The Greatest Show on Earth??

May 26, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

As many of you will know on Friday 10th May we where treated to the most spectacular showing of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights the UK has witnessed for the last 20 years. Cue mass hysteria amongst the photography community.... well apart from me. I've never really been that interested in it if I'm completely honest.....after all its just like a purple and green sunrise or sunset. Usually when the Aurora alerts pop up on my phone I have a look and usually decide not to bother....by usually I mean always. I kind of feel the same about astro photography, its just never really floated my boat. Standing in the dark for hours on end taking pictures of, well, darkness, has never appealed to me. As it turned out, I was already planning to head out with the camera on that Friday night, so when the activity went off the charts and I was already out, it seemed stupid to pack up and go home.....especially with it predicted to be epic on every level. Well it certainly turned out to be a very interesting evening and in this blog I'm going to talk through my experience of this once in a life time event. 

Borrowdale Gold: This was the Image I had in my mind and the main reason for my trip out. 

Grange WideGrange Wide

Borrowdale Sunset.....The long wait begins.

Grange SunsetGrange Sunset I was aware that the Aurora was going to potentially hit on Friday night, but initially I had no idea on what scale as it can be illusive at best. As the day wore on, more and more information started to crop up on social media and the excitement was gathering pace within the photography community. I kind of blanked out a lot of the noice surrounding it and trotted off as planned to Borrowdale, to capture an image I've had lined up for a little while. After sunset had finished and with a couple images in the bag, I decided to move to a better view point in preparation. I decided on a nice spot overlooking Derwentwater, which was also North facing...which seemed a good place to start. I then decided to have a quick google of the settings needed, as I'd never shot the Northern Lights before and if this was indeed meant to be epic then I best know remotely what I'm doing. Luckily I had my 24-70mm f2.8 lens with me as having a wide aperture is essential, as we need to get plenty of light to the sensor as we don't want to create to slow a shutter speed. So I set up, got my composition and set my focus before it got too dark. It was then a mattering of waiting for it to get dark. This would mean about a two hour wait, in the dark....oh joy. 

Borrowdale Borealis

AuroraAurora

Around 10.30pm it was getting pretty dark and I could see head torches on the distant fell tops as others waited for the show to start. At first there was very little happening northward and I wondered if this was going to be wasted effort. As it crept to around 11pm, I was starting to get a little bored and frustrated and was about to call it quits as standing alone in the pitch black for two hours isn't the greatest fun I've ever had. I then noticed a grey looking cloud off to the east and I remember some people saying this is what it can look like. So I pointed my camera at it and to my surprise it was only bloomin GREEN!!! I then started to notice more above my head as I panned my camera around. So I quickly set up and started taking shots. The biggest issue I was finding was setting my focus when jumping from scene to scene as the Aurora developed. I was also just taking random shots with no real context. In the end I told myself to just calm down a little and be patient as I was just taking shots without any context. Eventually I grabbed a nice shot of the Aurora over Derwentwater so I decided to head to another couple of lower locations, as I still needed to get back down the fell safely in the dark. When back down in Borrowdale I noticed the Aurora was still going strong, so I tried a few compositions but they didn't really turnout as I hoped and I was still struggling with focusing and finding compositions in the dark. Luckily I caught one I was pleased with. 

Borrowdale Borealis II

aurora 5iaurora 5i

It was now getting on towards Midnight and I decided to chance one more location and I'm really pleased I did. While driving back into Keswick I decided to pop to Crow park, this is a bit of a popular location and I was expecting it to be busy with photographers but it was worth a shot. Well on arrival it was busy but not with photographers, just people enjoying the experience of the Aurora. So I set up shooting towards Derwentwater with this lovely fence leading off into the water. The Aurora was looking fabulous at this point with a plethora of gorgeous colours. I fired off a few shots before some rather 'merry' ladies decided to get into Derwentwater and watch the Aurora while splashing about in the water. This was hilarious to witness but did put pay to any reflections as they larked about in Lake. So it was time to call it quits as I was physically and emotionally drained and still had a good hour drive home. I was hopeful I'd bagged a couple of shots amongst the 100 I'd taken, but would have to see when I got home......after a good sleep of course. I got home about 1.45am. 

Derwentwater Aurora: A new spin on a classic location. 

Derwentwater AuroraDerwentwater AuroraStunning Aurora over Derwentwater from Crow park.

Conclusions and what I learnt:

Wow what a night. I can't say it was a life altering experience but it was certainly interesting. On camera the skies where alive with pinks, purples and greens, dramatic shapes and shifting patterns. Yes it was visible to the naked eye but not in the colourful and vibrant way the camera tells. Yes it was thrilling to see how it looked on the back of the camera...very much like putting 3D glasses on. It was also nice seeing so many people out, enjoying the experience...there was a really buzz and excitement about. I will admit I do prefer shooting in golden hour and I did find it somewhat of a challenge to find compositions and setting my focus in the pitch black, especially when the pressure was on. It was definitely a bit of a lottery with how the images turned out and many have had to be jettisoned due to poor composition or out of focus. I think if I did this on a more regular basis a wide lens with an apeture of f1.2 or f1.4 would be beneficial and certainly help with not having to raise the ISO too high....which makes for grainy images. Overall I'm pretty happy with the images I've taken away and for a first time well not a bad effort....solid 7/10 I'd say. So was it all worth it?  Well I'll put it this way. Would I have been disappointed if I hadn't have gone out? Absolutely. Is it ever going to be this good again? Potentially not. Did I enjoy the experience? It was challenging but fun. Would I do it again? Well I probably would yes and I've definitely learned from the experience and I'm fair better equipped should I choose to. You never know, I might try astro photography next......well we'll see. 

Tim


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