northern lights

Northern lights: 5 incredible drone photos show this week’s insane aurora borealis

This week, skywatchers across the globe have been treated to a dazzling display of the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. And as the auroras put on a show this week, some intrepid drone photographers have been there to capture it all.

The aurora borealis, a mesmerizing dance of light across the night sky, is a dream subject for many photographers. Drones can offer an even more unique perspective. And sure, there is no shortage of images of northern lights taken ultra-far north, like in Canada or Norway. Seeing lights in the U.S., even in lower states, is far more rare.

The best photos and videos of the northern lights

It wasn’t difficult to scour the internet in terms of some amazing aerial photos of the northern lights that were taken in the U.S. sometime over the past week. From YouTube to Instagram, here are some amazing pieces of art to check out:

1. Kara Murphy on Instagram

The Drone Girl has long been a fan of Kara Murphy. In fact, you might have found her guide on making the perfect drone hyperlapse useful! This week, she sent her Mavic 3 drone in the skies to capture a scene of the town showing the lit up skies overhead.

2. Evan Brodsky on Instagram

Evan Brodsky is usually photography marine mammals (and has some incredible shots of killer whales and other marine animals taken on his drone). Absolutely check out his account for amazing footage of whales and sharks exhibiting full predator mode. But, the northern lights hit the spot this week.

3. STLaerials on Instagram

True to its name, STLaerials gave us one of its most incredible aerials yet: a hyperlapse shot of St. Louis filed on a drone.

4. Primo Media on YouTube

Imagery generally became more vivid the farther north you headed. Primo Media used a DJI Mavic 2 Pro to film the skies north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

5. Magic of Drone on Instagram

The views were just as vivid in Seattle, too, as captured on the DJI Mini 4 Pro.

Tips for photographing the northern lights with a drone

If you’re ready to send your drone up in the night sky tonight, here’s what you need to know:

Plan your location using forecasts

Track solar activity and aurora forecasts to predict the strength and location of the lights. Aim for a KP index (a measure of geomagnetic activity) of 5 or higher for better visibility.

In general, escape light pollution. Head to the most remote areas you can get. Bonus points for drone pilots, is that remote areas are less likely to have restricted airspace or to leave you in a situation where you’re flying over people. Though, still confirm that it’s legal to fly in said remote spot. Some spots that might seem ideal to fly a drone in, like national parks, actually ban drones.

Have the right gear

While any camera drone can work to photograph northern lights, prioritize one with a good low-light performance sensor and manual shooting capabilities. Consider factors like battery life for extended flights and wind resistance for high-altitude operations.

In general, any of the drones in my guide to the best camera drones will do. Sure, something like the DJI Mavic 3 Pro with its 4/3 CMOS Hasselblad Camera will be one of your best bets, but even cheaper drones, like the sub-$1,000 DJI Mini 4 Pro will do (as evidenced by the shots above).

Then there’s the post-processing gear, too. Image editing software tends to be your friend here. For example, you’ll likely need to apply noise reduction given the high ISO settings (more on that later).

Dial in your camera settings

This is a situation where you’ll likely need to embrace manual mode.

Set your aperture to its widest setting (lowest f-number) to gather maximum light. ISO will likely need to be cranked up (3200 or higher) to compensate for long exposures, but be mindful of noise. Experiment with shutter speeds ranging from 1-12 seconds, depending on the aurora’s intensity.

If your drone offers it, shoot in RAW to enable more flexibility in post-processing.

And beyond the right camera settings, don’t forget about composition. Include interesting foreground elements like landscapes or landmarks for a sense of perspective. As depicted by some of the images above, timelapse and hyperlapse footage can play well with the northern lights.

This allows you to condense a long period of auroral activity into a captivating video, showcasing the ever-changing nature of the lights.

An aerial photo of the northern lights in Finland. (Photo by Getty Images)

What causes the northern lights?

The phenomenon is a result of a powerful geomagnetic storm triggered by a series of solar flares erupting from the sun. These flares hurled charged particles towards Earth, interacting with our planet’s magnetic field and causing the colorful lights to dance across the high-latitude night sky.

Weather teams expect the storm to continue for several more days, offering a rare opportunity to witness this captivating natural wonder. And for drone photographers, the northern lights offer an opportunity to capture aerial art of the night sky’s palette of colors.

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