If I was to finally witness this natural phenomenon, now would be the time to jump in the car and make the sixty five mile journey north on the A1.
It would have been all too easy to settle in for the night on a Sunday evening but I was soon experiencing an intense urge to make the trip.
Aware that digital cameras can pick up early signs of the Aurora much more easily than the human eye, I quickly nipped to the top of the house to photograph the Northern sky.
The giveaway green haze hovering above the Newcastle horizon convinced me that it was time to go and meet Reed on the Holy Island causeway:
I grabbed a friend who I knew would also cherish the experience, though neither of us could ever have been prepared for the scene that greeted us.
Nearing the turn-off for Holy Island, the sky had become alive with huge columns of light, folding and weaving like waves of fabric.
Words can barely describe the emotion that overcame me — it was all I could do to keep the car on the road with such a spectacle taking place in the cold air above us.
Vast slabs of vertical green light gave the Northumberland night sky an epic cathedral-like appearance and all for a fleeting fifteen minutes or so…
As we arrived on the dark causeway, I must confess to feeling a little jittery.
The light show was beginning to fade already but it still looked sensational as it receded. I managed to capture these images while the performance played out:
In all honesty, the intensity of green captured by my camera surprised me. However, it seemed to match up with the photographs of others.
When watching this beautiful show, I didn’t see green, I saw a bluey-silvery-grey. I thought that reciprocity failure might have come into play, so I tried some very short exposures.
Yes, the images were very under-exposed but the green colour still prevailed. Even the ‘quick and dirty’ capture made at ISO 3200 (the image at the top of this post) immediately showed the Aurora-green piercing through the urban haze.
It seems that more intense displays further north, in and around locations such as Tromsø, literally drench the surroundings in a glorious green light.
Thankfully, at times, we were able to see the green for ourselves during pinpricks of higher intensity.
Indeed, as we were arriving, I’ve already mentioned the great slabs of green light standing tall like huge, futuristic, architectural pillars in the sky.
So, this sparked a further spine-tingling question in my mind: When the intensity levels of the Aurora are reduced further South, why is that we observe a bluey-silvery-grey colour, yet we point a digital camera at the Aurora and the intense green prevails?
Is the camera able to render information that we cannot perceive at these lower intensities? I’m sure there will be answers to this but I simply enjoyed pondering them while standing in that icy cold theatre.
I expect Professor Brian Cox would know the answer. If you know, feel free to enlighten us by leaving a comment in the box at the end of this post!
And let’s not forget the beautiful sky to the South, so dense that Orion (often obvious at this time of year) is almost lost among its neighbours:
Some say that viewing the Aurora Borealis is life-changing.
Would I agree? Yes, without a doubt.
I haven’t been able to shake the experiences of last night from my mind, not that I’ve wanted to.
Furthermore, it’s taken me most of the day in grabbed moments here and there to attempt to put those experiences into words.
I’m still not sure that I’ve succeeded.
As I put my boys to bed this evening, I peered North from the window once more. Nothing.
The Aurora Borealis was gone for the moment but I shall never look at the sky in the same way again, day or night.
Keen followers of this blog and my Twitter feed will know that I am very keen on the video clip below, the Aurora Borealis and Australis as seen from the International Space Station.
It seems appropriate to sign off from this post by leaving you with this beautiful footage…
Reed Ingram Weir and I met in June last year when working together on a series of his prints leading up to a winter exhibition.
We soon realised a common interest—the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
However, one major difference between us became clear—Reed proactively tracks down the Aurora within the Arctic Circle several times a year.
He is an Aurora-Chaser, whereas I, on the other hand, continue to merely dream of seeing them one day…
Reed also seems to have a knack of making sure his work is seen by a wide audience, particularly after striking lucky recently in both Northern Ireland and Northumberland’s Holy Island.
As we discussed at the time, it’s incredible what can arrive on your doorstep when you stop looking for it.
I asked Reed what attracts him to the pursuing the Aurora Borealis, to which he replied:
“I love the connection between the Sun and the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights); I enjoy how something so beautiful is created by our most important source of light and how that, every now and again, we are reminded of its power with such a beautiful light show in the form of the Northern Lights.
“When I was a wee boy, I remember seeing a picture of the Northern Lights and being completely amazed by them. I always told myself I would view them one day. Now I am completely hooked on seeking them out and making photographs of them.”
“To me, they are enchanting, they never look the same twice. When I mention the Aurora, most seem to know little about this natural phenomenon or how it’s created. However, it always seems to have a place in their hearts and an instant connection is made.
“Even though I find the chase most frustrating, this element of the ritual gets my photographic juices pumping.
“Capturing the Aurora is fraught with technical difficulties—I look forward to the day I can swiftly and perfectly capture my shots so that I can stand back and enjoy the performance for myself, knowing my photographs are in the bag…”
I make Reed’s prints using HP’s archival Vivera pigment ink-set and Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308gsm.
All are for sale and can be purchased by contacting Reed through his site.
I have recently finished working with Paul Kenny on his latest piece, ‘Northern Lights’.
Paul describes it as, “Plastic jetsom flattened and cut, the curved edge made by the abrasion of nature. Found at Downpatrick Head, Mayo—that thick polythene kind of plastic—I suspect it’s the bottom of a storage box…”
Another beautiful print made on Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm with HP’s DJz3200 and the Vivera Pigment ink-set, all-in-all a special piece at 100x70cm—highly tactile and giving with gorgeous, deep blacks.
If you have a moment, please take a look at the Galleries page for more of Paul’s work…