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Aurora australis: Where to view the southern lights and how to photograph them

By Sophie Colvin, Friday June 14, 2019 - 06:51 EST
ABC image
The southern lights on full display south of Hobart in Tasmania. - ABC

If you've spent any time at all on a social media, chances are you've stumbled across some serious #TravelInspo in the form of swaths of ethereal-looking green and pink lights in the night sky.

While the northern hemisphere — we're looking at you, Iceland, Norway and friends — may have a monopoly on the northern lights, there is no need to travel all that way if seeing the aurora phenomena is on your bucket list.

We have the southern lights, otherwise known as aurora australis, right here in our own backyard.

For the weather uninitiated, ABC Weather reporter Kate Doyle said the process could be compared to that used in neon lighting.

"The sun excites atoms of gas in the same way electricity is used to excite the atoms of gas in a neon tube," she said.

"When the excited atoms come back down to earth, as it were, they release their energy in the form of mesmerising light.

"You could say the aurora occurs when the sun gets excited and busts out the party lights."

Experiment, adjust and enjoy

We asked our audience to share some of the places they have captured aurora australis.

And while the lights are most visible and occur more regularly the further south you go, sightings are not limited to Tasmania.

To photograph aurora australis there are a few things you will need:
A clear night — the Bureau of Meteorology providing aurora predictions
Set up in a position looking south and away from city lights to avoid light pollution and flare
A tripod, camera, and wide-angle lens (ideally f2.8 or faster)

To increase your chances of capturing the aurora australis in all its glory:
Use a remote trigger with mirror lock to reduce camera shake — if you do not have a remote try using a timer on your camera
Shoot in raw format for better quality photos
Turn your manual focus to infinity — test this on a clear, non-aurora night to avoid disappointment
Set your ISO from 1,600 to 3,200 or greater if your camera has the capability
Set your exposure from 10 to 30 seconds — longer exposures will start to show stars as trails rather than dots

Keep in mind all of these settings will depend on the brightness of the aurora, so experiment, adjust, and enjoy the magic.

Bruny Island, Tasmania

Tasmanian photographer, Luke Tscharke, has been taking regular snaps of the state's solar activity from Bruny Island, less than an hour's drive south of Hobart.

"The clearest air in the world also provides for some of the clearest skies, and when the clouds stay away it provides an unobstructed view into the cosmos," he said.

"There is little that can compare to nights such as these."

Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

In the heart of Tasmania's wilderness and far from any light pollution, Cradle Mountain made an incredible backdrop when Jai Moyle captured an aurora.

"Never will I see a night like this again," he said.

Breamlea, Victoria

Surrounding light pollution, and its more northerly location, can make it harder to see the aurora australis in areas like Breamlea in Victoria, but if there is enough cosmic activity and the aurora is big enough, you might just be in luck.

Augusta, Western Australia

Michelle Peak spotted aurora australis from Augusta in the far south-west of Western Australia in 2015.

"The first time I saw it it changed my whole outlook on life," she said.

"I have been chasing those amazing southern lights ever since."

Have you captured the southern lights? or by using the hashtag #ABCmyphoto on Instagram.


© ABC 2019

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