How to see the Northern Lights in the Western Isles.

Hello and welcome to this blog post a guide to see the Northern lights in the Western Isles. Last night the 23rd September 2020 we had a nice early season Northern Lights.

This image was taken by Croft One

Image may contain: sky, night, nature, outdoor and water
Aurora tonight 23 September 2020. Loch Erisort, South Lochs, Isle of Lewis.

6 shot panorama f1.4 | ISO 3200 | 5s | 50mm Samyang AF

There is chance of the Northern lights being visible again this evening.

So how do I capture the Northern lights?

Glendale Skye has a great explanation on there website on how to capture the Northern Lights.

The link to there website is here and they have more tips https://aurora-alerts.uk/faqs.php?fbclid=IwAR2ZqVmdMYFIFZD56MSmwGWBFfjmifYtRCg3LJd03qoHODXbieIRsqfej6I

This is the top tips.

What settings do you use on your camera?

These are the settings I use for my test photos, with some recommendations alongside:

  • Switch the camera to ‘M’ or Manual.
  • Switch the lense to manual (If you don’t the camera will refuse to take a photo).
  • Focus manually at infinity (if you don’t the photos will be blurred).
  • ISO 6400 to 1600 (to start with but see tips below).
  • F4 (or lower, the wider the aperture the better).
  • 10mm-28mm (as wide an angle as possible, zooming on budget lenses will close up the aperture).
  • 20-30s shutter speed.
  • The normal settings I use on a full-frame camera are ISO 6400 F2.8 20s 28mm.
  • Auto White-Balance (never use any other types, especially not ‘tungsten’).
  • Use the 2s or 10s delay timer on the camera to open the shutter.
  • Use a tripod, wall or fence post (I use the bird table).
  • Never use a flash (make sure it is disabled).
  • Remove all filters
  • Shoot in RAW or RAW+JPEG.
  • Turn down the LCD brightness on your camera to almost as low as it will go (No. 2 on my Canon 70D). Otherwise, you will under-expose your pics.

Smart phones

Many smart phones can now also capture the Northern Lights but you also need a tripod. This link explains how to capture it with a smart phone

https://grayline.is/blog/photographing-northern-lights-your-smartphone#:~:text=Don’t%20listen%20to%20anyone,just%20be%20your%20best%20bet!

Can I see it with my own eyes?

Yes you can. Most of the time not as vivid as people get it with there cameras but it is visible with naked eye at times.

In 2016 went to tolsta to see it and ended up seeing nothing drove back home and just as I got home it burst into life and I could see the greens. Other times in recent years I have seen the faint Northern Lights. The greys and whites in colour. More on how to see it with the naked eye below….

There has been a couple of rare events where more then green is visible with reds and even purples. I missed one of these events a few years back because I sent 3 hours in the cinema and had no idea what was happening…

This image taken by Callanish Digital Design

Image may contain: people standing, sky, grass, night, outdoor and nature
Callanish standing stones

How do I find out if it is going to happen?

I get my alerts from Aurora Watch UK based in Lancashire https://aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/alerts/

I use there smart phone app for updates and they have a alert system which I have posted below

There is also a Northern lights facebook group for the Western Isles.

They also regularly update on the chances of seeing the Northern Lights Aurora Watch Western Isles

Other locations that post about it are many of the photographers that have been listed on this page. Alongside BBC Weather and the Met Office who can report if there is likely to be active.

This image from Impact Imagz

Image may contain: night, outdoor, nature and water
Inside The Emerald Cave â€” at Garry Beach.

So what are the best locations and conditions to see the Northern lights?

So ideally you need clear skies ( I know stop laughing, it does happen sometimes). You also need to be away from light pollution something we are lucky not to have a lot of here in the Western Isles. You also really need a clear view north.

This a none exhaustive list of some good locations. If you have any good location to add feel free to message and I will add.

Isle of Lewis

The braighe can offer excellent views and I have seen it visible over the airport in the past.

Ness – Is another popular location for seeing the Northern lights and is the Northern most point in our islands.

This image from Dell-licious-Ness. Cakes & Photography

Image may contain: night, sky, outdoor and nature

Tiumpan Head Lighthouse – I have seen it at the lighthouse however it can often be spoiled by the light from the lighthouse. But it does prove a high vantage point.

Isle of Harris

Seilebost often proves a popular location – image from Eunice Clarke‎

Image may contain: sky, night, nature and outdoor

Northern Lights on Harris, looking towards Taransay.

Image taken by Dudley Williams‎

No photo description available.

North Uist

This image from Jmacletchiephotography

Image may contain: night, sky, outdoor and nature

Benbecula

Image from IAMPhotography

Image may contain: night and sky

South Uist

Image from DaliMach Storm-Pod

Image may contain: night, sky and outdoor
Daliburgh, Isle of South Uist

Isle of Barra

Image from 58º North Photography

Fujfilm X-T1, 16-55 mm f/2.8 lens. f/2.8, 10 seconds, ISO 1600. Copyright © 58º North Photography 2016,

We are utterly spoiled by the many talented photographers on these islands and a big thank you to them for giving me permission to use there photos. All photos have been credited to the respective owners.

Featured photo for the blog by Impact Imagz

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. It will be a constantly evolving and updating blog and again if you had any good location to see the lights that you are willing to share.

image from Colin Cameron ~ photography

No photo description available.

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