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Beginner's Guide to Astro Landscape Photography

Lesson 11 of 20

Photographing the Aurora


Beginner's Guide to Astro Landscape Photography

Lesson 11 of 20

Photographing the Aurora


Lesson Info

Photographing the Aurora

Up to this point, we've been talking about things that are quite predictable in the night sky. We can predict where the Milky Way will be, we can predict when the moon is going to rise. I think the crown jewel for me, of a celestial object to photograph is the aurora, because it is not predictable. But, when they show up intensely, they're an amazing thing to capture. But, there are certainly a few things to know about them. One thing is, well, how do we predict them? Well, they are difficult to predict because there is no regular pattern. And, they rely completely on the sun. Every once and a awhile, the sun burps out a coronal mass ejection. These ionized particles that go charging off into space, and sometimes those particles are directed right at our planet. And, when they reach us, they will create a great deal of electromagnetic activity in the ionosphere, and that will get things sparkling like crazy, and we get those beautiful dancing Northern Lights. The website that I go to, ...

to help me understand when they're going to come is a website called Soft Serve News, which is kind of a strange name. But, has maps and predictions on how the aurora will show up. Aurora activity is measured in something called Kp level. And, it can go from zero to nine. On the average night, it would be probably quite low, zero, one, two. On occasion, you might get up to three or four. And, in the mid-latitudes, or farther south, I would never even consider going out to shoot it if it was that low. If you're living in the mid-latitudes, you would need a much higher level. And, on occasion we get a storm level, where the Kp level might be five, six, seven, which would be a really active night to go out and shoot. And so, when I see a forecast like that, I get quite excited about the potential for shooting. Gonna check my forecast, gonna check the moon, 'cause both of those can interfere with my ability to photograph it. And then, I'm out shooting. Now, once you get to a location that you wanna photograph them in, you do have to be aware that you will need to make a few setting changes. The aurora can be actually quite bright, and so you don't need as high an ISO. I've often photographed the aurora with ISOs as low as 640. Sometimes I'll go down to 1,000, but because I don't want any of these colors to be blown out, I'm gonna bring my ISO down. The other thing that I'm gonna bring down, is my shutter speed. I don't want just sort of a washed out palette of color. What I want it to see is the specific beams of light, and those beautiful purple spires that you can get. And so, I'll bring my shutter speed down to six seconds, five seconds, eight seconds, depending on the kind of activity that I see. So, those are a couple of changes to your regular astro-settings that you would need to make. The other interesting thing about the aurora is that they can be quite fleeting. Even though we might have a storm prediction, it doesn't mean that there's going to be a constant stream of particles during the night. I have come across situations where I'm driving down the highway, trying to get to a location, and the aurora are everywhere, and I realize, they might disappear within minutes, so I'll pull over, take a shot, and then keep going. And sometimes, by the time I get to the location that I'm actually hoping to shoot in, they've disappeared, they're completely gone. They might be gone for the entire night, or an hour later, they're dancing in the heavens again. They're a really great subject to photograph, but they can be tricky to find and to capture because they can be quite fleeting in the way they appear.

Class Description


  • Scout for the best location to capture the night sky
  • Understand how to research the moon and what makes for the best opportunities
  • Camera setting and techniques
  • Gear guides for your night adventure
  • How to shoot meteor showers, star trails, the moon and other cosmic events


Night owl by nature? Get the skills and techniques to capture the night sky and the activity it presents. Peter Baumgarten, an Olympus Visionary, takes you in the field to discuss gear requirements, safety and camera set up so you can confidently go into any landscape and capture the milky way and beyond. With in-the-field examples, Peter will show you how to best prep and research your way to success as well as how to trouble shoot when the lights go out.


  • Night photographers
  • Beginners
  • Landscape and Outdoor enthusiasts


Peter is a professional photographer and educator living on Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. He regularly leads photography courses and workshops for novice and enthusiast photographers and travels across North America as an Olympus Visionary providing lectures and seminars on landscape, wildlife, and astrophotography. His work has been published in a number of magazines in both Canada and the U.S. and has been recognized for excellence on a number of photography websites. Peter is an avid outdoor enthusiast with a passion for wilderness camping, canoeing and kayaking.


Lana Froemming

I purchased the Creative Live + Olympus Step Outside Conference Bundle some time ago, and it has taken me this long (too long) to view the astrophotography class. Although not a beginner, I have been using Olympus gear (EPL5 & EM1) for about 7 years now, I have only dabbled in astrophotography – and as a result, blown my fair share of what should have been killer shots. When I did give it a go, I obtained most of my settings’ tips by combing through Peter’s blog posts and then racing out the door. Although I feel that I know my camera pretty well I still learned so much from this course. I appreciate that he walked the viewer through multiple night time photography events including shooting the milky way, the moon, aurora, meteor showers & star trails as well as talked about the different camera features including night sky panoramas, in-camera multiple exposures, live comp & time lapse and presented a variety of lens choices and why (plus so much more). What I love about Creative Live is that once you purchase a “class” you own it and can return to your classroom over, and over again. I also appreciate that they work with experts who are also amazing teachers. Peter is one of those.

Doug Marshall

Some classes are just fantastic and this is one of them! Peter Baumgarten is a wonderful presenter of his extensive knowledge, experience and passion for the subject. This is a course I will return to watch again and again. Highly recommended if you are like me and are interested in getting into astrophotography and landscape.

elizabeth chambers

To my way of thinking this was the best photographic genre instructor featured during the Olympus Step Outside series. He may be a more seasoned instructor than the photographers demonstrating landscape and bird photography. Whatever the reason, I thought he seemed to understand his audience particularly well. Great advice and the post processing was interesting. Likely because of my familiarity with Lightroom, I found the post production done by the bird and landscape photographers rather mundane whereas the astro photography post production was new and interesting to me.