Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 30

Aurora Hunting
cones in your eyes - the cells that respond to color. But in
general, photographs are the best way to record the colors of
an auroral display.
The good news is most any camera that can expose for a
few seconds or longer can record a bright display. Even your
smartphone can take memorable photos. You don't need
fancy, expensive gear to take images of the northern lights.
However, if you're looking to take a great photo that can be
blown up and printed large, your best results will come with
a DSLR or Mirrorless camera paired with a wide-angle lens.
However, some additional equipment will ensure you come
away with many nice shots.
First and foremost, a sturdy tripod will ensure sharp photos.
While you can handhold your smartphone and come away
with an acceptable picture, even a cheap tripod fitted with a
smartphone clamp will dramatically improve your results.
Next, a shutter-release cable or a wireless trigger will provide
a way to fire the shutter without touching the camera so
that you don't get blurry or wiggly stars in your photos.
If you're using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, then a highquality,
wide-angle zoom or prime lens with an f-stop of f/2.8
or lower is best for aurora photography. A fast lens allows
for more light to fall onto the camera's sensor. But note that
cheap fast lenses often produce distorted stars at the corners
of the frame and perform best when set one or two stops
below wide-open, which defeats the advantage of the lens's
maximum speed. You can save money by renting high-quality
lenses from a local photography store if there's one accessible
to you. Renting is also a great option for those who want to
try out a new lens before buying it.
Aurorae span a good swath of the sky, so you don't need
a telephoto lens. A focal length of 50 mm or shorter is ideal
for the task if you have a full-frame camera. A 28-mm lens
is about as long as you'd need with an APS (crop-format)
camera. You'll want a particularly wide-angle lens, such as
a 14-to-24-mm f/2.8, or even a 10-mm fisheye lens. This is
especially true for locations at high latitudes where even on
nights of minimal activity, a display can be overhead and
sometimes take up the entire sky! You also want to include
some of the foreground landscape in the picture. From midlatitude
locations, the display may be confined near to the
horizon. Therefore, a longer lens, such as a 35-mm or 50-mm
f/2, is more suitable, as you can fill the frame more with the
rays peeking over foreground trees or hills.
Standard DSLR and Mirrorless cameras will take excellent
pictures of aurorae, though astro-modified cameras can
MOONLIGHT OPTIONS Don't be discouraged if a bright Moon lights the sky during a display. Moonlight will illuminate the foreground in your
photo much like in the blue hour (the period just before sunrise or after sunset). The image at left is a focus-stacked composite captured in British
Columbia, Canada while the Moon was up. The photo at right is the same scene taken after the Moon had set, providing a very different atmosphere.
30 MAY 2024 * SKY & TELESCOPE

Sky & Telescope - May 2024

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - May 2024

Contents
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover1
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 1
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Contents
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 3
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 4
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 5
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 6
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 7
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 8
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Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover3
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover4
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