,8 and ISO of 399 to be exact. The photo further up in the post where you see the boat had the exact same settings, except for the ISO, which was 258.

Your GoPro finds its own ISO according to the limits you give it, so once you find an ISO you are happy with, I advise you to narrow down the limits a little. That way you control the camera a little more.

I hope you enjoyed these Aurora photography tips and GoPro camera settings for Northern Lights! As mentioned, I was way more excited about seeing them myself than get photos of them, but once I started taking the photos and seeing the results, it took over my excitement completely!

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