A Northern Lights Weekend to Remember

A Northern Lights Weekend to Remember

On Friday, May 10, millions of people, maybe billions, were treated to one of nature's finest shows. Following a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), a large geomagnetic storm headed our way and treated us to a northern lights display to remember.

While many people travel to places such as Iceland, Norway, and Canada every year to witness the Aurora Borealis, the past weekend gave many people the chance to see this majestic display from their own backyard.

Social media around the world was awash with amazing, beautiful images. The first glimpses came via the Aurora Australis in the southern hemisphere, which got mine and many others' lips licking with excitement for when it got dark in Europe and North America.

Waiting

Throughout Friday, I was transfixed by the data and aurora chasing forums, trying to get as much information as I could to prepare myself for the night ahead. I was also searching Google Maps for where to go and comparing it to weather apps to make sure I found clear skies.

After I finished work, I had a long wait as it does not get dark where I am until close to 11 pm currently, so I thought about taking a nap as it would be a long night ahead. That idea failed; instead, I remained glued to my phone.

I also used the next few hours to back up the images on my memory cards, make sure my batteries were charged, and ensure my lens and sensor were clean (oh, the joys of mirrorless).

At just after 9 pm, the time finally came for us to make the hour's drive over to Bassenthwaite Lake in the Lake District. I found this beautiful spot with a clear view north and thought it would be perfect. I was wrong.

My Plan Failed

Typically, photographing the lights from my latitude of around 53/54 degrees north, the aurora appears low on the northern horizon and only on rare occasions will reach over 10 degrees in the night sky.

I arrived at the lake, set my camera up facing north, and then just had to wait for it to get dark enough. My friends were messaging me asking for tips, so I spent a short while giving them advice on rough settings to use.

Waiting

Crowds started gathering at my spot, with cameras and tripods alongside the shore of the lake, all pointing in the same direction. There were also loads of people who were just there in the hope of seeing something special with phones in hand ready.

As I have seen and photographed the aurora many times, I knew the signs to look for. To the eye, the aurora will not appear like you see on the back of your camera, but more like a ghostly white at first. Sometimes, depending on your eyes or the strength of the aurora, you will begin to see subtle colors (sometimes more vibrant, but again that is down to certain factors).

I scanned the sky as darkness fell, looking for signs and then I saw it! The aurora was not in front of us low on the horizon as expected; it was right above us in the zenith of the twilight sky. I shouted out to the crowds who were still oblivious, "There it is, it is above us!"

Northern Lights from The Lake District

The franticness then arose as everyone tried to find new compositions and take test shots. I too was running around the shore, trying to work out what I should do. The location I chose did not suit an aurora above us, but I would not let that stop me.

Not only did my location end up being a slightly poor choice, my lens selection was also a fail. I brought along the Tamron 35-150mm lens, when for this aurora, I really wish I had a 14mm or 20mm in my bag for those wider shots and to capture as much detail as possible.

Northern lights at the lake

I still captured some images I am happy with, but crikey, it could have been so much more!

As Happy as a Pig in...

While my plan was somewhat of a failure due to the extreme strength of this aurora, and my lens choice was frankly awful because of this amazing aurora, I was still buzzing with excitement. I was running around everywhere, trying to make the most of this incredible opportunity.

I really was as happy as a pig in... you can fill in that part! Every time I see the aurora, I am fascinated! My mood lifts, and I get hit with pure adrenaline.

For a while, the main colors coming through were just green, shimmering beautifully. Then suddenly there was an explosion of color in the sky: blues, reds, purples, etc., were in full flow and the corona directly above was absolutely phenomenal!

A beautiful aurora corona

A Shared Love

I was chatting with a number of people there witnessing this for the first time, and I was also approached several times by photographers asking for tips. I was happy to help. This was a shared experience, and I wanted everyone to leave with a giant smile on their face.

I checked my phone and saw that people were experiencing this far and wide across Europe, and even Africa! This was ridiculous (in a good way of course). Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (X) were full of people experiencing this natural beauty for the first time.

Explosion of color

This was truly a moment where the world stopped and got to share something so incredible together in masses. As the years go by, we are losing so much of our night sky to light pollution, satellites, and more. Millions of people around the world have never even seen the Milky Way, but that night, millions got a chance to see something else and gain a new appreciation for the night sky, and to me, that is the most beautiful part.

I captured some footage of the aurora corona here.

Did you manage to capture this incredible event? Show us in the comments below.

Greg Sheard's picture

Greg Sheard is a Scottish based photographer, focusing on wildlife, landscape and portrait work. Greg's mission in life is too help those who suffer with mental health issues and be a voice for the millions of people around the world who need that care, attention and awareness.

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6 Comments

Gourock on the Clyde Coast.12.30am Sat .

Fantastic shot Peter, thank you for sharing

Edmonton, that might. Unfortunately, I made a bad decision not to goto my usual spots, but I am happy I got some.

At least you still got to see the incredible show 😊

A magical night. Aurora was in every direction and in so many colors. I hurried over to Mount Rainier to my favorite spot and was treated to no crowds and mild temps. Beautiful indeed.

Stunning shots Dave! Even better that you got to experience it in sheer bliss!