Playing the odds and Brian Cox's hair

There is something about being human that seems to prompt us towards playing the odds. Whether it's the gambling industry in Las Vegas or simply all those thousands who, week by week, fill in their numbers in case this time it could be them. 

I've never been to Las Vegas; I've never even once played the National Lottery. But I suppose my version of playing the odds comes in the form of landscape photography. It's often said that this style of photography is all about chasing the light - and that in itself is a bit of a lottery. Even in days that appear promising, you just never quite know if the light will co-operate and bathe the landscape in glorious tones or if it will be just another dull disappointment. For me, the not-being-quite-sure is part of the charm; it helps make those moments when you do get the shot all the sweeter

But if landscape photography can feel like a lottery, this pales into insignificance next to chasing that most elusive of light shows: the aurora borealis. Many of us in Northern Ireland experienced just that feeling last Thursday. The forecast had been so promising - a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) was put out by the sun on Tuesday and it featured in dramatic style on Star Gazing Live on BBC with Prof Brian Cox. Signs were looking good for a stunning return of the Northern Lights to the north coast on Thursday.

Many of us were hooked. We checked the weather forecast - cloud was due to arrive in from the west by about 9.00pm so we needed the light show to get well under way before then. We followed the aurora forecast hour by hour, getting the latest updates on its arrival time. Some forecasts said it should be there in the wee small hours of Thursday morning. It didn't arrive. Others said by 7.00am on Thursday. It was late for this too. As the day passed, it seemed less and less likely that anything would happen. But, you just never know with the aurora, and it seems that none of us wanted to cry off just in case we missed the show of a life time. Anyway, Prof Brian Cox showed us the pictures of the CME - how could someone with such good hair possibly be wrong...?

I myself headed up to the Causeway in expectation. Many others filled the car parks of the north coast in anticipation. We all turned our gaze to the north, straining to see in the darkness of the horizon if anything would make an appearance.

But nothing did. We played the odds - and the aurora won!

Mind you, the night was far from a waste photographically. The glorious silvery moon light and the cloud-streaked starry skies made for some very pleasing shots to head home with, so in another sense I won.

My hope is that, for all of you for whom this was your first aurora chase, you will not be too disappointed at the no show, but rather that you will have got a taste for the thrill of the chase. It took me a year of solid chasing before I happened to be at the right place at the right time. So stick at it - I promise you that the reward of seeing your first aurora will make all the evenings of disappointment pale away.

So how do you stack the odds of aurora chasing in your favour? One word: tenacity. Keep playing the odds and one day you'll make your own luck.

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