In Iceland last week we saw northern lights on multiple occasions. These magical curtains of light are stunning, and create a great photograph. But how to photograph the lights? Simply put, start with F2.8, 15 seconds and ISO 800. This should put you in the neighborhood of a correct exposure. If the display is really bright, you can reduce your exposure. Have your focus figured out before you go outside. You will be using manual focus, so determine what is the infinity focus mark for your lens. You can use your LCD and live view to help, but better to be prepared. Figure out your focus while there is still light.
I like to ground my images with some kind of land feature like a tree or mountain, but this is a creative choice. Two apps will help you predict the Aurora. Aurora Photo Forecast gives you sample exposure settings based on how bright the display is, and also predicts the strongest northern lights activity. Aurora Forecast predicts the activity levels, and has a cool global map showing you where the strongest displays will be. Can you shoot the Aurora with a bright moon? Yes, moonlight will illuminate your foreground, which can make interesting photographs. If you want to photograph the Aurora, your best chance is way north in places like Alaska and Iceland. Join me next year in Iceland to chase the northern lights!