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A person holding a light looks at the green northern lights in the sky. The northern lights are reflecting in the lake next to the person.
Northern lights, Swedish Lapland
The most common colour of the Northern Lights is green, but it can also change to pink and purple.
Photo credit: Peter RosénSwedish Lapland

How to capture the elusive Northern Lights

The Northern Lights have mesmerised people since ancient times and are on many travellers' bucket lists today. To increase your chances of seeing this surreal natural phenomenon, it’s a good idea to get help from experts.

Here are five extraordinary Northern Lights tours, and some tips and tricks for capturing them on camera.

Every winter, visitors flock to northern Sweden to witness the greatest light show on earth, the aurora borealis. The green, red and purple strokes that dance over the night sky can be seen from September to April. Sometimes, they are so strong that they give away a crackling sound. But the Northern Lights are as elusive as they are beautiful, and knowing when and where to go is key.

Even though the Northern Lights are a show with no guarantee to be seen, the likeliness of catching it is much higher with an expert by your side. So head to the Arctic, keep an eye on the weather forecast and find a guided tour that suits your interests. Here are five Northern Lights tours that caters to foodies, pet lovers and adrenaline junkies.

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Winter cabin

The Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi arranges horseback tours where you look for the Northern Lights while riding through the winter landscape.

Photo: Asaf Kliger/

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Winter cabin

Winter cabin

Photo: Asaf Kliger/

Food served in front of a fireplace in a lavvu.

Stejk Street Food

Photo: Tobias Stjernström

Northern Lights in a bright green on a dark night sky

Northern Lights in Sweden

Photo: Nellie Rosen

5 extraordinary Northern Lights tours

Dog sled tour

Imagine travelling through a winter wonderland in a sleigh pulled by huskies and looking up at the Northern Lights dancing in the sky. Sounds like two magical moments in one, doesn’t it? Kiruna Husky offers Northern Lights tours where you are taught how to handle and harness their dogs before setting off into the polar night together with a guide. After the tour, you get to warm up around an open fire in their Nordic tipi while enjoying a traditional Swedish ‘fika’.

Photo tour

The elusive aurora borealis might be hard to see, and even harder to capture on camera. A photo tour with Lights of Lapland will make your memories last a lifetime. With professional photographers as guides and preset cameras, the tour heads out to Abisko National Park. Warm overalls, hot beverages and all camera gear needed are included in their Ultimate Aurora Photo Adventure, which suits photo enthusiasts of all levels. A photo of your own Northern Lights experience – now that’s a souvenir to show off in your home.

Horseback tour

Take your Northern Lights chase to the next level by getting on an Icelandic horse and ride through snow-covered forests in the area around Sweden’s highest mountain range. The famous Icehotel’s horseback tour below the Northern Lights is an eco-certified and tranquil trip. Before heading out for the Northern Lights hunt, you’ll get to prepare your horse for the evening and have a cosy moment in the stable. The tour ends with a dinner made from local produce, served in a traditional Sámi hut.

Snowmobile tour

For adrenaline junkies, a Northern Lights hunt on a snowmobile is a given choice. With Kiruna Sleddog Tour’s adventurous Aurora Tour Snowmobiles, you’ll get to experience the Arctic landscape in a fun and fast-paced way. Professional guides will make even rookies feel safe to drive – or, if you don’t feel like driving – jump in the backseat and keep your eyes on the sky. The tour takes a break at a Sámi tent, where you’ll make a fire, enjoy homemade ‘fika’ and hopefully get a glimpse of the sky’s green speed stripes.

Local street food tour

Food is a lot about presentation and what could be a better spice than the aurora borealis? Kiruna-based Stejk Street Food offers a Street Food & Aurora Tour that will satisfy several of your senses. The night starts in their lavvu tent where you’ll indulge in a local street food dinner while listening to stories about the Kiruna city moving, the Sámi way of life and much more. After that, you set off in a vehicle with a local guide, taking you to the best spot for the night to see the Northern Lights.

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Northern Lights in Stockholm

The Northern Lights can be seen in Sweden's capital, Stockholm, but they are less intense than in northern Sweden due to light pollution.

Photo: Jann Lipka/

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Northern lights over a city landscape, with photographers lined up to get a shot.

Northern Lights in Stockholm

Photo: Jann Lipka/

Northern lights are dancing above Lapporten mountains in Abisko. By Torne lake, a pitched tent is lit from inside.

Northern Lights, Lapporten in Abisko

Photo: Hjalmar Andersson/

How to photograph the Northern Lights

So, you’ve found your preferred spot, checked the weather and dressed warm. But how do you capture the Northern Lights? It can be a challenge, given that it’s both dark and cold and this natural phenomenon can be quite unpredictable. Here are some tips and tricks to increase your chances of getting a good shot of the Northern Lights.

  • Gloves: Use two pairs of mittens. One thicker that will keep your hands warm, and one thinner that allows you to finger on your phone or camera without taking them off.
  • Tripod: A long shutter speed means you need to keep your camera steady to avoid blurry images. Use a tripod or place your camera on a solid surface, like a rock or a car.
  • Remote control: Use the timer or a remote control when taking the picture to further reduce the risk of blurry images.
  • Condensation: If you’re switching from the warm inside, like a car or a house, to the cold outside, keep an eye out for condensation on the lens. One tip is to put the camera in a waterproof bag and then into the cold camera bag. If you only head inside for shorter periods, the camera and the bag won’t have time to get warm.
  • Extra battery: The cold drains batteries like nothing else. Keep an extra one somewhere warm, like close to your body.

Camera settings

The optimal settings differ from camera to camera, as well as time and place, so there is no facet. Shoot in RAW file format for the best post-processing flexibility.

  • ISO: Use a high ISO to add more light to your photo. Start with 800, and if it’s very dark you might have go up to 1600 or 3200.
  • Shutter speed: A longer shutter speed will also add light to your image. 10-30 seconds is a general tip. If the Northern Lights move quickly, a long shutter speed might make the picture blurry. In that case, choose a higher ISO so you can go lower on the shutter speed.
  • Aperture: Should be as low as possible. Less than 4, preferably 1.4 or 2.8 if your camera allows it.
  • Focus: Use manual focus and try to focus on a star or the moon. Or put the focus on “infinity/endless”.

If you find it difficult, many guided tours are held by photographers who can give you advice on the best settings at the time. If you want to make a time-lapse, set the white balance manually too, so all images will have the same white balance.

Mobile phone settings

While a snapshot taken with your phone will never be as good as a camera picture, there are some things to think about to optimise your chances of getting the best image possible. Most smartphones have a night mode feature, use that. Turn off the flash and choose a manual focus. Don’t forget to bring a tripod and a power bank or two.

Good luck!