Photographing northern lights or aurora borealis is tricky at best. Those green swirls in the northern sky above Churchill or another location are beautiful and captivating. Making them more interesting in photographs is always the hardest part. Incorporating scenery can transform and give real depth to the composition of the photo.

Here are five “scenic” composition ideas that can give your northern lights photos the pop of the actual experience:

1. Stars and moon: The perception that a half moon or bigger as well as a sky full of stars washes out the effect of swirling northern lights is misguided. The three – dimensional feel of stars interposed with aurora creates a panoramic world of intriguing light. If you compare the same photo without the stars or moon you will see the dramatic difference.

Aurora borealis in Churchill,MB. Photo Brad Josephs

Aurora borealis in Churchill,MB. Brad Josephs photo.

2. Boreal forest: Just as stars in the sky provide interesting features for aurora create balance , the landscape below provides other amazing features for depth. The dark silhouettes of black or white spruce trees attract the eye first, then bring forward the aurora more subtly. The unique size and profile of the trees makes for a more intriguing story.

Aurora borealis over the edge of the boreal forest in Churchill, Manitoba.

Aurora in the boreal forest. Brad Josephs photo.

3. Man made structures: As we are seeing, any northern lights photo with “natural accessories” provides more viewing pleasure. Another variable that can provide eye stimulation and make photos more interesting is the inclusion of man – made structures. Of course location will determine what is available as additional scenery in this area.

Aurora over the "aurora domes", a prime indoor spot to photograph the lights. Photo Brad Josephs.

Aurora over the “aurora domes”, a prime indoor spot to photograph the lights. Brad Josephs photo.

4. People: So many wildlife and nature excursions tend to discourage the idea of including people in photographs with the animals or natural wonders. Again, when it comes to aurora, the the composition and story are enhanced by the inclusion of a northern traveler. There are numerous ways to portray people in photos showing the wonder of swirling lights above.

Northern lights above Churchill, Manitoba.

Northern lights above a warm van. Brad Josephs photo.

5. Natural made structures: Structures such as igloos and trapper tents evoke more of the regional flare of life. This recent shot by Natural Habitat guide Justin Gibson shows how lighting of an igloo can transform the photograph into a timeless chronicle of Arctic life.

Northern lights in Churchill, Manitoba.

Northern lights in Churchill with igloo. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.

Come see the northern lights with all these “accessories” in Churchill. 

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