NiSi Star Soft Filter with UK’s Northern Lights Show

On Friday 10th May, the UK witnessed one of the strongest aurora displays recorded since 2003 and earlier records dating back as far as 1935. On this night, Award-Winning Landscape Astrophotographer, Josh Dury took to the skies with his NiSi Star Soft Filter in the attempts of capturing one of the most spectacular light-shows in decades.

Josh writes: “Strange things were happening with the Sun on the build-up to this event. There was a MASSIVE sunspot group visible, known astronomically as AR3664. In fact it was so big, it was visible using solar eclipse glasses (to the unaided eye) on a clear day. To think, the sheer scale of this sunspot group was immense in relation to the Earth. During this period, the Sun released a large quantity of M and X-Class Flares. X-Class are some of the biggest flares the Sun can produce. This in turn collided into one massive solar wind storm, known as a Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s) formed of electrically charged particles. When some of these particles enter through to the Earth’s magnetic field, they interact with the Earth’s poles colliding with atoms and molecules; producing energy released in the form of light. Different gases produce different colours with oxygen being emitted as red light and Nitrogen and green and purple.The pillars and wavy lines produced by the activity of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Left, Sunspot AR3664, 16x wider than Earth | Right, Carrington event from 1859 vs AR3664

On this night, the predictions were looking good and so for that, I decided to capture the aurora from the castle ruins of Corfe Castle in Dorset. A popular photography hot-spot, but a dream and that is why I wanted to photograph it from there. It was one of those rare occurrences that the UK was surrounded by high-pressure and thus clear skies. What were the chances? This was an event that would be shared by many and went well into the night. To see the sunset and then, the sun rise. It may have meant burning the candle at both ends, but man wasn’t it worth it! During the night, Josh travelled to other photography locations during that night, including Knowlton Henge in Dorset and Cranborne Chase AONB. What came as a shock to Josh was, after talking with fellow photographers, a head count was done and over 100 Photographers had homed in on Knowlton Henge that night!?! It was INSANE!

The numbers of those wishing to capture this monumental event. It was also such a joy to share the experience with like-minded people. Using NiSi’s Star Soft Filter, that enable me to enhance the stars in the sky with a glowing effect. I was shooting in conjunction with Sigma’s latest lens, the 15mm F/1.4 Diagonal Fisheye. I needed to shoot with this lens because of the sheer-scale of the aurora and this was my only chance to capture the scene within the frame. Being a newer lens, I had to use the filter hand-held with my trusty Sony A7S II. This was shot in conjunction with the Benro Tortoise 24CLV and Geared Head. I like a good challenge and this one sure was. Because I was shooting at such an extraordinary field of view, I needed to expose the filter in such a way that the filter did not obstruct the images, whilst stitching together panoramas at this scale was no easy task.

Like many others, I was absolutely outstanded with what was about to unfold next. Never before have I seen a display from the UK from such a perspective that the aurora could be seen directly overhead. Pillars emanating from the northern horizon giving off both light and colour which could be observed to the unaided eye; illuminating the ground. In most of my photographic attempts, the aurora has normally only been visible to camera and to see this on this night, I knew this would be something very special and an event that would potentially be a once in a lifetime for most. An emotional one for sure. There are chances for upcoming opportunities for the northern lights being visible form the UK, but visible on this scale during the Sun’s 11-year life-cycle is questionable. To see the statistics, graphs, models, the UK completely covered by the auroral sphere was nothing short of phenomenal. These images stand as a lasting legacy for one of the best nights in Astronomy for quite some time in bringing a community together.

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