Hunting for the Aurora Australis

Hunting for the Aurora Australis

Recently I did something I had never done before: the Southern Dawn. It’s Similar to the Aurora Borealis, But It Happens Down Under! Not normally visible to the naked eye, usually captured on camera. We had a large coronal ejection and solar flares this week that caused the aurora to light up. Apparently the peak was around 5am yesterday (I slept soundly), but we went out to capture it last week.

Aurora Australis from Flinders


We went to the southernmost tip of mainland Australia (Victoria), the closest to where we live. Flinders. Although we could have gone to different locations around the Mornington Peninsula. We have to go south to see the action, but we also wanted to be as far away from light pollution as possible. We stayed here for a few hours and then moved to another place much further away. We had an interesting foreground with the old Kilcunda Bridge, but the Aurora was washed out and we had a lot of light pollution.

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Aurora Australis from Flinders


We left at sunset (also missed a great sunset), we wanted to get to our location just after blue hour when it was dark. Our first location had too many lights, so we headed up the coast to Flinders Lookout. We found MANY people there capturing the aurora with varying degrees of success. So we packed our stuff and set up too.

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Aurora Australis from Kilcunda


My use Sony 16-35mm lens at my Sony A7RIII on a tripod. I shot at ISO 3200, f/4.0 (minimum does my lens at 16mm), 20 second shutter speed. After seeing what we were capturing, a few others asked for help and a mini photography lesson ensued (I’m always in lesson mode). So many happy beginners taking great photos.

The core of Flinders
The core of Flinders


I had never tried to photograph an aurora. I’ve photographed the night sky before, but I never seem to be in the right place at the right time. Add to that the fact that it usually happens in the wee hours of the morning, while I’m sleeping. And for some weird reason, midweek! Fate matched that night, with mild temperatures after a beautiful fall day. No clouds and the Aurora happens at 7pm. The next day was a public holiday, so I could sleep in. Like I said, fate.

Post-processing in Lightroom
Post-processing in Lightroom


Are these the most amazing photos of the Aurora Australis? Probably not. Did I have the most amazing location? Probably not. Were my settings as good as they could be? I think I got it right the first time. Was my focus on point? Unfortunately not. I can shoot in the dark with my Sony, but it’s extremely difficult to focus on anything!

So post-processing? Increased the contrast, shadows and whites. Drop the highlights and blacks a bit. Increased the vibrance just a little bit and then ran through Denoise in Lightroom. That new feature works pretty well.

Slightly fading Aurora from Flinders
Slightly fading aurora from Flinders

So why am I sharing all this?

I believe there is always an opportunity to learn. Trying something new and being out of our element is fun and exciting and honestly I was quite happy with my photos.