First thing is first, I tend to process information quickly and prefer information that is to the point. Therefore I will keep this brief and to the point.
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You don't need expensive gear to get great photos. The image quality difference between a $400 and a $5000 camera is not nearly as high as the price difference.
1. Camera with a manual mode ( almost all cameras have the manual mode function )
2.A lens with the lowest possible aperture. It is usually written as eg; 1:2.8 or f/2.8. The lower the f/ number, the better the photos will turn out ( I will explain later on)
3. A lens or camera with manual focusing (not the manual type where you touch the screen and it focuses there).
When shooting in manual mode, there are 5 settings that you will be controlling.These are: 1. Shutter speed 2. Aperture 3. ISO 4. Timer 5. Manual focusing
If you want to really learn how to take great photos, you will need to learn these 3 settings, what they do and how they effect the photo. There are many great youtube tutorials and information videos which go into great depth on these settings.
In short what you need to know is;
1. Shutter Speed - The longer the shutter is open the longer the photo is being taken. So if you have ever seen motion blur in a photo, it is because the shutter speed was low. What this means when taking photos of the Auroras. The longer the shutter is open, the longer light goes into your camera, meaning the brighter the photo will be. This also means that any movement of the camera will create blur in your photo, hence why you really need a tripod.
2. Aperture - As mentioned above the lower the number, the better the photo will turn out. Ofcourse this is not always the case, however when photographing the northern lights or the stars, this certainly is a driving factor. What the aperture does is opens the lens something similar to a tap. The lower the number the more the tap can open, allowing for more light to go into the camera, this is similar to opening your tap completely allowing for more water to go through. On a side note, having the aperture too low and great distances between objects such as a person and mountain for example, will create a blurry look, however not to the whole photo, just the part that is not in focus. This once again is not too important when taking photos of the nights sky, as all distances are extremely great.
3. ISO - The easiest way to think of ISO is like a cheap speaker. The higher the volume of the speaker the louder the noise, however the louder it is the more quality you loose. You begin to hear crackling noises or static for example. This is very similar with a camera, the ISO. The lower the number the better quality photo you will have, however this will make the image darker. If you turn up the ISO too high in order to make the photo brighter, it will fill the image with digital noise, lots of small littler dots.
4. Timer - If you have ever taken a family selfie you have used a timer. It means that there is a delay from when to press the button, to when the photo is actually taken. I usually put 2 Seconds in good weather, because when I press the button the camera shakes slightly and if the photo began the process, the photo would turn out blurry. This was I press the button, and the camera has 2 seconds to stop the vibrations caused by my hand.
5. Manual Focusing - All camera brands have their own way of doing things, so look this up in the user manual. Basically you need to turn off the auto focus in order for you to have the manual control of the focusing. It is impossible for the camera to auto focus in the dark
TAKING THE PHOTO
So when you get to the location, this is what you do.
1. Set up the Tripod and mount the camera
2.Put the camera into M/Manual mode
3.Select the Manual Focus mode
4.Focus. a) If you are taking photos of just the sky, turn the focus ring all the way anti clockwise, and then turn back clockwise very slightly. This is the infinity point.
b) If you have a subject in your photo such as a mountain, building or a person, there are many ways to focus. The easiest is to shine a very bright torch onto the subject, making the subject very bright and visible in your camera. If this is not possible then there are a few ways to focus. Option a. if you have markings on your focus ring, similar to the photo above. Then you can estimate the distance and apply it on the focus ring. Option b. Turn the ISO as high as possible, making the shutter speed quick, in order to speed up the process. Then take a photo and see how the focus is. If not in focus adjust the focus ring and repeat the process. Keep doing this until in focus. As mentioned there are multiple other ways, however these require greater knowledge of your camera gear and the photography process.
5.Select the lowest aperture, in my case this is 2.8
6.Select the 2 second timer
7.If there are bright stars out, any exposure over 15/20 seconds will make them look blurry due to the earth spinning. So I would start with 15 second shutter speed. This is the setting in the bottom left corner of the screen.
8.Since the aperture will be constant, and most likely the shutter speed as well, the only thing you will be changing is the ISO. Start with ISO 1000. If the photos are too dark increase the ISO. If the photos are too bright, decrease the ISO. Remember you want the ISO to be as low as possible without making the photo too dark.
I hope this help´s you out when photographing the Norther Lights, or the nights sky. If you would like to see more photographs which I´ve taken with this method, have a look at my