Most of us know of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, but did you know that the Southern Hemisphere has its own natural light show? Photographer Dan Zafra of Capture the Atlas traveled to southern New Zealand, where he was able to photograph the Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights. While not as widely known as its northern companion, the Southern Lights put on just as good a display.
While photographing the Northern Lights is already tricky, requiring advanced planning and some luck, getting the Southern Lights on camera is even more difficult. Zafra outlined all the challenges that he faced when thinking about how to view this aurora and capture it on film.
“Realistically, you can only photograph them in Southern New Zealand/Australia,” he shared, noting that it's also possible in Antarctica. But as only scientists can winter there, that location is out of the question.
“The second challenge is the solar activity; you need a really strong show to have the opportunity to see them. The third part is location. Unlike the Northern Lights, which ‘dance' across the entire sky on big shows, the Aurora Australis is limited to the South and lower in the horizon, so any location blocked by mountains will prevent you from seeing it.”
And, of course, the weather also needs to cooperate. As Zafra hunkered down in Dunedin, which is located on New Zealand's South Island, there were several days when the solar activity was either too weak or cloud cover was too strong to get any good photos.
Luckily, Zafra's luck then turned around after he decided to drive a few hours to the Eastern Coast, where the weather was better. His gamble paid off, and he was awarded three consecutive days of spectacular auroras. Given that the light show was sandwiched between astronomical twilight and sunrise, he had just a few minutes to get a few good shots in before the colorful lights disappeared.
“It might not be my best Aurora image,” he confesses, “but it is definitely one of the most specials I have ever captured.”
On a recent trip to New Zealand, photographer Dan Zafra had a chance to capture images of the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights.