Photographers’ joy over northern lights in south of England

Knowlton Church in Dorset

The northern lights were visible in the south for two nights in a row

For two nights in a row, keen photographers across the south of England were treated to rare views of the northern lights.

An aurora is formed by a solar flare erupting on the Sun, sending charged particles towards the Earth that interact with our atmosphere, but it is rarely seen in southern England.

We spoke to some of the people who captured the phenomenon on camera to find out how they did it.

‘It was like a red haze’

Amateur astronomer Mary McIntyre has a camera attached to her Oxfordshire house looking north, which she used to monitor the aurora displays.

She admits to spending “quite a lot of the night out in the cold” as she took in the stunning view.

“I saw it with the naked eye just for about five minutes, but it was obviously brighter on the camera,” she says.

“To get it running two nights is definitely surprising.

“I’ve photographed it from down here over the last nine years… but to see it with your eyes is much rarer… it was just like a red haze.

“You only get red aurora when it’s really energetic, so to have aurora that was visibly red for two nights running is so incredible, it just doesn’t happen down here very often.”

‘Blenheim Palace is pretty epic so I went for a wander’

Dan Cocks is a wedding photographer based in Northampton, with a passion for taking photographs of wildlife and the natural world.

He said: “I looked at where the weather was going to be clear for at least an hour… I thought Blenheim Palace is pretty epic, and went for a wander.”

Dan decided he would take a picture of the Column of Victory, which is located away from the main house.

On the way there he took a photo of some sheep among the trees, and noticed an “orange, red, pinky haze” in the background.

“I ran up to the column, set the camera up on a self-timer, pointed my torch towards the top, walked back to my camera, and was amazed at the scenes I could see,” he remembers.

“I took that photo, looked at the back of the camera, and thought has that literally just happened? That’s insane to have that in Oxfordshire.

“I was planning later in the year to go to Scotland to try and capture it, and I just thought how have I managed to get this an hour from my home?”

‘Just to catch it was a lucky opportunity’

“There’s a churchyard I drive past on the way to work every day and I know it looks out north, so I thought that would be a good place to go,” Helen Haigh, in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, told us.

“I went a few years ago for a school trip to Iceland and saw the Northern Lights there, so when I had an opportunity to see them down here I thought hopefully it’ll be alright.”

She describes the local version of the lights as “hard to see with the naked eye” as “you don’t see all the colors as much, it’s more of a shimmering in the sky”.

But she caught this image with her camera when “there just happened to be a clearing in the cloud”.

“It’s a bit different from Iceland but it was good all the same,” she adds. “To see it as far south as this is amazing. I didn’t have to pay a lot of money to go and look at them.

“Just to catch it was a lucky opportunity.”

‘Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it’

Stewart Wilson tells us he traveled “two miles to get out of the glow of Andover” with his wife and daughter, settling on a quiet intersection near Enham-Alamein.

“I only saw it because I was pointing the camera vaguely in the right direction,” he explains. “Otherwise I think we could have stood there for another hour thinking nothing was showing.

“Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it.

“It was really important to us. We’ve done a trip to Iceland chasing them many years ago one February and it didn’t happen.

“I remember waking up one night to aurora alerts and looking out the window and it was teeming down with snow. We jumped in the car and drove for an hour to try and see it.”

He assures us that “even though it wasn’t like you see on the telly it was still enough”.

“When you’re standing behind the camera and it shows you a quick flash of that exposure and then you see that, it’s fabulous.

“It was a fantastic experience.”

‘It’s brutal, but you’ve got to have high standards’

Martin Dolan’s picture at Corfe Castle, Dorset, is as impressive as the other examples on this page, only he’s “not 100% sure” it’s of the northern lights.

The amateur landscape photographer from Wimborne thought the “amazing picturesque” location would be worth a visit after he saw some moody pictures from Dorset on the news.

He says: “I made my way down there, used my photography apps to get my alignment for my composition, set up, and shot a million photographs over the course of two hours that all looked the same.”

The result was this “surreal” picture, but he admits the reason for the strange colors could be lights from nearby settlements.

“I stood and I watched, and I’ve seen a lot of light pollution over the years, and it didn’t look like that last night,” he argues.

“When you have the low cloud it reflects the light back, but normally it’s a pale yellow/white glow, and last night there was a really strong purple red hue and you rarely get that.”

Martin’s gut feeling is that he was there for the aurora, “but I don’t feel I’ve had a clear view of them”.

“It’s brutal, but you’ve got to have high standards.”

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