Is my gear and some application capable enough to photograph the Aurora Borealis?

My gear:

I have heard many suggestions try to use compact camera at least, which shoot while holding shutter for few second for taking the northern lights. So, my question

  1. Am I able to take the Aurora Borealis with the given gear?
  2. Any suggestions? Additional gear, application or rather to get new camera?
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ as @esapaulasto says, taking a real camera would be so much better for this instead of hacking together a rig. Think about it like this, you're going to go to a fairly harsh environment, shoot one of the most spectacular sights nature has to offer, and you're going to do it from your phone and hope that it all works out? Sounds like a sure fire way to get disappointing results. \$\endgroup\$
    – NULLZ
    Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @D3C4FF Thank you for your comment, I totally agree with you that it would be better by using real camera. But I just want to know and learn that we can apply any technique or using additional reasonable price gear to acquire certain photo if we have limited camera and budget. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sakares
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I wouldn't call an iPhone reasonably priced either to be honest. An entry level DSLR like the Canon 550D + kit lens will cost you around $500 whereas an iPhone 5 will cost around $750. If you include 'prosumer' point and shoots that changes it even more :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NULLZ
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 0:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @D3C4FF That's good point but the reason for my question since I only have an my own iPhone4S but not any DSLR camera. Why I need to buy more? if i can adjust from my own stuff. Is it wise consideration? :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Sakares
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ From a cost saving point of view its probably not a bad idea. An idea would be to head out somewhere with as little light pollution as possible on a clear night and then shoot a shot of the stars with your phone and then look at the image quality. Do this before you go and see if you're happy with the results. You could also try borrowing a camera off friends and family for the trip? Don't forget to come back and post pics if you do use the iPhone! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NULLZ
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 23:46

3 Answers 3


You need to be at the perfect latitude(65-72deg), on a crisp, cold, clear, and cloudless night, with zero light pollution, and a huge amount of luck. Even then you are pushing it with equipment like that.

See the Auroa-Borealis tag here for much more info - https://photo.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/aurora-borealis

  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you explain more detail for perfect latitude, please? Do I need a certain degree? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sakares
    Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 10:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/65th_parallel_north - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/72nd_parallel_north , look at those for an idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – DoStuffZ
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 10:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You don't need to be quite that far north to see the northern lights. I'm at N 46 and see and photograph with some frequency. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aaron
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 16:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Aaron - Yes it varies of course on your distance from light sources and just pure luck! But using an iPhone you will certainly need all of the best luck you can get! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpollitt Obviously, the more light, the better. But I've seen quite a few decent aurora photos taken in my area (Duluth, MN - ~N 46) with bridge and compact cameras with sensors that aren't all that much larger (1/2.3") and a slower lens (f/2.8 vs f/2.4). Not the same quality as full-frame, but that goes without saying. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aaron
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 16:24

1) Yes, I believe you can capture at least something with your smartphone.

There seems to be slow shutter speed apps for iPhone, I just googled a couple and those offer max 15 second shutter speed plus Bulb mode. You will need one of this kind of apps to have long exposure on Aurora Borealis.

To keep your camera still during the long exposure you'll need a tripod with a iPhone suitable head, something like a clamp or a car phone holder.

That's what is needed, if it ever is possible to capture the Northern Lights with an iPhone. Whatever you'll catch with it, you will need some post processing on the photo. That you would best do with a real computer program, but I guess there are nice photo editing apps for iPhone too.

2) No, although you might capture something with colors in the night sky with an iPhone, it would be so much better with a real camera.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for it would be so much better with a real camera! \$\endgroup\$
    – NULLZ
    Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 15:51

I wrote the app, Northern Lights Photo Taker (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/northern-lights-photo-taker/id979540312?mt=8), in lieu of threads like these :-)

The app will try its best to capture the northern lights for you based on how dim they are.

I hope this helps!

[edit - whoops! Sorry,I've failed to address why this is more convenient as mentioned in the comments below]

This app leverages the manual controls of the iDevice, which subsequently, allows you to tweak the ISO, temperatures, focus mode, and shutter speed.

Yes, there are other apps out there that allow you manually control these settings, but this app accounts for all the variables mentioned above, configured just for taking the northern lights.

I read up on a lot of articles and watched a lot of videos on how to have the best chances & techniques of taking pictures of the northern lights and translated them into a simple app.

Here are some of the tips and tricks:

"There are a few preset settings already set for you! Choose the one that makes the most sense when you see the lights.

Use the 'Weak' settings when the lights are feint; use 'Strong' when the lights are bright.

Use 'Custom' settings when you want to play around with the settings.

Shutter - The time for light to be exposed to the camera's sensor. Longer speeds may blur the lights as they move across the sky.

ISO - Camera sensitivity to light. Try somewhere between 100-400.

Expose - Long exposure time, in seconds.

Other helpful tips for great photos:

  • Use a tripod if you can or keep your hand as steady as possible when taking the picture, especially during a long exposure picture.
  • Darker the better, but does not have to be complete darkness.

Have fun, good luck, and enjoy the moment!"

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you please add why app is better than other methods of taking photos of the Auroras. Other useful information would be when the app works best and what the user is required to do. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 4:45

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