July 27, 2016 Melanie Windridge

How NOT to photograph the aurora

Here’s how NOT to take a photograph of the Aurora Borealis while in the Orkney Islands:
(1) Take the photograph in the summer when there is still twilight in the sky
(2) Make sure it’s a partially cloudy evening
(3) And when there’s a full moon
(4) Take the photograph hand-held, without a tripod, using only the roof of the car as a prop

Follow these simple instructions and it will look like this:

Northern Lights over Orkney on a cloudy, moonlit night.

Northern Lights over Orkney on a cloudy, moonlit night.

Here’s what happened.

We were visiting friends in the north of Orkney in August. We had been talking about the northern lights and the fact that we had never seen them. As we were leaving, our friends said that there could well be an aurora in the sky at that time, but that the conditions were too poor to actually see it – there was still the glow of twilight and the full moon was in the sky. So were the clouds.

But my daughter thought she could just make out a curtain of green. It seemed as though she was right. We drove half a mile away from the streetlights and, sure enough, there was indeed a wispy green glow, coming and going. Not easy to see, but the camera caught more than our eyes could. Just a shame we weren’t prepared and had to hand-hold the camera, propping it as best as possible on the roof of the car for a 10-second exposure…

Andy Sawers, London

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About the Author

Melanie Windridge Dr Melanie Windridge is a plasma physicist, speaker, writer… with a taste for adventure. She has a PhD in fusion energy, is Communications Consultant for fusion start-up Tokamak Energy, and has worked in education with the Ogden Trust, Anturus and the Your Life campaign. Melanie is an expert in the aurora and loves the mountains. She believes science and exploration go hand in hand. In 2018 she climbed Mount Everest.