My First Aurora Borealis

December 21, 2015  •  2 Comments

At dinner time last night, tweet notifications starting coming thick and fast from Aurora Alert Ireland about Northern Lights showing well in many locations around Ireland. I’d never seen the Aurora Borealis but I’d long been planning to try my hand at shooting them. With clear skies and mild temperatures – albeit breezy, I decided to head from Shankill for the Co. Louth coast to get north of Dublin’s light pollution.


I arrived at the car park overlooking Port Oriel Harbour at Clogher Head about 10pm but I couldn’t see much, partly because of the very bright harbour lights - and the three quarter Moon wasn’t helping either. So I decided to explore northwards and I found a much darker spot at Port Beach car park around 11.15pm. By now the skies above the northern horizon seemed to be getting brighter and my anticipation grew as my eyes acclimatised to the dark – and the stream of aurora tweets continued. Should I set up here?  But I couldn’t work the lifeguard hut or the toilet building into a decent foreground. As I dithered – shimmering green curtains suddenly flickered and then burst into prominence all along the northern horizon – sh****t - my first Aurora and the big camera is snug in its bag!!! I grabbed the pocket camera, my Panasonic LF1, and braced it against the car for 5 seconds at f2 and ISO 1600 – but not braced well enough as you can see from the movement trails of the stars. Nonetheless, I was ecstatic to do so well on my first try – and hopefully nature’s greatest lightshow would continue through the night – wouldn’t it??

001-Aurora-Louth-©-John-Coveney001-Aurora-Louth-©-John-Coveney However, within a few minutes they disappeared, so I drove further north to the southern shore of Dundalk Bay around Annagassen – but I still couldn’t find foreground interest that I liked and the light pollution from Castlebelligham, Black Rock and Dundalk itself was much worse. Right! - back to Port Beach for shortly after 1 am. The tide was well out and I could see shallow channels in the moonlight so I decided to try those for the foreground. There wasn’t a lot going on the sky – just a faint grey glow to the north – so I was amazed when I got shots like the next one from a 20 second exposure at ISO 800, f4 & 20mm. This one at 2am was the best - with a strong green glow reaching up a fainter purple glow - along with reflections on the beach and topped off with the Mourne Mountains in the distance. The nearer Dunany Point worked well to shield the light pollution from Dundalk Bay. I stuck around until after moonset at 3.20am hoping the strong green curtains of earlier would return but it got no better – even after the moon disappeared. In any case by then, the Mournes were hidden by cloud.


To pass the time and keep active in the chilly breeze, I set up the pocket camera on the gorillapod for this shot. You can see a street light in this one that’s not in the main shot – I cloned it out because I thought it was too prominent – but it was very handy for focussing!


It may have been my first Aurora shoot but it won’t be my last!!


John Coveney Photography - People Places & Wildlife
Thanks, Tony.
Tony Marr(non-registered)
Nice work John!
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