Another failed hunt for Northern Lights

A large solar flare resulted in a slight possibility of the Northern Lights being visible over Northern England.  We set out for some hills near Blackburn to find a high vantage point with minimal light pollution, in the hope of catching the plasma display.

Cloud cover (predictably) prevented this, but it was an entertaining trip and not a total loss on the photography front:


I was even tempted to get myself in a picture for once:


Unfortunately, Blackburn is not one of the classier areas of the North – these nice astro-photography sites also seem to double as dogging/affair sites, so most pictures were interrupted by car lights and what not…  This provided its own amusement though – when people asked us what we were doing (bear in mind we were carrying cameras), I told them that we were “paparazzi on vacation”.  This got them to pack up and leave pretty quickly 🙂

Wideangle practice before a trip to Iceland

I managed to do one exposure before the rain abruptly ended my walk through Fulwood:

Wideangle test in Fulwood, Lancashire

Wideangle test in Fulwood, Lancashire

The only correction that this has received is: noise reduction (it was shot at ISO1600), cropping, and a yellow-to-green hue shift to remove the orange “street-light” tint on the foliage.  I have returned more Sigma lenses than I have kept, however this little Sigma is a joy to use, and can happily join my other Sigma, a 150-500mm superzoom.  This little ultra-wide and my 35 f/1.8 Nikkor will be a dream-team during my coming trip to Iceland!

CAUTION: Equipment-related rant below

I spend months trying to decide between the fast, well-built Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 ultra-wideangle lenses.  The Nikon is expensive and a tad lacking in sharpness, while the Tokina has horrible chromatic aberration in the corners/edges.  Days before I was due to buy one of these, a friend and very good photographer suggested that I consider the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6.  I had previously written off Sigma’s wideangles after trying the terrible 10-20mm f/3.5 and 8-16mm, but he is a good photographer and knows his stuff so I tried one and was very impressed with the results.

As the cheapest ultra-wideangle lens available with Nikon mount, it is also the best all-rounder.  The only things that I can fault it for are that it had a noticeable (but correctable) bit of distortion and that it doesn’t go even wider!  The f/4 speed (or lack thereof) doesn’t really matter with an ultra-wide since a five-second hand-held exposure is practical and easily possible at 10mm.

A 1/30 second exposure handheld is damn near impossible in a 90mph Icelandic wind!