Many people think that in Europe, it is only possible to see Aurora, aka the northern lights, deep in winter, and north of the Arctic Circle. However, under the right conditions, this is not necessarily true. I show you here that yes, you can see Aurora in south Finland for example.
Check the Aurora forecast
First, and it goes without saying, you need to have a clear sky at night, especially towards the north of the sky. There must also be strong enough solar wind and magnetic conditions to allow Aurora to develop further south than its usual latitudes. The easiest way to find out the short term forecast is to look at the website of the Geophysical Institute of the University of Fairbanks Alaska.
If your location is north of the green line, then you are likely to see Aurora above the northern horizon. If you are located within the green band, then Aurora might appear even overhead. In the right column of the same page, you can see the short term (1 hour) forecast at any given time. This is where you need to look before heading out.
So yes, you can see Aurora in south Finland…
… and it happens more often than you think. Just check out the forecast as described in the previous paragraph.
How do you take pictures of Aurora in lower latitudes
The camera settings for northern lights photography that I wrote as a tutorial remain valid at lower latitudes. However, because the Aurora will likely be lower above the northern horizon, and most of the times remain weaker, you will need to increase the exposure of your photos. You can do this by either increasing the ISO settings or using longer exposure time (or both in some cases).
Because of the increased sensitivity and exposure, your camera sensor will capture a lot more ambient light as well. As a result, you want to get as far away as possible from city lights. In any case, you don’t want to have any street lights directly in your field of view less than a few hundred meters away from you. Ideally, there also shouldn’t be any major cities 10-15 km north of your location.
What about editing the images?
Light pollution is definitely your biggest challenge in such conditions. When I can’t go far away enough from the city, there will always be an undesirable glow in the sky. I will give you my “trick” that allows to remove it most of the times: I use a graduated filter in Adobe Lightroom from top to bottom, with the dehaze slider set to a value between 10 and 30. It (almost) always works!
More information on taking northern lights photography
I took all the photos in this article in Lahti, in southern Finland, at a latitude of about 61°N.