Things to Do

A Guide to PEI’s Northern Lights

The northern lights are a magical thing to experience. When the conditions are perfect and everything aligns, vibrant colours dance back and forth across the night sky. I remember the first time I watched the aurora in person. So much excitement and thoughts racing between how incredible this is while frantically fumbling with the camera in the dark.



Now, before I make any promises, it’s important to be realistic with proper expectations. PEI is far enough south that it takes a fairly active solar storm and even still, the aurora lights will be off in the distant northern horizon. I have not experienced the wave of lights directly over head like I have further north.

The second expectation is to understand our cameras are more sensitive to light and can see much more than we can. That distant glow on the horizon we might confuse with city light pollution may actually be the northern lights. Like stars, photographs make the northern lights brighter than they appear.


The Forecast

Similar to our every day weather, the northern lights also have a predicted forecast. In it’s most simplest definition, the forecast is measured on a scale called the KP index. The higher that number, the stronger the potential show, and the further south it may be visible from. In locations like Yellowknife, Iceland and Greenland, a score of 1 is all that’s needed but on PEI, you’ll want to wait for something closer to 5 to increase your chances.

But even still, it will still feel like flipping coins. The rating could reach 7 or 8 but you’ll still not have any guarantee. It really is a go and see type of deal.

From my own experience, early on in the night is better. My own images in PEI have been taken between 10pm and 2am.


What to Look For

I mentioned that the wave of lights overhead would be very rare and something I’ve not personally witnessed on PEI. The northern lights seen from PEI more often look like pillars of light shooting up from the northern horizon. Look for a series of vertical beams.


Camera Sensitivity

It’s most likely that the camera will see more than you will. You many not even see anything. This camera trickery is caused by a very sensitive sensor in partnership with a tripod and a long shutter speed exposure. One approach before you set everything up is to increase the ISO has high as you can and take a quick image. If there is any activity at all, ISO 6400 or higher will let you know. At that point, lower the ISO back down and start shooting.

For the best results, you’ll want to focus on infinity to keep the stars in focus. The bigger the aperture (small f-stop numbers), the better. Smaller f-stop numbers can make a difference between 15 seconds and several minutes.

The longer the shutter is open, the more movement and blur you’ll experience. I find with a wide angle lens, you’ll start to see star movement and the early beginnings of star trails around 20 seconds. You’ll also want to keep shutter speeds to a minimum to main definition in those northern light pillars because a long exposure will blur those lines and blend the sky into a blanket of green.

If you’re not familiar with infinity focus, try using manual focus and locking on to a distant street light. Once you do that, don’t touch it again and you’ll be good for the night. There is no need to use auto focus. Auto focus will just cause needless frustration as the camera tries the impossible task of finding focus in the dark.



I wish it was easy because it really is a fantastic thing to see. Short of suggesting a trip further north, my suggestion on PEI is to keep an eye on the KP and be committed to the chase. Eventually you’ll be rewarded.For the very curious, a few resources to follow are aurora watchsolarium and space weather, but honestly, I mostly check softservenews (available on Facebook and Twitter too) for it’s simplicity. If you’re an app person, check out AuroraAlerts or Aurora Forecast.

Keep in mind that the forecast is typically 20 minutes notice and can die off as quickly as it picks up.

Best of luck and maybe we’ll cross paths some late night stumbling around in the dark on the beach!

For more things to discover on Prince Edward Island, check out PEI’s Rugged Coastlines5 Places to Discover This Winter, and 10 PEI Views You Need to See.

10 Things To Do in PEI This April

Spring has sprung on Prince Edward Island, and with it comes a bounty of delicious flavors, once-in-a-lifetime events, and the exciting kick-off to lobster season!…


15 Fun Ideas for a Rainy Day in PEI

Try as we might, we just can’t figure out how to change the weather! When the rain clouds ruin your beach plans, it’s time to…


Top 10 Reasons to Golf in PEI

Prince Edward Island is known far and wide as being a world-class golf destination. With 405 fairways that range from descending hills with picturesque coastal views…


10 Things to do in PEI this November

From holiday markets and hot chocolate delights, to cozy retreats, fabulous entertainment and everything in between. Here is our list of things to do in…


A Fun and Festive PEI Fall

Welcome to another beautiful change of seasons in PEI! As the Island shifts from the vibrant blues and greens of summertime to stunning golds, reds,…


7 Next-Level Autumn Adventures on PEI

When fall takes over on PEI, it’s as if a new season of adventure unfolds around the entire island. Nature’s paintbrush transforms the landscape with…


8 Instagram-Worthy Spots in Western PEI

Whether you’re a seasoned photographer, or just love to capture memories with your phone, there is absolutely no denying that the North Cape Coastal Drive…


What the Locals Say You Can’t Miss

Prince Edward Island has so many local treasures. Who better to share them than locals themselves? We asked those who know the Island inside and…


10 Things To Do in PEI This March

From awards shows and tribute shows, to festive parties and lively events, March is packed with exciting activities for all. Check out our round up…


10 Things To Do in PEI This February

Whether you love the crisp winter air, or you would prefer to stay indoors where the wind doesn’t hurt your face, make the most of…


10 Things To Do in PEI This January

It’s 2024! Kick off the new year in style with these 10 Things to do this January in PEI. 1. Getaway with a winter staycation…


10 Things To Do in PEI This December

Get ready for a sparkling month full of festive fun in PEI.  Here is our list of things to do in PEI this December! 1….


13 Things to Do with Your Kids

Prince Edward Island is home to breathtaking natural vistas, mouthwatering homegrown cuisine, and a bounty of fun family adventures. Whether you’re splashing at the beach,…


10 Things to Do in PEI This October

October might just be the best month to be in Prince Edward Island. With flavourful and exciting festivals, the harvest season in full swing, and…


A Road Trip to Adventure in Western PEI

Welcome to the North Cape Coastal Drive where you will find beauty around every turn! There are colourful sail boats coming in and out of…


10 Things To Do in PEI This September

Whether you’re visiting from away, or you’re an Islander planning a much needed staycation, September is the perfect time to explore what Prince Edward Island…

West Point Lighthouse, PEI

PEI’s Must See Lighthouses

The lighthouses of Prince Edward Island are some of the Island’s most beloved landmarks. Along our 1,100km of coastline, dozens of them can be found dotting the bright red…


8 Reasons to Escape East this Fall

While known for its 50 phenomenal beaches, including the Basin Head Beach with its “singing sands” and Greenwich Beach with its towering dunes, the Points…


11 Ways to Find Fall Fun in PEI

Could Fall be the most glorious season of all?! Though the window is short, this season full of stunning colours, crisp breezes, bold and delicious…


Tiny Island, Big Adventure

A summer spent on Prince Edward Island is filled with all sorts of fun, from chasing sunsets to savouring flavours, Island tunes sung by the…


Sand, Sun, and a Whole Lot of Fun

When you think of a Prince Edward Island summer, what comes to mind? Is it the magical sunsets, the singing sands, the sounds of the…