Together with ShotKit, I’m thrilled to take you on a journey through my essential gear for capturing the spectacular beauty of the northern lights.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just dipping your toes into the world of astrophotography, having the right equipment can make all the difference.
So, join me as we explore the gear I rely on to create mesmerising aurora photos and videos.
I’m Dave Williams, a photographer, photo guide and photography instructor living in Lofoten, Norway, originally from the UK.
I’m a northern lights specialist and author of the best-selling book The Complete Aurora Guide for Travellers and Photographers.
My passion for photography began when I was young, leafing through the pages of National Geographic and so many travel books.
I love the adventure that comes along with photography, and I live by the motto: Once in a lifetime, as often as you can.
I like to shoot travel, which is a ridiculously broad genre. It stands out from other genres because it doesn’t have a distinct subject. Instead, it has a distinct result.
Travel photos can be from any other genre, and they’ve succeeded as travel photos if they’ve made the viewer want to be there, in that place, in that image.
I shoot a lot of subjects, but for this article, I will focus on the gear I use to shoot the Aurora Borealis.
In my quest to capture the elusive northern lights, I’ve found versatility is critical. My primary choice for stills is the Nikon Z6. Its exceptional sensor and resolution provide the image quality I demand.
While Nikon has been my trusted brand for years, I’m open to exploring other options when the situation calls for it.
Selecting the right lens is crucial to capturing the aurora’s magic. The Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 is my weapon for wide-angle shots encompassing the entire celestial display. Its wide field of view and wide aperture are ideally suited to the northern lights’ grandeur.
When I need a narrower perspective, such as focussing on the majestic peaks of mountains or intricate details in the landscape while still harnessing the aurora’s glow, the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 steps up to the plate. Its excellent aperture allows me to work my magic even in low-light conditions.
The Sony A7S III is my undisputed champion for real-time aurora footage. Its sensor’s remarkable light-absorbing capabilities far outweigh its twelve-megapixel count, resulting in jaw-dropping video footage of the aurora borealis dancing across the sky.
To complement my Sony A7S III for northern lights videos, I turn to the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG DN. Its wide aperture lets in ample light, and the 20mm field of view strikes the ideal balance between capturing the vast expanse of the aurora-lit sky and maintaining a natural look in the footage.
When it comes to capturing the immersive beauty of the aurora in three sixty degrees, there’s no rival for the Insta360 One RS 1-inch 360 Edition. This compact camera packs a punch, delivering stunning 360° photos of the northern lights. Its invisible selfie stick and app-based control provide flexibility and convenience during those frigid aurora-chasing nights.
Let’s not forget the ever-present iPhone 13 Pro Max. With its improved quad-sensor and cutting-edge computational imaging technology, it’s now easier than ever to capture stunning mobile photos of the aurora.
The convenience of having a capable camera right in my pocket is a game-changer for those unexpected aurora displays.
Mastering light is essential for aurora photography, and I have a few trusty companions in my toolkit. The LumeCube Panel Pro is my go-to light source for gently illuminating scenes. Its app-based control allows me to adjust brightness, temperature, and colour easily.
When I need a spotlight to highlight specific elements of the aurora or the landscape, the LumeCube V2 shines brightly. This compact light packs a powerful punch, ensuring that every detail is beautifully illuminated.
For those occasions when a more robust strobe light is necessary, the Profoto A2 comes into play. Despite its small, portable size, it delivers a significant burst of light. When paired with the Clic Softbox Octa, I can soften the illumination, providing the perfect lighting balance for my shots.
Every photographer needs a reliable way to transport their gear, and the WANDRD Roam 9L Sling Bag is my trusted companion. Waterproof, durable, and exceptionally well-made, it easily carries all my Aurora photo gear.
The WANDRD range’s modular design suits photographers and travellers alike, and the ROGUE’s expandable pocket even accommodates my coffee thermos, a perfect touch for those chilly nights of aurora chasing.
Steady shots are a must when capturing the intricate details of the northern lights. My preferred tripod range is from 3-Legged Thing – Bucky model, which gets the most action. It can reach a height of one hundred and ninety centimetres while maintaining a compact and lightweight design, only one and a half kilograms!
It’s a versatile workhorse that never lets me down. Its impressive load-to-weight ratio of twenty to one ensures that my camera remains steady, even in challenging conditions.
To quickly and easily reorient my camera on the tripod while retaining access to ports and screen movement, I’ve added camera-specific L-brackets from 3-Legged Thing. I use Zelda for my Nikon Z6 and Alfie for my Sony A7S III. These brackets are permanent fixtures in my kit for good reason.
To overcome the challenges of operating tripods on ice and snow, I rely on 3 Legged Thing Footwear. These specialised tripod feet help prevent sinking and sliding in various challenging terrains, such as snow, ice, mud, and gravel. Currently, Bucky sports the Clawz to do the job, enhancing grip on icy surfaces and rocky landscapes.
When I need to get closer to the ground and capture as much of the aurora-filled sky as possible, I turn to the Platypod eXtreme. This compact tripod alternative allows for low-angle shots, providing a unique perspective. It’s portable and versatile, making panoramas a breeze.
The Platyball Elite and Handle add even more functionality, doubling as a weighted gimbal handle for video work. With the Platypod, I can shoot in places where traditional tripods simply can’t go, unleashing my creativity.
The Peak Design Mobile Creator Kit comes to the rescue to maximise the potential of the computational smartphone tech I mentioned. This kit lets me mount my smartphone securely on a tripod, ensuring stable shots and longer exposures. It’s a game-changer for making the most of my mobile photography during those spur-of-the-moment aurora displays.
Post-processing is a vital part of Aurora photography, and I entrust the Adobe CC Apps for the job. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop help me process and retouch all my photos, while Adobe Premiere steps in for video editing. When speed is of the essence in the field, I rely on Adobe Lightroom Mobile.
Being able to edit photos on the fly during fantastic aurora displays allows me to stay ahead of the crowd and promote the company I guide – Discover Lofoten.
I firmly believe in using the Macbook Pro 16″ to power my creative endeavours and provide the functionality I need. Not only does it deliver great functionality, but its aesthetics also resonate with my creative spirit, encouraging me to express my artistry to the fullest.
Nothing beats the precision and control of a graphics tablet when it comes to retouching. My go-to portable graphics tablet is the Xencelabs Medium Tablet with QuickKeys. Using a pen is significantly faster and more precise than a mouse or trackpad, making the retouching process smoother and more efficient.
Last but certainly not least, I must mention the Vallerret Markhof Pro V3 Gloves. Shooting the aurora often means braving cold temperatures, and these gloves have been a game-changer. They feature flaps that allow me to access touch screens and fiddly camera controls without removing the gloves, ensuring my creativity stays uninterrupted.
With various warmth options available, the middle-of-the-road Markhof Pro V3 gloves are my trusty companions on those frosty aurora-chasing nights.
So there you have it, my carefully curated photography gear for capturing the enchanting northern lights.
With the right tools at your disposal, you can unlock the full potential of Aurora photography and create stunning images that showcase the beauty of the night sky.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a passionate beginner, I hope this glimpse into my kit helps you on your aurora-chasing adventures.
Shooting the Northern Lights is incredibly rewarding. Each night is different, and as we approach solar maximum, that is, the peak of the sun’s eleven-year activity cycle, these next few seasons will undoubtedly give us more substorms and stunning light shows than we’ve seen since 2014.
So many other factors contribute to the location, strength, speed, and colour of the aurora that captivates me every time without fail. If you haven’t witnessed the northern lights, put it on your bucket list and check it off as soon as possible!
I chose to live here in Lofoten because it’s at the heart of the Aurora Oval and has one of the longest seasons in the world, just shy of nine months.
The stunning landscapes and ethereal, other-worldly scenes that greet me daily here in Lofoten, combined with the traditional red cabins and slow-paced way of life, make it a dream destination, and I’m lucky to call it home.
Aside from willing you to see the Aurora Borealis, I want to encourage aspiring photographers to stick with it and follow your passion.
I did precisely that, and this is where it took me. Either find a way or make one.