When it comes to exposures, getting a perfect image is largely a matter of trial and error. Aurora displays can vary dramatically in brightness and activity, even during a single evening. The following chart will give you some useful starting points; however, your actual exposures may need to be longer or shorter.
Sample starting times for different ISOs and lens ƒ-stops:
As a rule of thumb, shorter exposures produce the best results. If you can keep your exposures to 15 seconds or less, you have a much better chance of stopping the motion of the lights, giving them definition. Longer exposures make for fuzzy, shapeless auroras and longer star streaks.
Hint: Check your exposures in the field by checking your histogram rather than the image on your LCD. In the dark, images often can look brighter on the screen than they really are. Aim for a graph with data primarily in the middle, not clumped at either end.
Kevin Schafer is primarily a wildlife photographer, but is also an Aurora addict. For more information and to see more of Kevin Schafer's work, visit www.kevinschafer.com.
• Alaska. In Alaska, have a look at Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks, www.chenahotsprings.com, or any small out-of-town lodges and B&Bs. Wherever you go, choose a dark-friendly location, without a lot of stray light sources. • Canada. One of my favorite aurora locations is Blachford Lake Lodge near Yellowknife, Canada, www.blachfordlakelodge.com/winter_season/aurora. Fifty miles from anywhere, Blachford has the darkest nights and the most pristine landscape you could ever hope for.