It's generally hard to take clear pictures of auroras because they are fairly dim and move around. To get enough light for a good picture, you need a long exposure. But then your picture will be blurry because the aurora moves during the exposure. If you force a faster shutter speed, then the resulting picture will be noisy.

One way out is to use a very wide aperture to let in more light, but this isn't possible on cheaper cameras. Are there any tricks to achieving good aurora pictures without upgrading to (say) an SLR?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd be curious to see how this would work out on an OM-D EM-5 using Live-Bulb mode. It could be ideal and you would not need to get a DSLR ...unless there is something I do not know about Auroras. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Aug 24, 2012 at 2:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Itai any reason why the OM-D specifically? there are plenty of entry-to-mid-level DSLRs that are cheaper \$\endgroup\$
    – DHall
    Aug 24, 2012 at 11:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ The OM-D is the only camera to feature Live-Bulb which lets you see on the rear LCD the image while it forms. It updates every few seconds and should let you know when its time to stop exposing. This would be tremendously beneficial for fireworks and the aurora whose luminosity change during the exposure, making metering rather difficult. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Aug 24, 2012 at 12:51

1 Answer 1


Starting with the required DLSR settings to take an aurora photo and working back, we can see what would be needed for a compact camera to capture such a picture.

A clear aurora photo would use an exposure of around 5-10s at f/4 with ISO 1600 - this is obviously dependent on the intensity of the aurora, so is only a guide.

If you apply the limits found on most compacts, you can manipulate the figures to see what would be required. So, if the highest feasible ISO value is 800 (without excessive noise), you would need to increase the shutter speed to between 10s and 20s to obtain the same exposure value. Equally, if the widest aperture is f/5.6, you would need to go even further to around 20s or longer. This, however, is entering into the 'too long' category, which as you rightly say would result in too much movement to get a clear picture.

So you'd need to check what your camera is capable of. Using the guideline exposure above, calculate the shutter speed needed based on the highest usable ISO and widest aperture on your camera, and decide for yourself whether it would work.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Plenty of consumer grade cameras have F/2.8 lenses at their widest angle of view. Higher-priced models have F/2 or brighter, up to F/1.4 at this time, so this sounds highly probably and the ISO can be lowered to 400 or 200 which improves things greatly on such small cameras. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Aug 24, 2012 at 13:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.