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Northern Lights In Dorset !

Never thought I would be saying that tittle on here but here we are.

This is a continuation from the previous blog post about the Northern lights in the New Forest which you can read HERE

So where were we ? Thats right I was driving home from the New Forest after having a simply incredible evening of photographing the Aurora Borealis but having been up for 23 hours I was fading fast and heading home, but something just kept nagging me to get a Dorset shot and not miss these conditions which really were once in a lifetime.

Horton Tower Norther Lights
Horton Tower Aurora Borealis

I was thinking where I could go, the obvious place was Knowlton Church but I knew that would be off the scale busy and I really didn't want to be involved in that even though it was on my way back, In the back of my mind I already knew where I was going.

Horton Tower has long since been my "Go to" location for all weathers really, its just a wonderful place that I love to not only be at, but to photograph too.

You could call it a guilty pleasure really as I spend so much time there, I just cant stop shooting it and don't intend too as it makes me happy and thats what photography is all about.

Again, I knew it would be busy there but it was 2 am now and I was hoping that most people would have faded away, I pulled into the parking area and there were only around 4 cars there and I managed to get a space, Nice !

As I walked up towards Horton Tower I could see a group of photographers on the path shooting towards the northern lights but with the tower behind them, excellent I thought ! thats a few less people to be jostling with for a position.

I stopped and exchanged pleasantries with them and all were showing the same levels of excitement as myself and we all couldn't believe our luck that such an event was unfolding in front of us.

I was slightly worried that the Northern lights would have faded a bit by now as it had taken a while to drive from the New forest to here but fortunately I had nothing to worry about, if anything they were even stronger here and again visible to the naked eye albeit much more muted than the camera view.

I decided to go to the back of the tower in order to face North and have it in shot still, I composed a shot I had done a hundred times before in all weathers and hit the shutter release and waited wondering what I would get to see.

When the shutter finally closed and the image displayed on screen I was blown away, the Aurora Borealis was in full flight with rays snaking through the sky and displaying simply magical colours, although this time there was less green, it was mainly magenta in the sky but I liked it, I liked it a lot.

I felt like I had really nailed something special, one of my favourite places and in the most unusual conditions.

I could have quite happily stopped shooting right then and there but the field was empty and devoid of any photographers so I wasn't going to miss out and started to move around the tower getting different compositions and seeing how far the lights were showing, as it happen they weren't showing in the south now, but very much North to East so I had a pretty good area to go at and include them in the shots.

At this point I was super happy I had purchased the Canon RF 15-35 lens in the F2.8 model, something I wouldn't normally do.

For 95% of my landscape photography I wont shoot below F8, so it made no sense to buy it, the reason I did was when Canon brought out the RF range of lenses the only wide angle lens they launched was the F2.8, I knew in time they would release an F4 version which would have been cheaper & lighter but it simply wasn't showing on their roadmap at the time and I figured it was at least a year away so I bit the bullet and purchased the F2.8 version as I didn't want to be without a wide angle for so long, and I wanted a native lens rather than using the EF mount adaptor and as it turned out it was the right choice as it was well over a year later that the F4 version finally went into production, and now I had the added bonus of another stop of light which was perfect for capturing the Aurora.

Northern lights in Dorset
Northern lights at Horton Tower

The longer I stayed and the further I moved around the more a green/blue colour range came into shot, and whilst I didn't like the compositions as much as the first shots it was giving me a different view of the Northern lights in Dorset so it was worth doing.

I was mesmerised by how the colours and patterns changed so quickly and gave the sky a different look.

Horton tower is an incredibly hard location to shoot if the tower is off centre, it looks like it has been squished down or that its leaning really awkwardly to one side, using an ultra wide lens certainly doesn't help matters with distortion but if you shoot it front on from one of its three faces then it can generally look OK.

I don't like to have the tower dead centre in the frame except for when doing the doorway facing shot, I feel it works there but prefer it off centre for the others.

Im not saying its THE way to do it but its my personal preference.

Northern Lights in Dorset
Front & Centre

I was very happy with the head on image, the exposure was good and it showed a decent enough amount of the northern lights, I still couldn't believe I was seeing them in Dorset.

I moved slightly further around to see if I could include more sky in the shot and started to struggle with the tower angle but think I just about got away with it.

This gave me a clearer view of the green/blue streak of the Aurora running through the sky.

Aurora Borealis Horton Tower
Northern Lights Horton Tower

It's amazing how a short move and angle change can really change the shot and what you see, it cant be underestimated the importance of moving and trying things with conditions like this.

Horton Tower
A small move either side

By now the harsh reality of being up for 24 hours straight and having done 3 am starts, 6 times in a row and having minimum sleep was catching up with me and as much as I wanted to carry on the body just couldn't.

If only there was one last place to go that was close by ?

Well there was, but it was going to be my nightmare, Knowlton church.....

I knew it was going to be busy there but it was now around 3 am and I hoped most people had gone home so as it was close by I thought it cant hurt to just take a look right ?

As soon as I turned into the road it was a scene of absolute carnage and mayhem, cars were parked both sides of the road and almost abandoned, there were people everywhere wandering up and down the road in the pitch black in dark clothing, I had knowingly driven into my own worst nightmare.

As luck would have it someone had just vacated a space right by the gate so I pulled in and looked into the church, there must have been well over 50 people in there all huddled into a spot that wasn't very wide, and as I gasped at the sheer number of people a photographer next to me told me this was nothing, there must have been 100 people plus earlier in the night.

It was literally the last place I wanted to be but I was here so I was going to take a quick picture anyway and then get the hell out of there !.

Usually I like to take my time, work a composition and make the most of it but this really was a point and shoot exercise in one of the few remaining spaces, I realised it wasn't going to be the shot I wanted and my senses were going crazy due to the high volume of people so I just wanted to get out of there.

The pictures were as poor as I expected them to be frankly due to the rushed nature and lack of serious effort on my part but I will put them up anyway just as a record of the night.

Knowlton Church Aurora Borealis
Knowlton Church Aurora Borealis

Northern Lights at Knowlton Church
Northern Lights at Knowlton Church

I couldn't get away from Knowlton fast enough, now it might seem daft to leave with such epic conditions but the whole point of my photography is too enjoy it and that must always been the first focus for me and I simply wasn't enjoying it here so it was time to go after just 2 pictures.

As I drove home almost on autopilot I reflected on the evenings events, I was previously never that bothered in capturing the Northern lights in Dorset and had gone out with not that much enthusiasm, yet I had had one of the best nights of my life and I had seen something that would remain with me forever, it also unlocked a new passion for the night sky and a possible new direction for my photography, it had made me feel alive again and that was a feeling I craved.

I got home and hit the bed and was gone instantly, The following day there was an absolute landslide of Aurora Borealis images on social media and I was so happy that so many photographers got to experience that same high as I had, I was also relieved that so many had captured the sky showing just how vivid the colours were as frankly I didn't think anyone would believe the colours in my images so it was a welcome bonus all round.

The Aurora chatter was relentless the next day and rumours of another showing had fuelled everyones interest again.

Throughout the day the signs were good and it looked like it might happen so I made my way further north on red alert warnings only to arrive at my chosen location to find it had changed to minor alert again.

I decided to hang around and see, after all I was there so why not.

I waited for an hour or so and the red alert warnings came back and the excitement rushed through my veins once again so I got set up and waited, then a large layer of cloud moved in overhead and stayed there, I hoped once it moved it would reveal yet more stunning colours but it just didn't happen, the warnings went back to green and unlikely and eventually I decided to call it a day and head home.

I must have gone past hundreds of people parked up on the roadside with Aurora fever all waiting for a show of the spectacular Northern lights but it simply never happened and a lot of people went home very disappointed having missed out on Fridays showing.

The flip side of one of these events was drilled home to me, go and make the effort cause otherwise you might miss a once in a lifetime event like so many had.

Thank you Dorset and the Aurora Borealis, You made a photographers year. Incredible.

I would urge everyone to try this if they get the chance, I was one who was never really bothered by it but now I have experienced it I am a complete Aurora addict and am glued to predictions and learning more about the night sky.

If you would like to purchase a picture of Dorsets incredible Northern lights then simply click HERE

northern lights in dorset prints
Many other pictures available to buy in my print shop


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Landscape Photography Blog

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