How to Take Pictures of the Northern Lights with a Smartphone 

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Find out what is the best smartphone when it comes to photographing the Northern Lights. Learn how to take an aurora picture and what items you will need during your night!

Are you looking for a guide on how to take Northern Lights pictures with your phone? Continue reading this article we will tell you which phone, both Android or Apple suits you best, how to set up your smartphone's camera, and what tools you will need when it comes to taking pictures of aurora 👇

Understand Light Pollution

If you have already understood and know how the aurora forecast work, the next thing you need to consider before driving out to photograph the Northern Lights is the light pollution 🚗

Light pollution is the name for the brightening of the night in the sky that is caused by us (humans) such as the street lights and city lights. To get a better scene for Northern Lights and spot them better you will need to find a dark place far from the city where you can see stars clearly. If you are a tourist in the Northern Lights countries finding a location might be scary for you but don’t worry there are many Lights pollution tools available online for you, you can simply search “Light pollution map” on a search engine and choose one that suits you.

Why avoid light pollution when hunting the Northern Lights?

The street lights and city lights create a hue over the city which makes it difficult to see the colour of the aurora when the aurora activity is not strong.

Therefore for a better photo shoot and better experience, it’s better to drive to the countryside and avoid light pollution! You can check the aurora strength easily on our aurora forecast app 📱

Know the basic camera setting

Before finding which smartphone’s camera suits you, it’s good to know the basic camera settings first! 📷

Aperture size

Aperture applies to the opening of the lens’s diaphragm through which light passes. As for the camera, the smaller the aperture is the larger the diaphragm will be and vice versa. In photography, the aperture is displayed as ƒ value. To photograph in a low light condition you will need the lowest ƒ value possible.

📷 Tips: To photograph the aurora it is recommended having ƒ 2.8 or lower. 

Exposure

Exposure is the number of lights that reach the camera sensor when a picture is taken. Most smartphone camera these day doesn’t allow you to alter the exposure settings. There are many external camera apps available that allow you to set up this setting by yourself using the manual mode. Some external camera apps even allow you to set your exposure up to 30 seconds.

ISO

ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. Most smartphones these days only allow you to adjust ISO up to 3200 for example the OnePlus 7T pro. However, the Huawei 30p let you alter it up to 409,600 (what a skyrocket numbers).

📷 Tips: To photograph the aurora, it’s good to start with 1600 and alter it more if the intensity is not bright enough. But! Be careful with the noise, the higher the ISO you alter the more noise you will have on your picture. 

Find out what is the best phone for Northern Lights picture

Find out what is the best phone for Northern Lights picture

Best smartphone for Northern Lights photography

Since 2018 there have been numerous smartphones that help you taken Northern Lights pictures if you don’t have a camera. Here below is the list gathered by Dr. Sten F Odenwald an astronomer from NASA, these are the list of the smartphone releasing in the years 2019 and 2020 that astrophotographer has used and prove to work perfectly for astrophotography and low light condition photo.

How to choose the best phone camera for Northern Lights

  • Manual mode: You are able to manually set your camera when you have the manual mode.
  • Aperture size: The lower the aperture size the better to photograph the Northern Lights. You have a higher chance to capture them with a lower f/ value.
  • Resolution: All the phones we mentioned below have more than 12 megapixels which will give you a good resolution. But you should also be paying attention to the micron/µm as it will give you better quality when taking photos in a low-light condition. To choose the best µm is to have a bigger value. By having a higher pixel value you will have a better picture in a low light condition with less noise. 

Check out the list and find out which one fits you best! 📱🧐

Name

Manual mode

Aperture size

Resolution

Pixel 3a (2020)

No

f/1.8

12.2 MP, 1.4µm

OnePlus 7T Pro (2020)

Yes

f/1.6

48 MP, 0.8µm

Pixel 4 XL (2020)

No

f/2.4

12.2 MP, 1.4µm

Galaxy Note 10/S10+(2020)

Yes

f/1.5-2.4

12 MP, 1.4µm

iPhone 11 Pro MAX (2020)

Yes

f/1.8

12 MP, 1.4µm

Huawei Mate 30 Pro (2020)

Yes

f/1.6

40 MP, N/A

LG-G8s ThinkQ(2019)

Yes

f/1.8

12 MP, 1.4µm

Xiaomi Red mi Note 8 (2019)

Yes

f/1.8

48 MP, 0.8µm

Xiaomi Redmi 8 (2019)

N/A

f/ 1.8

12 MP, 0.8µm

Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 (2019)

Yes

f/1.8

48 MP, 0.8µm

Samsung A70 (2019)

No

1.7

32 MP, 0.8µm

Huawei Nova 5T (2019)

Yes

f/1.8

48 MP, 0.8µm

Huawei 7 5G (2019)

Yes

1.8

64 MP, N/A

Xiaomi Redmi 7A (2019)

Yes

f/2.2

13 MP, 1.12µm

Realme 3 Pro (2019)

Yes

f/1.7

16 MP, 1.12µm

How to photograph aurora with a smartphone

Now you have already got a nice smartphone for your aurora night! Let’s take a look at the 101 guides to take Northern Lights picture with your smartphone!

Location research

Finding a good spot with low light conditions and a clear sky is the key when hunting the Northern Lights. Look at the light pollution and find places where it has the low light conditions and use the cloud coverage map on hello aurora app to see where the sky is open.

📷 Tips: if you are in Iceland check out our top Northern Lights location in Iceland below!

Most spotted Northern Lights location in Iceland

Most spotted Northern Lights location in Iceland

Use tripod

To take a long exposure picture, the camera needs to stabilize well. Best to attach your phone to a tripod, but if you don't have one find a stone, wall, or anything that you can lay your camera on to.

Set your phone to manual mode

Set your phone to manual mode if possible. Alter the exposure near 10 seconds and ISO to 800 to start with and freely adjust it if the aurora’s intensity is not as bright as you want it to. Taking Northern Lights is very challenging as the aurora is always moving and sometimes it moves fast! Consider taking shorter exposure with lower ISO when this happens.

Tools you might need

Having only a camera is enough, but let's see what these tools will make your life easier!

Flashlight 🔦

Most of the photography will be at night in a dark place so you need a red flashlight to see what you are doing and where you are walking. We don't want you to fall down the hill or step on thin ice!

Tripods 🤸🏻

A must thing to have when taking a long exposure picture. If you don’t have one, look around there might be some rock you can use for this time!

Warm clothes 🥶

Taking the Northern Lights picture required A LOT of patience! Make sure you dress warm enough for the negative temperature.

Hot drinks ☕️

Bringing tea, coffee, hot chocolate or any beverages that will keep your warm during the trip is always a good idea. Remember you will have to stay outside in the open with a drop temperature for hours. It will make your trip more enjoyable and romantic to have something to sip while watching the beautiful aurora in the sky!

A person watching the Northern Lights over a mountain

A person watching the Northern Lights over a mountain

Hooray, now you have a great Northern Lights photo. Feel free to share your picture with us through Instagram and share this article with your friends! 👇

Get started

Don't wait any longer, download hello aurora and start exploring!