Northern Light Mythology

Last night I received a phone call from my neighbour, who was out and about in his car, saying the Northern Lights were spectacular.

So I dashed outside, camera in one hand, tripod (the original tripping hazard) in another and set up.

I took this photo having failed to tighten the tripod screws and cleverly managed to capture, or create, many shooting stars (or was it the camera slowly tilting).


The aurora came and went, nothing huge – I had probably missed them at their best – but, still, it was nice to stand in the freezing cold, waiting for the magic show.


While I stood in the dark with a vague green glow to the north, I decided I would dispel the myth of some of the photos around that the media would have believe, ie that they light up everything in sight to the point of almost daylight.  This just isn’t true.

The next four photos were taken seconds apart.  I want to show you that by changing the settings of the camera, you can create very different impressions of the Aurora.

Normal settings – (the red glow on the right, by the way, is Sullom Voe Oil and Gas Terminal so ignore).

ISO 800
15 seconds


ISO 800
30 seconds


ISO 2000
30 seconds


ISO 12800
20 seconds


And the same one but with some fiddling about with exposure, whitening, vibrance, saturation, tone and any other button I can find that might make it all the more spectacular.


But, remember, that is not what you see when you stand outside freezing your bits off.  If it gets going, the Aurora comes and goes, sometimes getting stronger and sometimes fading away again to nothing.

BN2A2780 BN2A2782 BN2A2783 BN2A2784 BN2A2785-2

There is no spectacular sound track by Wagner.  There are no swooshes and crackles like Walt Disney would have you imagine.

Just silence and an eerie light that changes in shape and sometimes colour in a way that can make you wonder if it really moving at all.

The same photo fiddled about with again.

BN2A2785-4BN2A2785-3  BN2A2785

Personally, I prefer the truth.  For me, it is special and more remarkable than the frou-frou versions that frequent the media.


On the other hand, of course, I could be completely in error and be watching the wrong part of the sky or just have my camera set up badly.  Who knows.

(I will admit, however, that last night was good but not spectacular – I have seen far better).


9 thoughts on “Northern Light Mythology

  1. Linda

    I for one, Thank You for freezing your bits off, getting these photos to us. Just beautiful, spooky – and I wonder what early peoples thought when they saw them?

  2. Lisa

    I would love to see them! Any glimmer of faint green would be good enough for me! To paraphrase Lord Percy, ‘can it be true? A nugget of purest Green?’ ;-).

  3. Trish

    Thanks for dispelling the myths, for years I thought the aurora moved about very quickly then I realised I only ever seen it on a time lapse speeded up! Duh!


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