Photography at Night

As well as the many daytime attractions offered there are plenty of opportunities to go star gazing in many interesting places both locally and a little further afield.

Longview House itself being out in the country offers fine dark skies barely intruded upon by the “Bright Lights” of nearby Ballymoney to the north.

The International Space Station

Depending on time of year The International Space Station can put in an appearance in the evening after sunset, or in the morning for early risers. These apparitions can last a few days to a couple of weeks before orbital mechanics carry the northernmost arc of its orbit into the daylight hours where it would be invisible to observers. There are numerous websites devoted to predicting when and where the ISS will be visible, such as www.heavens-above.com and not least NASA’s own https://spotthestation.nasa.gov

Photographing the ISS is relatively simple requiring a camera that can be set for long exposures up to thirty seconds and a tripod to keep it stable. If a tripod is not available the camera can be set on a table, wall or anything steady where the field of view covers the part of the sky the Station passes through. Also some means of triggering the shutter remotely reduces camera shake. Some cameras offer a “count-down” timer if remote operation is not possible. The long exposures draw the point of light into a long “streak” on the images, and anything up to thirty seconds prevents the background stars becoming streaks themselves as the Earth’s rotation carries them across the sky.

Northern Lights

During the autumn, winter and early spring months there is a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis or “Northern Lights”. These will be best seen from the north coast as they tend to hug the northern horizon. Auroras depend very much on what is going on in our local star, the Sun as they are created by streams of charged particles from the Sun being funnelled into the upper reaches of our atmosphere by the Earth’s magnetic field near the northern and southern magnetic poles.

There is a greater chance of seeing auroras during the more active periods of solar activity which is marked by an increase in sunspot numbers and giant eruptions known as “Coronal Mass Ejections” or “CMEs” (though these latter are not necessarily limited to solar maximum periods.)

Noctilucent

Late spring and early summer occasionally bring noctilucent or “night shining” clouds. These appear at the edge of space some fifty miles above polar regions and can be described as “frozen meteor smoke”. These pearlescent electric blue clouds are illuminated by the Sun below the horizon half an hour after it sets or before it rises, and around the summer solstice might be visible all night long.

They appear as thin rippled layers and streamers and are easily differentiated from the darker lower altitude clouds.

Taking photos of the aurora and noctilucent clouds uses a similar technique to shooting the ISS with ten to thirty second exposures, depending on the brightness and how fast the auroras are moving. If it is moving too fast a long exposure will smear the lights in the final image. If your camera has manual settings for the f-stop or aperture, the lower the number the wider the aperture and the ISO this will be an advantage. Composing your photo is helped by having lots of interesting landmarks to include in the foreground of your shots, and there are no shortage of these on the north coast!

Popular scene setters are:

The sculpture of Manannan mac Lir, (“son of the sea”) a warrior and king of the Otherworld in Celtic mythology at Gortmore on Bishop’s Road overlooking Magilligan Point and Lough Foyle.

Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne. The Temple, built in 1785 perches on the cliff top overlooking the coastal town of Castlerock and was the library of the then Bishop of Derry Frederick Augustus Hervey. Nearby are the ruins of the Bishop’s home built in 1772. The estate is now in the stewardship of the National Trust.

Dunluce Castle. Established around 1500 by the MacQuillan family the castle changed hands when it was seized by the MacDonnell clan in the 1550s during an era of violence, intrigue and rebellion. In the 17 th century it was the seat of the Earls of Antrim reaching its height in the mid-1600s before its decline.

The Giant’s Causeway. A UNESCO World Heritage Site about three miles outside the town of Bushmills the causeway is an area of some 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption around 50 to 60 million years ago. Or, if you prefer built by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) of Gaelic mythology so he could fight the Scottish giant Benandonner.

Dunseverick Castle. Near the small village of Dunseverick Saint Patrick is recorded as having visited the castle in the 5 th century AD (CE) and during the 6 th century was the seat of Fergus Mor MacEirc, the King of Dalreada. In 1642 the castle was captured by General Robert Monroe and his Cromwellian troops and today only the ruins of the gate lodge remain.

Ballintoy Harbour. This small fishing harbour is at the end of a narrow, steep and winding road off the B15 coast road five miles west of Ballycastle. There are coastal paths between the harbour and Dunseverick which offer some great photo opportunities, day or night.