Colors of northern lights – Do we see them as in photos? A very good question indeed. I have posted about this before and discuss this often with the participants of my tours. If I have to answer with maximum four words, I’d say: Only sometimes, mostly not. Many of you have never seen auroras in nature, so it’s good to refresh that topic every now and then. 

For the human eye, colors of the Northern lights are much weaker. One reason is the difference between the camera and our eyes. Our night vision is limited and not as colorful, the camera doesn’t have the same limitations. Therefore the colors are mostly stronger in the photos, compared to how we see them. Of course there are night with crazy strong auroras where we can see all the colors but that is usually an exception.

If you wonder, what I see at night, let’s look at this example to compare my eyes versus the camera. Move the white divider to the left and right to see the difference:

Colors of northern lights - CameraColors of northern lights - My eyes

As you can see the colors are much more pale for my eyes. Also look at the shed with the tractor, I could see much less details and also the color wasn’t as strong.

Does this take away the magic of northern lights? No, not at all. Lady Aurora is pure magic and such a miracle in the sky with all its mysteries, movements, tales and science.

Photographing auroras exactly as the human eye sees it, is nearly impossible. With the aurora exposed correctly, the surroundings would look much darker than what we see. Eye and camera, two different systems.

Some photos you see, will have extreme colors. That can have different reasons, camera settings and editing style. When people edit their photos, they have their own preferences. Some like to tune the colors down, others tune them up and others don’t edit them at all.

Here an example where I edited the same photo as above much more saturated:

Colors of northern lights - CameraColors of northern lights - Extreme

Personally, I don’t not a fan of this, but everyone has their own style. I’m sure also that there is a wide range of opinions about my style editing photos.

Let me ask you a few questions:

Would you like to experience and see the northern lights?

If you have seen the northern lights, what was your experience with the colors?

I’d be very interested to read about your opinions and experiences, thanks!

Stay safe!

PS: If you want to see more examples, visit my Aurora guide – Expectations, where you can see more examples.