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Capture the Northern Lights in Glacier National Park

West Glacier, Montana


Added by Gavin Pirrie

A stunning show of the Northern Lights in Glacier National Park.

Capturing the Northern Lights can be tricky for the inexperienced, but a few tips can make the experience enjoyable and worthwhile for everyone. 

find the right time

The Northern Lights can be forecasted at this link. Make sure that the clouds are minimal and the sky will be clear. Clear Dark Sky for Apgar Village is a great resource for this. Once you have decided when to go, the real work begins.

Set you camera settings

The hardest part about capturing the Northern Lights is setting the camera settings correctly. In all honesty, this takes practice, and a lot of it. The key is to not be in a rush for the perfect shot and to let the shots come naturally. 

Step 1: Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW affords wiggle room and the ability to tweak in post processing. While it takes up more space, the compromise is worth it in the long run.

Step 2: Zoom and Focus

Typically, you will want to be zoomed out to the widest setting on your lens. To focus, manually focus to the infinity point on your lens. This can be tricky to do at night, but focussing it in daylight at the infinity point and marking the point on your lens can save you a lot of time. 

Step 3: Shutter Speed and Aperture

The "500 Rule" is a general rule of thumb that can be followed to gauge shutter speeds in the beginning of your shoot. The 500 Rule is (500)/(lens focal length). So if you focal length is 18, 500/18 is about a 27 second shutter speed. The lower the focal length, the longer shutter speed you can afford. The aperture controls how much light is let in to the camera sensor. For the aperture, start at the lowest aperture possible and make necessary adjustments.

Step 4: Fine Tuning

The ISO can be tricky to figure out. Try starting around 6400 or 3200 and adjusting it for desired affects. There truly is no right way to shoot the Northern Lights, it all comes down to experimenting with the camera and practice. 

Extra Tip: Steel Wool

For a steel wool shot, grab some extra fine steel wool, attach to a dog leash or other rope securely, light the steel wool on fire, and spin around the steel wool to provide sparks. 

WARNING: Try at your own risk

Have water on hand to douse fires and do not attempt steel wool shots in dry areas, National Park lands or in close proximity to people where they could get burned. 

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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


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