This winter has been the start of the upswing in solar activity. Next winter is supposed to be the year of "solar maximum" with sunspot activity at a peak with great auroras already forecast. This winter was better than any in the last five and I got some great shots. Although the season is about over in Alaska due to limited darkness, I have a few tips to pass on:
1) Infinity Focus. Some people I shot with had trouble bumping their lens out of focus. You must use MANUAL focus for the aurora and it is easy to forget in the excitement and shoot with the lens out of focus. I suggest that you set your camera to infinity before dark and use some electrician tape to tape the lens barrel so that it can not move. Just a little tape works well and is easy to remove.
2) Do not use in-camera noise reduction. Although this feature can be nice, it grealy slows up shooting. In fact doubles the time per image capture. Noise reduction is best during raw processing. Nothing like the helpless feeling of missing great auroral action as you wait for the camera to process the image.
3) Shoot fast! Use high ISO's. This winter I shot moslty at 1000 ISO and got some great images with exposure times as slow as 4 seconds. Noise was not a problem with my Nikon.
4) Batteries! Plural. Carry several and keep extras in your pocket, warm and ready to go. The cold saps power fast, especially with long shutter speeds.
5) f8 and be there. SO true. You have got to stay up all night if you want aurora images. Some fantastic auroral storms may only last 15 minutes or less. By the time you get outside they can be over, the night sky again calm. The aurora photographer's secret weapon - caffeine.