Guidelines for Viewing, Photographing, and Processing Northern Lights from Washington

For today's post I would like to share a little information with you regarding viewing, photographing, and processing the Northern Light images. If you know others who are also interested in this please share this post with them. This is an experience I would love for everyone to get to enjoy! 

Guidelines for Viewing:

  • An open area with a view to the north/northeast.
  • It needs to be dark. Not pitch black, but not a lot of light in front of you. That being said, if you are up high in a dark area and can shoot over the light like they do in Ellensburg that works too.
  • Let your eyes adjust. Try to avoid looking at your phone or camera screen.
  • The aurora is not as colorful to the naked eye as it is to the camera. You will see hints of color. Look for more green hues low on the horizon and then as it spikes watch for purples and reds. Know that the lights resemble dancing clouds watch for changes in light on the horizon. 
  • The shores of Puget Sound are a good place to watch. They are open and can be dark, along with northern facing view points in the Cascades and Olympics and the flat plains and plateaus of Eastern WA.
  • Take a friend for enjoyable company and added security.
  • Have patience. Don't give up too early. Be prepared to stay out until 2 or 3 am.

Guidelines for Photographing:

  • Tripod is a must. 
  • Manual focus at infinity. Find infinity on your lens before dark and practice focusing to infinity, so you are prepared in the dark.
  • I usually start with my camera set to f/2.8 ISO 1600 8s. After checking my histogram (always check your histogram!!!) I make minor changes if needed.
  • I shoot RAW and process my images in Lightroom. If you are planning to shoot jpg adjust your white balance setting to tungsten. This will help keep the blue tones in the dark sky. 
  • If you are using a point and shoot camera try changing your settings to night with tripod and color to vivid. It is always worth a try!

Guidelines for Processing:

I am including an image of my basic panel in Lightroom. This will allow you to see my before and after on the image I took the other night. I adjusted my white balance and added some contrast and vibrance. If you are shooting jpg you won't have to do as much because the camera has already done that part for you when it processed your image. 

Let me know if you have any questions! ~Holly