Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Lady of the Lights

Real-time

I can die happy!

Lady Luck shone down on me last night. Well actually, it wasn't Lady Luck but Lady Aurora Australis, the elusive and shy Southern Lights. 

Here's the best of a small bunch of shots taken around 11pm on a dark and spooky beach last night. The upward pointing beams dance from one side to the other of the aurora. It's a good aurora if you see them and even better if you manage to see a 'picket fence', a group of smaller, very bright fence stakes floating above the beams. In a cloud free sky these beams would be dancing well up into the heavens. 



I've been waiting four years to capture the Aurora, I follow a couple of Facebook Aurora pages and a website with up-to-date information regarding solar wind and flare activity (they cause the lights) and predictions on when to expect some action. 

I've often been in the wrong place on the right night, or in the right place on the wrong night, or it's been raining or there's thick cloud, or I've forgotten to check the alerts, or there's been no internet so I can't check the alerts, or it's been too cold (many good Auroras happen in the depth of winter).....you get the picture. Can you tell I've not been bitten too hard by the aurora bug? There are Aurora chasers out there who'll drive miles and stay up all night when the lights are playing. And then go to work the next day and do it all again the following night. I'm keen but not that keen. Yet.


Back to dunes and away from the house lights.
Unfortunately the best night in this recent burst of activity was the night before last while we were tucked up in a valley in the middle of Dunedin surrounded by bright city lights. So we moved out of town and down to Taieri Mouth on the coast. Not the best place but a good spot given the short notice. No water for reflection but at least with a  reasonably clear view looking south. I still had to contend with house lights as you can see in the first photo. I walked down to the water's edge hoping the Lights would be reflected in the retreating tide, instead the house lights came into view and just as the aurora kicked off! Not long after the cloud rolled in and the show was over.

As you probably already know, the aurora is not often visible to the naked eye. Many people are disappointed after seeing them, they're expecting to see brilliant greens and crimsons or for them to be bright like the Northern Lights. If they are seen, they're usually in various tones of white with a hint of colour. Last night the lights were clearly visible once the beams started dancing, the sky was a moving spectacle, bright with just a shade of colour.

This photo (with a little less colour) is roughly what I could see with my eyes when I arrived. The camera is much more sensitive, it picks up a lot more detail and colour as the shutter is held open for several seconds allowing more light in than the eyes do. Camera settings and good processing bring out the colours, although sometimes people can be a little heavy handed with their colouring.



I got a bit distracted while waiting to see if they'd be any more activity and took a photo of the stars looking north over the river towards Dunedin. The night sky is such a fascinating and magical place.



I'm easily distracted. Here another one looking out to sea, that's Moturata Island just off the mouth of the Taieri River. You can see my shadow on the sand...several shadows as I move about during the 20 second exposure. I'm silhouetted against the orange light coming from the wharf, a long way behind me. Those curves through the atmosphere low down in the sky have a name. I need to research a little more to find out what they are called and why they happen.


Earlier in the evening I captured this lovely sunset over the river estuary- until I have a little more experience with Aurora shooting I think I'll be just as happy with my sunsets.



And actually, I'm only halfway to dying happy, I still have that hoar frost to catch. 






8 comments:

  1. Beautiful shots Shellie and I look forward to the hoar frost ones!

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    1. Thanks Carol. Well it's already been 4 years and I haven't managed the hoar frost so you may have to wait another 4 years for that one! :)

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  2. I see you are in my town Shellie, give me a shout if you have time to catch up in person.
    I missed the lights a few days ago, have seen some photos from other Dunedin photos, looks like a great spectacle. Another popular spot for shooting them is from the track above Tunnel Beach.

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    1. Hi Lisa, it was a quick visit to do few chores in town, not much camera time this visit. Although we did manage to visit Tunnel Beach and Lanarch Castle the day before we left, two things on my 'must do' list as I'm not sure if we'll be back this way again. Another great Dunedin spot for the Aurora is Hoopers Inlet.

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  3. Wahooo...you saw them! I bet it was a magical experience. Lucky you!

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    1. Thanks Katrina, it was a pity that the cloud cover (and house lights) spoiled a clear view but it whetted my appetite, so watch this space :)

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  4. How wonderful - certainly a great item to tick off your bucket list.

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    1. Thanks Jenny, it sure was a must see before this journey ends. The problem is, it's now back on the list; I want to see a clear one with lots of beams and a picket fence! Never happy ;)

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