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07-07-2016, 06:42 PM   #1
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Northern lights shooting

Later this year I be traveling to Alaska to shoot wildlife, landscape and the Northern lights in Fairbanks using my Pentax K-500. I recently purchased a sigma 18- 300mm lens to replaced my 2 kit lenses. I hope to use the 18-300mm lens allot.. I also have a fix lens, 50 mm. 1.8 aperture that I will take with me.. I did rent and tried a sigma 50-500mm lens at the local zoo, farm and the KC skyline. I got some good shots but it was difficult carrying it around so I decided not to take it to Alaska. This lens weight almost 5 pounds. Any one have and tips, suggestions shooting wildlife, landscape and specifically the northern lights. Thank you!

07-07-2016, 07:02 PM   #2
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That 18-300 should do nicely for you. You can't much more "walk around" than the range on that!

Have fun!
07-07-2016, 07:58 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by wwhite10 Quote
Later this year I be traveling to Alaska to shoot wildlife, landscape and the Northern lights in Fairbanks using my Pentax K-500. I recently purchased a sigma 18- 300mm lens to replaced my 2 kit lenses. I hope to use the 18-300mm lens allot.. I also have a fix lens, 50 mm. 1.8 aperture that I will take with me.. I did rent and tried a sigma 50-500mm lens at the local zoo, farm and the KC skyline. I got some good shots but it was difficult carrying it around so I decided not to take it to Alaska. This lens weight almost 5 pounds. Any one have and tips, suggestions shooting wildlife, landscape and specifically the northern lights. Thank you!
You may find this thread on the Northern lights interesting. In short - don't put a filter on your lens.
https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/58-troubleshooting-beginner-help/313492-w...ht-photos.html
07-07-2016, 11:22 PM   #4
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Northern lights shooting

Be aware the "season" is coming to and end and you might be outside for a long, long time. Are you aware of sites like spaceweather.com? You want to be looking at sunspot activity.
In terms of photo equipment, a 50mm that is quick is a must, as is something wide (I took both a fisheye and a sigma 10-20 when I went to Norway). A strong CARBON FIBRE tripod is a must, as are plenty of warm clothing, a red light, a cable release and mittens/glove inners. You need some good, warm socks as well - you feet WILL get cold, as well as plenty of good thermals (don't be frightened to spend the money!). Make sure your gear works in the cold. I found my sigma 17-70 didn't like it at the top of a mountain and couldn't really change it. Condensation is also something that you will need to watch out for...

I would strongly recommend going out and trying your gear at night in the cold if possible so you get a feel of what is might be like in Alaska. There are lots of tutorials out there. I found this one Learn how to photograph the northern lights to be useful.

07-08-2016, 01:19 AM   #5
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When are you coming to Alaska? If it's before September, or after April, chances are you won't see the Northern Lights. They'll be there, but you won't be able to see them because the sky is still too light.

If you are here when it's dark/winter enough, charter a tour or rent a car to get out of town. Despite being nearly in the middle of no-where there is still a LOT of light pollution in and around Fairbanks. A great location is 30-40 miles out of town on the Steese Highway called Cleary Summit. On top of Murphy and Ester Dome can be pretty good spots too. I live on Ester Dome and while I can get the lights pretty good at my house there's too much light to try my hand at the Milky Way.

Be patient. Keep spare batteries in an inside pocket where they'll stay warm. Condensation will most likely be an issue when you return to the car, not when you start, as the air is very dry here and there's little moisture in the air when it's -20*F anyway, so make sure you don't take the camera inside until you are sure you are done shooting. A tripod is a must. A lens with a hard stop at infinity is nice, but if yours doesn't have that bring a pen light to manually set the focus at hyperfocal or at infinity. AF is mostly useless for the lights.

Depending on how bright they are, open up your aperture to it's widest, set the ISO at 800, and start with a 8sec exposure. Go up a stop if that's too dark. Then play with shutter speeds. Remember to set the drive mode to the 2s delay so the mirror locks up.
07-08-2016, 03:34 AM - 1 Like   #6
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Focus in live view on the rear screen. Stop the lens down at 1-2 stops to maximize performance. 800ISO is about OK. You should do fine with shutterspeed of 30s max.
Shot with the K-3 and DA* 16-50/2.8:

07-14-2016, 11:02 AM   #7
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Northern lights shot with Sigma 18-300mm.



07-14-2016, 10:54 PM   #8
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By the webpage of Tromsø Geophysical Observatory at University of Tromsø, Norway I found the link to their sister Observatory in Fairbanks - and its Aurora Forecast Service
Not that much Northern Lights these days. If it was - it wouldn't be possible to observe. Fairbanks is at 65 degrees north. As skierd mentioned; we're at the middle of the summer and Fairbanks is too light these days to observe the Aurora.

Personally I am in the northern Norway at 66 degrees north and at midnight the sun still shine through the windows of my living room. I hope " Later this year.." means still 3-4 months forward. In such case the Forecast Service might be useful. Good luck!

07-16-2016, 07:26 PM   #9
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Bulb setting

I want to thank everyone for their Northern Light comments
I have a another question for shooting the northern lights.


I don't believe my Pentax K 500 in bulb setting I can't set the lens opening/shutter speed say 5 seconds, 10 seconds or 20 seconds to captures the northern lights. I just have to count to myself say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 for a 10 or 20 seconds in opening and closing the lens. Is this trues for my K 500 DSLR?
07-17-2016, 03:33 AM   #10
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Can't you set long shutter speed (up to 30s) in manual mode?
07-19-2016, 01:08 PM   #11
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Manual mode it is

QuoteOriginally posted by Pål Jensen Quote
Can't you set long shutter speed (up to 30s) in manual mode?

Thank you for the info.
I took few moon photos and a couple star photos last night in manual mode with different shuttle speeds. I think I have a couple god ones. I shot using manual focus However, after a while all of sudden my ISO, F-stop and shutter speed blinking showing in the view finder and on the monitor. Maybe a focusing issue? Tonight here in Kansas a full moon. I will go out tonight and practice some more for photographing the northern lights next month in Alaska.


Again thank you for the manual mode tip

---------- Post added 07-19-16 at 02:02 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by skierd Quote
When are you coming to Alaska? If it's before September, or after April, chances are you won't see the Northern Lights. They'll be there, but you won't be able to see them because the sky is still too light.

If you are here when it's dark/winter enough, charter a tour or rent a car to get out of town. Despite being nearly in the middle of no-where there is still a LOT of light pollution in and around Fairbanks. A great location is 30-40 miles out of town on the Steese Highway called Cleary Summit. On top of Murphy and Ester Dome can be pretty good spots too. I live on Ester Dome and while I can get the lights pretty good at my house there's too much light to try my hand at the Milky Way.

Be patient. Keep spare batteries in an inside pocket where they'll stay warm. Condensation will most likely be an issue when you return to the car, not when you start, as the air is very dry here and there's little moisture in the air when it's -20*F anyway, so make sure you don't take the camera inside until you are sure you are done shooting. A tripod is a must. A lens with a hard stop at infinity is nice, but if yours doesn't have that bring a pen light to manually set the focus at hyperfocal or at infinity. AF is mostly useless for the lights.

Depending on how bright they are, open up r aperture to it's widest, set the ISO at 800, and start with a 8sec exposure. Go up a stop if that's too dark. Then play with shutter speeds. Remember to set the drive mode to the 2s delay so the mirror locks up.


I will be in Fairbanks the end of August. According to this an Alaska travel guide, Fairbanks is one of the better places to view the Northern lights and beginning in the middle of August the northern light start to appear. What kind of weather should I run into plus what time does in get dark in Fairbanks? A northern light tour takes you 20 miles north of Fairbanks, to Aurora Borealis Lodge. I will be pick up at the hotel around 10pm and return 3 in the morning I will be using a 18-300 lens with a slow lens, 5.6-6.3 aperture. My thinking an ISO between 1000 and 1600 with a shuttle speed between 15 and 30 seconds since the lens I will be using is slow Sorry I did not get back with you sooner.Wayne
07-19-2016, 08:04 PM   #12
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18-300 lens

QuoteOriginally posted by Dabola Quote
By the webpage of Tromsø Geophysical Observatory at University of Tromsø, Norway I found the link to their sister Observatory in Fairbanks - and its Aurora Forecast Service
Not that much Northern Lights these days. If it was - it wouldn't be possible to observe. Fairbanks is at 65 degrees north. As skierd mentioned; we're at the middle of the summer and Fairbanks is too light these days to observe the Aurora.

Personally I am in the northern Norway at 66 degrees north and at midnight the sun still shine through the windows of my living room. I hope " Later this year.." means still 3-4 months forward. In such case the Forecast Service might be useful. Good luck!


I will be using sigma 18-300 lens 3.5-6.3, too when photographing the Northern lights when I visit Fairbanks. What were the ISOs and shuttle speeds you used when photographing the Northern Lights. There were some very good Northern Light photos. I hope my are half as good as your photos.
07-19-2016, 08:58 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by wwhite10 Quote
However, after a while all of sudden my ISO, F-stop and shutter speed blinking showing in the view finder and on the monitor
if you were using the 18-300 the F-stop will blink if the lens is not set to A......it will do the same with the 50 and if it does not have an A you need to go to the custom menu to allow 'permitted' without A......on the K-r its menu item 22.....not sure on my K-50........but to do any manual F-stop it needs to be changed to 'permitted' this may help
https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/6-pentax-dslr-discussion/152802-help-re-u...ring-info.html
07-19-2016, 11:30 PM   #14
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Late August, it starts getting dark around midnight to about 2am and if the lights are out they have to be really really bright to be seen. The earliest I've seen the lights was early September, around 1am and 170 miles south of Fairbanks, and was also one of the craziest shows I've ever seen. The intensity at that time of year is what's going to matter most.

Here's one I shot in the late evening in Denali National Park in early August, well after 10pm...

07-20-2016, 10:14 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Aaron28 Quote
if you were using the 18-300 the F-stop will blink if the lens is not set to A......it will do the same with the 50 and if it does not have an A you need to go to the custom menu to allow 'permitted' without A......on the K-r its menu item 22.....not sure on my K-50........but to do any manual F-stop it needs to be changed to 'permitted' this may help
https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/6-pentax-dslr-discussion/152802-help-re-u...ring-info.html


Aaron Besides the F stop blinking, ISO and shuttle speed blinks too.
Attached a couple moon photos I took Tuesday night, July 19, 2106 using my 18-300mm lens in manual mode,
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