Seeing the Northern Lights in the flesh is on many people’s bucket lists. They ask questions like “Where can you see the Northern Lights?”, but what a lot of people don’t know is that you can spot the Aurora Borealis from most of the UK. The hard part is knowing how.
Contrary to popular belief, I’m not actually an idiot. I am well aware that the picture above is not of the Northern Lights, but actually the light pollution from a nearby town. A large portion of the UK will have this issue. If you live near a city, you have no chance, and as you would expect, the further north you venture the more likely you are to spot them.
The thing is, you can’t just decide “oh, I’m going to go search for the Northern Lights tonight”. They aren’t permanently visible and require geomagnetic activity to “appear” so to speak. Now you and I probably can’t go around detecting geomagnetic activity too easily, which is where the awesome guys over at AuroraWatch come into play.
I would suggest following them on Twitter, to keep up to date with whats going on in the world of aurora. Heck, you can even get automated responses when the Northern Lights are likely to be visible in the UK. If you’re planning a trip and want to know the best place to see the Northern Lights in the UK, I would suggest heading to Scotland.
Equipped with your newfound knowledge that the Northern Lights will rock up to the party, you’re all set, right? This is where you start to run into the same issues that I did.
Clouds. I bloody hate clouds. After I made the journey up to the Peak District (having heard a rumour that the Northern Lights were visible there) I found myself stuck in the middle of a pretty thick fog. Now I have no idea how to get around the Peak District, and my lovely SatNav decided it wouldn’t help me find higher ground. Which kind of ruined everything.
Before you set out, make sure you know of a really super awesome vantage point where you can potentially get above any clouds and give yourself a clear view of the sky.
The next point. The Northern Lights, as the name indicates, are seen to the NORTH. Make sure you know which way that is. If you need to bring a compass along, do so. If you have GPS and a smart phone you might be able to get a rough indication using that.
The further from civilization you venture, the better your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, but keep in mind that it will be pitch black out there. It took a huge long exposure for me to get anything in these next pictures, but take a look and I’ll explain my final point.
Now it’s pretty obvious that the second picture is might brighter than the first. This is the result of my excessive editing in Photoshop, certainly not ideal. My vision at the time was closer to the first image, but not nearly as “bright”.
There is a good chance that your eyesight won’t pick up the Northern Lights, but your camera will. Don’t forget to take your tripod to your vantage point, look to the north and see what you can pick up.
When you finally get that amazing picture, share it with the world. A good place to start is the AuroraWatch Flickr page, where a bunch of great photographers have already left their Northern Lights experiences, and you can see just how many are from various locations around the UK.
Now go and cross the Northern Lights from your bucket list, happy hunting!