Northern lights can be a rarity to come across depending on where you live. Many people capture the natural event with their professional cameras, but how can you capture the northern lights with your smartphone?
You can capture the northern lights on your smartphone using landscape mode, turning off the flash, and changing the focus to manual. Switch your camera to night mode and use the highest resolution possible. For better results, use a tripod and BlueTooth remote.
Throughout this article, you will learn how to capture the northern lights with your Android and iPhone. We will be covering the following topics. You can click on the links for quick navigation:
➤ This post may contain affiliate links, purchases made through affiliate links may provide a commission for smartphone photography at no extra cost. Of course, all opinions remain our own.
Gear used for this post
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE ➽ available from Amazon
- Huawei Honor 10 no longer available
- Joby Gorillapod 3K ➽ available from Joby Store and Amazon
- Mactrem professional tripod with smartphone mount ➽ available from Amazon
- Moment wide-angle lens ➽ available from Moment Shop and Amazon
- Remote shutter ➽ available from Amazon for just a few bucks
- Microfiber cloth ➽ 6-pack available from Amazon for under $10 (3-pack under $6)
Apps for Android and iOS
The first thing to look at when getting ready to shoot the northern lights is what apps you can use. There are thousands of apps available for Android and iOS, so let’s take a look at a few.
Photo Taking Apps
- Cortex Camera – It is available for Android and iOS; this night photography app helps create high resolution, noise-free photos on your smartphone. The app works by taking multiple images in real-time and combining them into one.
- NightCap Pro – Only available for iOS, NightCap Pro is the perfect app for those who do not want to fool around with settings a lot. The app automatically adjusts to the ideal settings; all you have to do is take the photo.
- Northern Lights Photo Taker App – This app is for iOS. The app developers designed this solely to use on the northern lights. It’s easy to use interface will not be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with camera settings.
Northern Light Tracker Apps
- My Aurora Forecast (Aurora Alerts Northern Lights) – This app is a must-have if you want to catch some northern lights. Available for Android and iOS, the app tells you how likely you are to see them on certain days, and it is very accurate. With a simple to use interface, you can click on maps, diagrams, and forecasts. The app also has a simple home screen with all of the necessary information right there for you.
- Northern Light Aurora Forecast – Available for iOS, this app monitors northern light activity in real-time and provides push alerts for when there are active lights in your area.
What Gear Do You Need?
While the above apps do not require any additional gear to take photos of the northern lights or aurora borealis, there are a few extra things you can pick up to make your photos even better. Let’s take a look at a few.
If you are going to buy anything, be sure to buy a tripod for your smartphone. Tripods help take clearer photos since it eliminates any additional shaking that might be present when you are holding your phone. Tripods are also crucial for night photography because they allow you to take photos with a long shutter speed. A prolonged shutter speed simply means that the lens on your camera can stay open for longer, which will allow more light into the lens.
Check out my recommended gear page if you are interested in purchasing a smartphone tripod.
My all-time favorite tripod for smartphone photography is the 3K Joby Gorillapod. I have been using this quirky tripod for over seven years and it has never let me down. You can pick one up from the Joby store. And they are even available from Amazon these days for a very decent price.
Or you can go for my go-to professional adjustable tripod from Mactrem. Available from Amazon for under $80.
Another thing you may be interested in is purchasing a remote control for taking photos on your smartphone. Surprisingly, using a remote will produce better images. The reason for this is that when you press the shutter with your finger, you are still moving the phone a bit, even if it is the slightest amount. That small amount of camera shake can blur your photos. Having a remote with a tripod will guarantee a clear shot.
Not only does the remote shutter increases the quality of your photos, but you can also take pictures of yourself and your friends with it at night. Check out my favorite remote shutters. I have been using the CamKix remote shutter for a couple of years and it works perfectly. It is tiny, lightweight, and the pairing works very smoothly.
Which Settings and Camera Modes Should You be on?
Whether you are using an app that requires you to manually change the settings or using your camera’s existing settings, knowing how to properly adjust the camera can turn a blurry photo into a beautiful shot.
Use Landscape Mode
The first thing you should do is to hold your smartphone horizontally. Shooting in landscape mode will give the camera more to focus on and produce a more full, beautiful-looking photo. Even if you do not want to shoot a landscape photo, make sure to use this mode and then edit the photo dimensions after.
Set the Focus to Manual
If you have the option, make sure to set the focus to manual mode. This setting will allow you to tell the phone where exactly you want it to focus. Otherwise, the phone will pick up what it thinks it should be focusing on. While autofocus is accurate most of the time, you will not want to leave it up to chance when you have a short shooting time frame.
When you switch it to manual focus, tap in the middle of the northern lights or on the brightest portion.
If you like to know more about manually focussing your smartphone, check out this blog post.
Turn Off the Flash
While many people think using flash is necessary for night photography, this will produce a less clear photo. The flash only works on objects or people that are close to the lens. The northern lights are too far for the flash to affect it to lower your photo quality.
Change the White Balance to Night Mode or Cloudy
Depending on what phone or app you are using, you might be able to change the white balance settings. If this option is available to you, make sure to switch the white balance setting to night mode or cloudy. These settings will help pick up the brightness of the northern lights.
Set the Picture Quality to As High as Possible
Again, if these options are available to you, set both the picture size and picture quality to as high as possible. Higher quality will use more pixels. Having more pixels will increase the clarity and sharpness of your photo.
If you want a more in-depth explanation of the different night photography settings, check out the video below. While the video isn’t for only shooting northern lights, everything that is covered will apply to northern light smartphone photography:
What kind of lenses do I need to shoot the Aurora Borealis?
While purchasing additional lenses is not necessary for taking northern light photos, few might increase the quality.
Moment Wide Lens – 18mm Attachment Lens – This lens is compatible with both iPhones and Android smartphones. When you are shooting the northern lights, you will need a wider lens. This lens will produce wide, clear shots and will work best with a tripod. Going for around $120, this is one of the more professional options.
Xenvo Pro Lens Kit with Macro and Wide Angle Lens with LED Light and Travel Case – This is an affordable and very well-made wide-angle and macro lens from Xenvo. You can capture 45% more image with the wide-angle lens!
Criarc Phone Camera Lens Kit – If you are looking for a cheaper option, this lens will be for you. For under $50, the lens shoots gorgeous, 4K wide-angle shots that will be perfect for capturing the northern lights.
Final thoughts on capturing northern lights
You can easily capture the northern lights on your smartphone by utilizing some helpful tools and changing a few settings. The first thing you will want to do is download an app that will enhance your phone’s standard settings (any of the apps listed above will do the trick). If possible, change the focus to manual, switch it to night mode, and select the highest shooting resolution possible. Lastly, turn off the flash and use landscape mode.