A gentle aurora by a tranquil ocean

One of the many charms of being at Northern Ireland's North Coast is being humbled on a stormy day, when the majestic waves of the Atlantic Ocean relentlessly pound against the age-old basaltic ragged rocks of the cliffs that abound here. The sounds, the sights, the sheer scale of it all are overwhelming and inspirational.

But, at other times, the shores beside this vast ocean are as quiet as a gentle lake, the crashing waves reduced to spilling breakers, gently caressing the rocks that their forebears had dislodged from the proud cliffs behind. At times like this the coast has a different kind of inspiration - a more tranquil one, where the gentle lapping of the waves invites you to breathe slowly in rhythm with them. An inspiration that brings peace to the soul.

Last night was one such night. And the peace of the ocean was matched by a starlit sky that sparkled with light. I headed for Dunluce, meeting up with fellow landscape photographer Chris Ibbottson who was already there shooting a star trails time lapse. As he was there too, I headed down the grassy slippery slope beside the castle to the rocky foreshore (not something I'd recommend doing alone. It's slippery down there and, in the dark, if you fall, it could be a bit on the dangerous side!) After chatting with Chris for a bit, I set up my camera for a quick test shot to see if anything was happening along the northern horizon - and lo and behold, there was a very faint slight green tinge showing on camera. I showed the shot to Chris (who, in the middle of shooting his time lapse couldn't move his camera).

As the aurora stats weren't amazing, I wasn't sure if it would amount to anything much.  But I decided to leave Chris to his time lapse and head just a few metres away to the shore.  I picked my way carefully over the stones to a rock pool. Not too far away, the ocean gently lapped in, creating a gentle white noise that echoed all around the bay. The night was unusually balmy for mid September, and there was barely a whisper of a wind. This was going to be a wonderfully peaceful night, even if there wasn't much of an aurora show.

I set my camera up and took a test shot. There was absolutely nothing visible to the naked eye, no light enhancement along the horizon. But the camera was picking up a faint green band up to about 10 degrees above the horizon. 

The aurora begins to show...

Some thin, low cloud was obscuring the sky a bit, and the conditions were becoming increasingly hazy, so I wasn't expecting to capture much on camera. But I knew simply the experience of being here was doing me good, so Iooked forward t the next couple of hours enjoying the whole thing.

I kept myself busy shooting a series of panoramas - my location was giving me a new take on Dunluce Castle, and I was trying to make the most of it.

A 6 shot panoramic - with the aurora building in the background.

As time passed by, the green on camera seemed to be getting stronger. Still nothing visible to the naked eye, but perhaps I was going to be able to get some decent aurora photos after all. 

The aurora continued to intensify slightly as the night progressed.

And, to make matters better, the cloud and haze began to clear. The starry sky revealed above was wonderful, and the swathe of the Milky Way was draped directly overhead, gloriously bright above us. 

The Milky Way rising above Dunluce Castle. Click on this image to view it all in one screen.

In the stillness of the night, there was barely a ripple in the rock pool in front of me. It was so undisturbed that the stars themselves seemed to have taken up residence there. In particular, the characteristic shape of the Plough was so clear - the stars in the pool shimmering a mirrored reflection of their cousins still hanging about in the sky above. 

The Plough reflects in the rock pool. Click on this image to view it all in one screen.

By now, the aurora had built nicley and was now beginning to be just about visible to the naked eye. Still no colour, but a clear enhancement of the sky low to the horizon. The camera was picking up a clear green band with faint hints of structure poking up from time to time. I shot one or two more panoramic shots.

Eventually, much as I was enjoying the tranquility of this time and place, bed was calling. Around 1.00 am or so, I headed back over to Chris who was coming to the end of his epic time lapse shoot. After a quick chat I headed back up the slippery grass slope, up the very large number of steps back up to the top of the Castle. Ah, but there was just time to squeeze in one or two more shots at the top. The aurora show was still very faint, but the green band was still coming through very nicely.

Click on this image to view it all in one screen.

It wasn't a night where the battering of the coast line and the roar of the waves washes away the tiredness of the soul. Rather, the gentle aurora and the tranquil ocean soothed away the stresses of the week. I headed home, tired but refreshed by the whole experience.