Pink and green northern lights shine bright above Hotel Rangá luxury hotel in south Iceland.

How to Photograph the Northern Lights

Learn how to photograph the northern lights at Hotel Rangá in south Iceland. Take amazing photos of the incredible aurora.
Photograph by Stefan Liebermann

Aurora Season is Upon Us!


Watching the northern lights dance across the night sky is truly a sight to behold. At Hotel Rangá northern lights hotel in south Iceland, we offer our guests an amazing opportunity to view the aurora in style. Our property is located in the beautiful Icelandic countryside under limited light pollution.

Unlike northern lights tours that take place on a bus or in a Super Jeep, our property provides all the luxuries that pair best with watching the northern lights. Grab a hot chocolate or an icy shot of the local liqueur, Brennivín, while you are waiting for the lights to appear. Or perhaps you would prefer to soak in our geothermal heated hot tubs while you view the aurora twirling across the sky.

We even offer a northern lights wake-up call for all our guests so that you can catch up on your sleep while we keep an eye out for the aurora’s appearance. Once the borthern lights begin their show, you will likely want to take some photos of the incredible sight. Keep reading to learn the best tips and tricks about photographing the northern lights. There is no better souvenir of your trip to Iceland than a fantastic photograph of this natural phenomenon.

Photo by Sævar Helgi Bragason

The Best Conditions to Photograph the Northern Lights


The northern lights are quite unpredictable, but there are a few necessary conditions that will increase your chances of getting a good photograph. Most importantly, we need a clear, dark night sky. Because of Iceland’s midnight summer sun, this means that northern lights season stretches from September to March. A clear sky is equally as important as a dark sky – cloud cover can prevent us from seeing the northern lights.

We also need solar activity in order to see and photograph the northern lights. The swirling greens, purples and pinks of the northern lights are actually generated when solar particles interact with the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. Scientists can measure solar activity, but predictions are most accurate 24 hours beforehand. This is why we cannot exactly predict when the northern lights will appear.

Sometimes the phenomenon begins slowly – a green band of light stretching in an arch across the night sky, that gradually moves and turns like streamers blowing in the wind. On other nights, the sky is black and calm only to be filled with a  burst of pink and purple twisting into infinity in a blaze of movement.

No matter the intensity, if the northern lights are active, you should be able to take a photo of the phenomenon. Sometimes cameras are even able to pick up the lights when they are unable to be seen with your naked eye. You can always ask in the Hotel Rangá reception to find out more about the northern lights and their activity level. Our night guard is even an amateur photographer – he can assist you to take your perfect photo.

Photograph by Paige Deasley

Hotel Rangá’s Northern Lights Wake-up Call and How to Be Camera Ready


Our northern lights wake-up call is easy to set up – just press the button on your in-room phone that says “northern lights Wake-up.” Our receptionists and night guard are always looking out for the northern lights. If the lights should appear, we will call your room to let you know that the time is ripe for a magical northern lights photoshoot.

If there is a high aurora forecast, it is a good idea to be prepared for your northern lights wake-up call. Have your clothes and camera set up and ready so that you can quickly come outside. The aurora can be active for many hours or just several minutes; you never know how long a sighting will last.

The lights are most commonly seen in a general northerly direction. If your room does not face north, it is best to come out to Hotel Rangá’s front porch. Be sure to dress warmly and wear a hat and gloves, especially in the winter months. If you need some extra warmth, we also offer snowsuits and warm blankets for our guests to use.

Prepare your camera by using your fastest wide-angle lens and set the ISO (ASA) number from 500-1600. You also should set the f-stop wide open or choose the largest setting. It is also important to use a tripod while you take your photo; we have tripods in the reception that you can borrow. A tripod ensures that the camera will remain steady while shooting with long exposure and prevents blurry photos.

When exposing, you will need to experiment with times from 5 seconds to half a minute. If you are new to photography, don’t hesitate to ask our night guard for advice about how to set up your camera. He is an avid amateur photographer and can assist you to make your camera ready for a northern lights photo shoot.

Photograph by Tom Stahl

Apps to Photograph the Northern Lights on Your Smartphone


Usually, it is not possible to take a photo of the aurora on a smartphone. DSLR cameras are preferable, as they offer better settings to capture the northern lights. However, recently some new apps have been created that offer smartphone users the ability to capture northern Lights photos.

One app that is popular is the northern lights Photo Taker App. After downloading the app, you can adjust the custom settings in order to take photos of the northern lights. It is also good to note that you can use a tripod with your smartphone when photographing the northern lights.

Though DSLR cameras are ideal for northern lights photography, apps such as this one are perfect for photographers who want to shoot the aurora on their phone. A big upside in taking a photo on your phone is that you can quickly send the photo to friends and family or upload the shots to social media.

Photograph by Stefan Liebermann

Locations Other than Hotel Rangá for Northern Lights Photography in Iceland


Hotel Rangá is a prime location for northern lights photography. The lack of light pollution makes our property perfect for spotting the aurora.

If you have a rental car, it is possible to drive and shoot the northern lights in other locations. Hotel Rangá is located on the south coast of Iceland, and a variety of local natural landmarks from glaciers to waterfalls can add an interesting element to your northern lights photography. If the northern lights are active and there is a clear sky, they should be equally visible across Iceland in areas with low light pollution.

As mentioned previously, cloudy nights are not ideal for northern lights photography. Sometimes, there can be a break in cloud cover and you can catch a glimpse of the northern lights shining through. In these situations, it can be a good idea to take your rental car and drive towards areas with lower cloud cover. You can check this website to view the level of solar activity and current levels of cloud cover over Iceland.

If you decide to take a drive when shooting the northern lights, you need to be prepared and bring warm, waterproof clothing. Icelandic weather can be unpredictable and northern lights season is quite chilly. If you are using a tripod, do be sure to keep close watch if it is a windy night.

Photograph by Stefan Liebermann

Serious Amateur Photographer Checklist for Northern Lights Photography


Do you have more experience with photography and want to get the best northern lights shot? We have prepared a helpful checklist for serious amateur photographers. If you follow these tips when shooting the northern lights, you have a great chance of getting an unforgettable shot. And don’t forget to send us your northern lights photos – maybe we will even feature them on our blog!

  • Shoot in RAW format.
  • Turn on Long Exposure Noise Reduction.
  • Set LCD Brightness to low.
  • Remove the filter from your lens.
  • Pre-focus your lens on infinity or use live-view with a loupe.
  • Test exposure, consult histogram.
  • Have 2 batteries and 2 flashcards.
  • Use a tall but sturdy tripod.
  • Use a cable release (not a wireless one).
  • Check the aurora forecasts.
  • Scout a location in daylight.
  • Don’t breathe on your viewfinder.
  • Use your lens hood to protect against frost/condensation on your lens.
  • While waiting for Aurora, point your camera lens down to prevent frost from gathering on the glass.
  • Have a Luminex cleaning cloth accessible to clean frost from the lens if needed.
  • Put black tape over your red processing light under the wheel (for Canon users-your fellow photographers will like you).

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    A glass of red and white wine beside a vase of lupine at the luxury Rangá Restaurant.