Tunnel Beach, New Zealand aurora - Alaric McCarthy

Southern Lights over Dunedin, New Zealand

Southern Lights over Dunedin, New Zealand
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5 Comments | Report
bartwebb June 27, 2015
This is awesome!!!!love this photo!!thanks for sharing.
TreKKer_boy_PraSaD June 27, 2015
Love d colours
StepIntoTheWoods June 30, 2015
Excellent Milky Way aurora, and foreground. Welcome to viewbug.
Alfredo_Jose PRO+
Alfredo_Jose August 09, 2017
Stunning capture!
Alaric_McCarthy August 09, 2017
Thanks for stopping by.
Gacad August 28, 2017
Its incredible the shots you can get around dunedin
Alaric_McCarthy August 29, 2017
It's a photographers dream location I reckon. Half an hour drive to dark skies and diverse coastlines. Shame I don't live there anymore!

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Behind The Lens

Looking out at the cold waters of the Southern Pacific Ocean, this photo was captured at Tunnel Beach, near Dunedin, New Zealand.
Dunedin was just pushing into it's winter months and the nights were growing crisp and clear. We had had a bit of aurora activity over the past month, and after eyeballing another cloudless sky, a friend and I decided to drive straight from work and test our luck (I often have my camera gear tucked away in my office just in case). Tunnel beach is located half an hour outside of Dunedin and requires a small downhill trek to reach it. By the time we were all set up and in position it was just after sunset. I knew that I only had a window of an hour or so for the Milky Way band to sit directly over the headland (thanks to Stallerium). What we got was much more.
Nature provided all the lighting we needed. As we trekked down to our position we could see faint red and green hues on the horizon. We initially brushed it off as light pollution from the nearby city. Using a head torch and gentle foot work I found a suitable position for a test shot - a foot away from the sheer cliff edge. I set up the shot with the idea of positioning the headland near the centre of the frame and capturing the Milky Way band shooting out above. The first test shot revealed a brilliant aurora to the right of the frame. What a find! I immediately re-positioned the shot watched as my eyes adjusted and the night grew darker - revealing soft pillars of white, green and red aurora streaks visible to the naked eye.
I used my trusty full framed Canon 6D camera and Samyang 14mm f2.8 lens. The lens is a relatively cheap manual lens that gives real bang for its buck. I find this combination draws in a lot of light with minimal noise. I had that setup mounted on a sturdy tripod. Luckily it was a fairly windless night, so I didn't have much need to weigh down the gear. I didn't have a remote shutter on me, so I just set the camera to a two-second delay before taking each shot to minimize camera shake. I used a long exposure shot (f 2.8, ISO 10000, 30 seconds) to draw out as much detail in both the milky way and aurora as I could in a single shot.
I had always wanted to see the Southern lights and until that day, I hadn't. The idea of not only seeing them, but capturing them was too good to pass up. I love taking photos of the Milky Way and using interesting foregrounds to complement the stars but hadn't captured an aurora until stumbling across one that night.
Post-processing was kept to a minimum for this shot. The long exposure was fortunately able to draw out most of the detail in the sky. The foreground, however, was fairly dark. Using lightroom I manually brightened the headland using the brush tools by upping the shadows and slightly increasing the clarity for texture. I used the same brush to reduce foreground noise. I used lightroom to also bring out a little more detail in the Milky Way, by darkening the 'shadow' areas and slightly increasing clarity and contrast. The orange glow was caused by the light pollution from the nearby city (to the left), so I decided to bring that colour out a bit more. My few attempts to bring more colour or detail out in the aurora only resulted in an artificial looking sky, so I decided to leave the aurora as it was shot.
In my camera bag
I own an ugly (but practical) backpack that I keep within arms reach almost every day. Within my backpack I keep my camera body and a couple of 'essential' lenses for everyday photography and landscape opportunities. These include the Samyang 14mm f2.8 lens, a Tamron 24-70 f2.8 IS lens, and a canon 50mm 1.2 lens. I also carry around a 3 stop grad filter and a 10 stop black filter for super-long exposure shots and a remote shutter. I find the combination of 24-70mm and 50mm the best for travel photography. I can capture most scenes with the versatile 24-70mm and the 50mm is amazing for portrait and intimate settings. For the sake of weight, I don't like travelling overseas with more than two lenses.
Plan your landscape photography ahead of time. Sometimes you get lucky and are able to capture amazing landscape scenes on the fly, but more often than not, a bit of planning goes a long way. New Zealand has an amazing and diverse coastline. Knowing where the sun, moon and stars will be on any given night will greatly enhance your chances of capturing the shot you want. New Zealand (particularly the South Island) landscapes can change dramatically with seasons - you can take several unique shots of the same scene with enough planning. I usually consult a few trusty applications before I head out for a shoot - these include The Photographers Ephemeris and Stallerium. From these I can gauge moon-phases, sun-phases and the relative position of milky way over any point at almost any given time. Finally, enjoy the moment. Taking these photos is much more rewarding if you really take in the beauty of the night sky. The more you enjoy the night environment, the more you're likely to head out and explore new places and better your photography will naturally become.

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