Professional shares her secrets for taking pictures of northern lights |

Professional shares her secrets for taking pictures of northern lights

Kevin Doran
Updated: July 01, 2021 10:42 PM
Created: July 01, 2021 06:00 PM

Experts say the forecast is promising this Fourth of July weekend for seeing the northern lights in northern Minnesota.

Most people have only seen the northern lights in pictures. Minnesota photographer Heidi Pinkerton is known for her beautiful pictures of the northern lights. She explains how you can photograph them, too.

Pinkerton owns Root River Photography. She's based in Ely and takes pictures of wildlife, nature and the night sky.

"And when you see the northern lights, you can't believe what you're seeing; every single time," Pinkerton said. "And you're looking around you to see if they're behind you, or above you. And then the loons start to wail, and then the wolves start to howl, I mean, almost every single good show. That's what I hear."

And you don't need to travel far from the Twin Cities to see the northern lights.

"I have seen pictures from White Bear Lake," she said. "You can get them from like Sherburne Wildlife Refuge. And you can get them from Crex Meadows, which is about what 25 minutes out of the cities."

Obviously, the viewing is better in northern Minnesota away from the lights. Here's where Pinkerton says you should look.

"You need a north-facing view. I like to choose a lake or a meadow because then your trees are farther away to create a little something along the horizon," Pinkerton said.

You also need to know when to look.

"Because I do this for a living, I get out there every single time there's a northern lights alert," said Pinkerton. You can look at Spaceweather Alerts and inform yourself when the best chances are going to be."

Pinkerton also gets alerts right to her phone.

"It's called My Aurora Forecast and it's on Twitter. They will send you an alert when the aurora is going off, when all the conditions are right," she said.

When the alerts come in the middle of the night, she drags herself out of bed in her pajamas.

"You just put your snow pants on over your pajamas and you go out there. And you know your hair is up in a ponytail but it's dark, no one can see you, so who cares, right?" she said.

According to Pinkerton, you don't need to be a professional to take pictures of the northern lights. Cellphones aren't great because you need a long exposure. But she said apps are in development.

What you do need is a camera with manual focus settings, a sturdy tripod and patience. She has step-by-step instructions for taking pictures of the northern lights on her website.

Pinkerton follows those same guidelines every night she goes into the field and the results are breathtaking. Watch the story above to see some of her most famous pictures and hear her explain how they came together.

She also wants everyone to think about personal safety when going out at night to take pictures. She urges people to tell someone where you're going, have a good headlamp and be aware of your surroundings. Then, enjoy the night sky!

Click here to hear Pinkerton explain why we see the northern lights.

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