The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Northumbrian Stars

I was hoping to get some big night sky shots. I wasn’t expecting the Northern Lights.

Maggie and I had a rare 4 whole nights away on our own. So rare, in fact, we realised it we hadn’t had that much time together on our own since before our kids were born - so 22 years, more or less.

A favourite area for us to visit is the Northumbrian coast, over on the far North East of England. It’s a little over 3 hours’ drive, so far enough to feel like we’re away from home, but not so far we would lose too much of the break to driving.

This time, Maggie had found us a wee flat in Seahouses, a couple of miles down the road from the landscape-dominating Bamburgh Castle, where the beaches run unbroken for 2 or 3 miles, and the tides go out quite far, leaving this huge expanse of sky and sand.

The flat was only 50m from the beach, so we went for walks along it every day, sometimes twice. One evening the tide was quite far in and as the sun was setting, the last rays were hitting the tips of the waves.

We were also blessed with blue skies and sunshine, which also meant plenty of stars at night, punctuated at regular intervals by the lighthouses on the Farne Islands.

On our 3rd night I went down to the beach with the camera. I hadn’t brought a tripod, so rested it on a plastic sandwich box to keep it off the wet sand. In the dark of the night I needed 20 to 30 second exposures to be able to record anything.

I was aware of a barely perceptible glow on the horizon, but just assumed it might be lights from oil rigs reflecting off thin clouds, but to my amazement, as I looked in the back of the camera, there was the unmistakable green and purple colouring of the aurora borealis. I then noticed it was not only in the sky, but reflecting off the wet sand too!

With frozen fingertips, I spent the next hour or so firing off images, in the hope of catching something that would show up and look vaguely interesting.

These were my best shots. The lights on the right are the lighthouses of the Farne Islands, and you can see the milky way too.

When I could take the cold no more, I returned to the flat like an excited puppy, desperate to look at the images and show Maggie.

Aware the faint glow visible to the human eye was still on the horizon, I put the lights out in the flat and Maggie and I spent several minutes looking out the window as the glow occasionally got brighter, or had patches moving within it.

The colours in the images above are only there because the camera was allowing up to half a minute for the light to hit the sensor. Here’s what it looked like to us out of the window.

Of course it was nothing like the brightly glowing streaks you see on TV or in photos taken by people up nearer the polar regions, but it was exciting for us who have never really seen it “live” before.


Pat said...

They are heavenly but I adore the top one.

Kim Ayres said...

Thanks Pat :)

Ponita in Real Life said...

Fabulous shots, Kim! We get to see the northern lights here in the centre of Canada regularly in winter. Mostly only green but I have seen shimmering curtains of green, purple and yellow. Because I often work evening shifts, and my drive home heads north outside the city, I can watch them as I head home around midnight. I'm glad you and Maggie had a few days' holiday. A little getaway is always so nice.

Jonathan Chant said...

Awesome - what an experience. Fantastic pictures - I have been along that stretch of coast twice, it's another world, especially when you come from the south of England like me.

hope said...

One of the perks of country living...beautiful, star filled skies. And yet, you captured even more than I usually see. Glad you got some time off for you and your beloved.

Kim Ayres said...

Ponita - I long for the time when I actually get to see the ribbons across the sky with the naked eye :)

Jonathan - thank you! You need to come north more often. In fact come over the border - Scotland has some of the most amazing coastlines! :)

Hope - perhaps you should give night-sky photography a go. The main thing you need is a way to keep the camera absolutely steady, and the ability to do a 20 to 30 second exposure :)

Jonathan Chant said...

I did once go over the border - drove through Dumfrisseshire, up to Ayre then across to Edinburgh on the way back to Northumbria. Good memories...

Kim Ayres said...

Jonathan - I'm 20 miles west of Dumfries. If you're ever passing this way again, then get in touch and we can get together for a coffee :)

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Glorious, Kim. It's like the sky itself was singing.

I don't know how else to explain how these photos make me feel. Joyful and peaceful.

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - I hope that one day I get the chance to see them in their full glory, not just through the back of a camera on long exposure :)

Ponita in Real Life said...

A trip to Iceland in winter would give you some fabulous sights, Kim! One day, I will make the trek to the land of my ancestors.

Kim Ayres said...

Ponita - I would love to visit Iceland sometime. Is that where your ancestors are from?

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