The Aurora
"Wow, I can see the streaks (beams), I can see the streaks of light!!" I was texting anyone who was txting me at the time. Some were in their homes, some were out viewing elsewhere, others out shooting elsewhere. This was the Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights. 
A solar storm, also known as geomagnetic storm, where a Coronal Mass Ejection made our way to Earth. This interacts with the earth’s atmosphere causing the beautiful lights we see as the Aurora.
I had not planned to go out that night, because usually when they forecast for the Aurora, yes in theory you can “see” the Aurora in Auckland but it’s so weak, we are so far up north, and the light pollution here means it is usually only picked up by the camera. But they had forecast to be ultra strong this time around and I decided last minute to get out. I chose Karekare beach out west - trying to get out in a dark spot, have a view of the southwest and hopefully choose a location that wasn’t as popular. Well there were a thousand cars at the carpark already when I turned up, so that was a failure already. 

The Aurora with the beams clearly visible 

The spot is very nice for sure, I have been there many times. And lucky for me I knew the lay of the land in the dark and how to get to the beach. I was perplexed at why the rest of people were on the other side of the stream, but at least that gave me some space and solitude to enjoy, shoot and watch, although that changed later in the night. The other fail came in terms of the weather, every other location in Auckland was crystal clear apart from the west coast! I was getting photos from friends elsewhere in Auckland of clear Auroa filled skies! But this is where I was, so let’s give this a go. 
Immediately there was a glow in the sky as my eyes adjusted and I was texting a friend - “is that the Aurora?” It’s hard to tell in Auckland whether it’s light pollution! When I did a focus check shot straight up in the sky, trying to find a clear patch of sky - it was red! Wow - this thing was strong. So the next objective was to setup a timelapse. I wanted Paratahi Island in the frame, and with the cloud cover it was actually hard to tell where the greatest activity was happening in the sky, so it was a bit of guessing, setting and praying.

Timelapse: Karekare Beach

At around 9pm was that moment - of “Wow I can see the beams!!!” The beams were dancing around, changing brightness - wow!` My experience was more black and white, but I know this is different for different people with different eye sensitivity. I heard friends say that they couldn’t see it with the eyes at all, others say they saw it in full colour! We are all humans and different. Generally though that’s how the rods and cones in our eyes work, at night time - it’s all about sensitivity, so generally your vision is more monochrome. Either ways - I had not seen anything like this before!! Incredible.
My exposure was wrong for sure I was way high on the ISO and way too slow on shutter speed. I had interrupted my timelapse in between to adjust the exposure, though I feel I should have just left it. The white balance was another setting - I usually just leave it on auto, and adjust afterwards. But the camera was just going haywire - from photo to photo the colour cast was varying so much - not something I’ve seen before. But again indicating how much the sky was just lighting up and changing at that time. 

Test shot to get focus - the sky was red!

After that first peak at 9pm, the clouds were coming back. And also were more people - coming on the side of the beach where I was, which is ok - it’s fine. But 10’s of people walking in with their headlamps on full white brightness. Just makes me think of one thing - Yoho!!! Where did all of these Yoho’s coming from?! Haha - those who know the story / joke - will get it! But there is a point here, please please please be considerate of this - the thing that annoys me is not the fact they got their headlamps on - it’s that they are actually ruining the experience for themselves! With the white light on they won’t be see anything in the sky. Turn on your red light instead, it’s actually amazing how much your eyes can adjust to the red light and you can see where you are walking. Either ways this had turned me off and with the clouds coming in. In hindsight I discovered that I should have stayed on and maybe walked down the beach as the clouds cleared later on and another peak had arrived.
Another thing I noticed was the disturbance on our electronics. We all heard the disturbances that would create, although I only realised after the fact, I had set my GPS that evening on my phone. I noticed that it was just slightly out, i.e. it wasn’t picking up when I took the exit on the motorway. In the next few days I heard reports of farm equipment which rely on precision GPS went haywire. I remember reading the story of the Carrington event which happened in 1859 which caused sparks and fires in telegraph stations. 
So there was many learning for me from this experience, not only photography wise - technical settings, But also the planning and patience. The experience was surreal though. And the one thing I didn’t think was the first time I would see the Aurora would be right in my backyard in Auckland. Expect the unexpected!
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