As well as providing plenty of quality time with the family, my recent break at Haven in Pwllheli offered a rare chance to shoot from a reasonably good ‘dark sky’ location and as such I couldn’t resist sneaking out in the ‘small hours’ to capture some images.
Although pretty crowded in the day thanks to a superb run of sunny weather, Hafan Y Mor main beach was deserted after midnight and therefore offered a reasonably safe location to shoot from. I did keep a check on tide times carefully though and was careful on the beach itself, not venturing too far from the high tide line or entry ramp. Luckily though there were some really photogenic wooden posts right there and I used these in quite a few shots. This beach has a stunning outlook with the mountains of southern Snowdonia visible on the horizon, along with Criccieth Castle perched on it’s rocky outcrop. I’ve shot Criccieth before actually and it was really interesting to see it now from the ‘other side’ as it were.
After recovering from a shoot in the early hours of the second day of the holiday (images due soon) I was beside myself to learn that Noctilucent Clouds were being reported via a thread on the UK Weather World forums and these were to be the main target of this shoot. In case you didn’t know, NLCs are formed from meteor dust and occur up to 80km high in the Earth’s mesosphere. When the sun is below the horizon after sunset, or before dawn, these clouds can be lit up from underneath and glow a stunning, ghostly electric blue in the night sky – hence their alternative name of ‘Night Shining Clouds’. Although they only occur for a brief window during the Northern Summer, I’ve seen them before (back in 2009). They are so amazing though, I’m always on the lookout for them.
So, waking myself up at 1am on the final morning I checked my mobile and immediately sat bolt upright… NLCs had been sighted just 30 minutes ago from the Isle of Mann! With my kit already prepped and ready to go, 10 minutes later I had sneaked out of the caravan (leaving my wife and kids sleeping safely) and headed to the beach. On site I was greeted by the heart-stopping sight of tendrils of electric blue reaching into the sky from the North – what an amazing feeling! From then until around 0300hrs I took around 100 images using the Canon 5D mkII with various lenses and techniques. For the wide angle and medium telephoto shots I used a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS USM, while the long range telephoto capture necessitated the use of a Sigma 100 – 300mm. For these long exposures a steady support was essential of course and for this I used a Manfrotto 725B with ball head. Focussing was achieved by calculating hyperfocal distance as the viewfinder was way too dark – and I used a remote shutter release and mirror lock-up to prevent any camera shake. I also used a flashlight app on my mobile to ‘paint’ the foreground for the wide-angle image but kept this quite subtle to avoid distracting from the NLC display on the horizon. I made a mental note to bring a plastic sheet for any future shoots of this kind to provide somewhere to lie on for prone shots, and to provide a place for equipment to be placed while swapping lenses etc.
So, with dawn approaching, a memory card full of images, and the fatigue and cold creeping-in, I reluctantly decided to head back to try to grab a couple more hours of sleep before the kids woke up. Very tiring but what a blessing to end a lovely week!
Keep an eye out for some more images from my earlier shoot shortly, including a stunning crescent moonrise at sunrise and some panoramic stitches from this location.