After 6 months of false alarms, missed opportunities and cloudy nights The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) made a spectacular comeback at Whitby. Although I had seen them in Scotland in October, they had been absent at Whitby since the 3rd September 2016
I had been out most of the afternoon on one of my walks around Whitby. I was tired and hungry, but the Aurora App on my phone sent an Amber Alert Warning.My first thought was to check the online stats.
After advice from various people involved in Aurora and Space Weather prediction, I no longer take too much notice of the wing Model KP stats. I navigated to various predictions methods I was told to trust.
Needless to say, they showed nothing, so I settled down for a night at home editing photographs and then an early night.
After a while, my good mate Mike Marshall rang me and said he was in Sandsend Car Park and getting some colours through on his camera. He said he couldn’t see anything with the naked eye but was seeing strong green in his photos.
I didnt need to hear much more. I got well wrapped up (Aurora nights are usually long nights) and headed to Sandsend to meet with Mike.
A Forgotten Camera
To cut a long story short, In my excitement I forgot my camera, much to Mikes amusement. I had taken it out of my bag to get the memory card out earlier in the evening. Before heading back home to get the camera Mike asked me to check some stats on my phone. As I have EE 4G I get a signal at Sandsend where as Mikes Vodafone gets nothing at all.
I bought the EE package on the strength of its coverage around town and for this exact situation where we need to stats and information (aurora stats, Weather and cloud cover predictions) to guide us through the night. The Aurora stats had gone through the roof. It looked like an amazing show was imminent.
The temptation to put my foot on the accelerator was strong. But I managed to stick to the speed limit. The return journey home taking roughly 15 minutes to complete. Once back at Sandsend the tide was just retreating and we headed onto the beach.
The Light Show Begins
The first photographs were just showing a band of green light on the horizon. It was not visible to the naked eye at all. We hung around the groynes as the water retreated and then headed into the corner of Sandsend underneath the cliffs. The closer to the cliffs we got the less light pollution there was from the village. The greens now became visible to the naked eye.
The Aurora Show really Kicks Off
What Happened next was similar to my last encounter with the aurora back in October on the Isle Of Skye. As if someone flicked a switch the lights got bright and they started to spike and dance around the sky. The sense of excitement you get when this happens has to rival any high you would get from alcohol or drugs. This is Mother Natures high, and its such a special feeling I always struggle to sleep afterwards.
Mike and I snapped away under the cliffs, trying to get some form of composition on the dark scars. The sense of excitement was at fever pitch. As a night time photographer these are the moments you live for, and they dont come very often. Infact we are heading towards a solar low, and as you start to get that little bit older too, you always wonder how many more times you will see this phenomenon on your own doorstep.
Every display feels like the most magical thing in all the world. I think the thing that makes it so special is that its right here, in our own town. No long flights to far off countries in the artic circle, as beautiful as they are, this is our display on our turf.
As the display reached its peak we headed back to the groynes to try improve on our earlier shots. Capturing the spikes is always our goal, I feel we managed it quite well in the end.
The answer to capturing the spikes rather than just colour is to keep the shutter speed pretty fast. With Mikes help we have worked out that 15 seconds seems to be a good shutter speed for the lights.
To achieve this requires quite a high ISO and a really decent Lens with low F stop. I now shoot with a Fuji 16mm 1.4f. I would say it is a rival for any other Lens on the market, regardless of brand.
As the night wore on the lights faded again. We hung around in anticipation of another display. however on this occasion it wasn’t to be. But what we witnessed was something very special. The Aurora nights are the best of nights, thats for sure.
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