Gray Line Iceland - Photographing the Northern Lights

Posted by on 14 Nov 2017

Capturing the Magic: Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland with Your Smartphone

northern-lights-over-snow-capped mountains


Have you ever dreamed of witnessing the mesmerizing dance of the Northern Lights? Iceland, with its breathtaking landscapes and clear night skies, offers the perfect backdrop for capturing this awe-inspiring phenomenon. And the best part? You don't need expensive camera gear to take stunning photos of the Northern Lights. Your smartphone can be your gateway to capturing the magic. In this guide, we will share valuable tips and tricks on how to photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland with your smartphone.

1. Unleash the Power of Your Smartphone Camera

Your smartphone is a powerful tool that can capture incredible images of the Northern Lights. Before embarking on your Northern Lights adventure, take some time to familiarize yourself with the features and capabilities of your smartphone camera.

Get to Know Your Camera Settings

Every smartphone has its own camera settings and adjustments. Spend some quality time exploring the different options available on your device. Experiment with features like exposure, focus, and white balance to understand how they affect your photos. By mastering these settings, you can optimize your smartphone camera for capturing the Northern Lights.

Keep Your Lens Clean

Iceland's damp climate can pose a challenge when it comes to keeping your lens free from moisture and dirt. Carry a microfiber cloth or lens wipe to clean your lens before capturing those magical moments. Avoid using your shirt or fingers, as they can leave smudges or scratches on the lens. If necessary, use distilled water to remove grime, but avoid harsh cleansers that can damage the lens.

Optimize Your Smartphone's Performance

To ensure smooth and uninterrupted photography sessions, close any unnecessary apps running in the background. This will free up your smartphone's CPU power, allowing your camera app to perform at its best. Additionally, consider disabling calling and messaging functions during your Northern Lights photography session to avoid any distractions.

2. Stability is Key: Don't Skip the Tripod


Capturing the Northern Lights requires long exposure shots, which means you need to keep your smartphone steady. Even the steadiest of hands cannot match the stability provided by a tripod. Invest in a smartphone tripod or a flexible stand with bendy legs that can be wrapped around a stable surface like a rock or a backpack. This will help eliminate blurry and shaky images, ensuring crisp and clear Northern Lights photos.

3. Embrace the Dark Side for Stunning Aurora Shots

To capture the true beauty of the Northern Lights, you need to embrace darkness and minimize light pollution. Here's how you can create the perfect environment for your aurora photography:

Escape the City Lights

The city lights can significantly impact your ability to capture the Northern Lights in all their glory. Venture away from urban areas and find remote locations with minimal light pollution. The darker the sky, the more vibrant and distinct the Northern Lights will appear in your photographs.

Seek Solitude from Passing Lights

Even the faintest light source can disrupt your shot, so it's essential to move away from roads or areas with passing headlights. These lights can create unwanted reflections and diminish the contrast of your Northern Lights images. If you're on a guided Northern Lights tour, make sure your driver turns off as many lights as possible to give you the best chance of capturing clear shots.

Shield Your Setup

If you find yourself in an area with ambient light, don't lose hope. You can still capture stunning Northern Lights photos by shielding your setup from the extraneous light sources. Use a jacket, a blanket, or any other dark material to create a barrier between your smartphone and the surrounding light. This will help minimize light pollution and enhance the contrast in your images.

4. Mastering Manual Settings for Stellar Results

The auto mode on your smartphone camera may not always capture the full beauty of the Northern Lights. To truly unleash the potential of your smartphone, switch to manual mode and take control of the settings. Here are some tips to help you optimize your manual settings for Northern Lights photography:

Experiment with Presets

Some smartphone cameras offer pre-set modes designed for capturing night scenes, such as starry nights or fireworks. Explore these options and see which one works best for capturing the Northern Lights. If your native camera app lacks manual controls, consider downloading third-party camera apps like ProCam that provide manual settings for exposure and ISO.

Dial-In Your ISO

ISO determines the sensitivity of your camera's image sensor to light. Start with an ISO setting of 800 and adjust accordingly based on the visibility of the Northern Lights. Increasing the ISO can make the lights appear brighter, but be cautious as excessively high ISO settings can introduce noise and graininess to your images.

Extend Exposure Time

The Northern Lights can be unpredictable, sometimes appearing as brief flickers across the sky. To increase your chances of capturing these moments, try setting your exposure time to around 15 seconds. This longer exposure will allow your smartphone camera to capture more light, resulting in more distinct and vibrant Northern Lights photos. Remember to use a tripod to avoid any motion blur during long exposures.

Fine-Tune Your Settings

Experimentation is key when it comes to capturing the perfect Northern Lights image. Adjust your manual settings, such as exposure and white balance, until you achieve the desired results. Each situation is unique, so don't be afraid to tweak your settings and find the perfect balance for your specific environment and the intensity of the Northern Lights.

5. Unleash Your Creative Potential: Post-Processing and Editing


Editing your Northern Lights photos is an opportunity to enhance the magic you captured with your smartphone. While editing should not be a substitute for poor photography techniques, it can elevate your images to new heights. Here are some tips for post-processing your Northern Lights photos:

Embrace Basic Adjustments

Basic adjustments like contrast, brightness, and tone can make a significant difference in your Northern Lights images. Explore the editing features available on your smartphone camera app or consider downloading editing apps that offer more advanced tools. Play around with these adjustments to bring out the hidden details and add depth to your photos.

Preserve the Authenticity

While editing can enhance your images, it's important to maintain the authenticity of the Northern Lights. Avoid over-editing or applying filters that drastically alter the natural colors and characteristics of the aurora. The goal is to accentuate the beauty captured by your smartphone, not create an entirely different scene.

Share Your Success

Once you've edited your Northern Lights photos to perfection, share your stunning images with the world. Post them on social media platforms, create a gallery on your website, or even submit them to photography contests. Let your photos inspire others to embark on their own Northern Lights adventures and capture the magic with their smartphones.

Conclusion: Embrace the Magic of the Northern Lights

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland with your smartphone is an incredible experience that allows you to capture the magic of this natural phenomenon. With the right techniques and a bit of creativity, you can create stunning images that showcase the awe-inspiring beauty of the aurora borealis.

Remember, each Northern Lights sighting is unique, and patience is key. Don't be discouraged if you don't capture the perfect shot on your first try. Embrace the adventure, explore different locations, and experiment with your smartphone camera settings. Most importantly, don't forget to take a moment to appreciate the natural wonder unfolding before your eyes. Let the Northern Lights be a source of inspiration and a reminder of the beauty that exists in our world.

So, grab your smartphone, head to Iceland, and embark on an unforgettable journey to capture the Northern Lights from one of the most breathtaking locations on Earth. Let your smartphone be your guide and witness the magic of the Northern Lights through its lens.

Good luck and happy photographing!

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