Peter Deck has been chasing the elusive “picket fence” for five years. Last night, he got it.
Mr Deck was one of hundreds of photographers, amateur and professional, who had their eyes and lenses trained south from vantage points in Tasmania where, thanks to the combination of clear skies and solar flare activity, the famed Aurora Australis — or southern lights — made an appearance.
The cameo of a picket fence — one nickname for a faint row of vertical rays of light which may appear only fleetingly and are technically known as auroral sprites — was an added bonus for fans of the phenomena, many of whom have technology set up to alert them of favourable atmospheric conditions for viewing and photography.
Peter Deck’s image, taken at 9:40pm from the tiny hamlet of Dunalley, 20 kilometres east from the lights of Hobart, was a long time coming, he said.
“In five years of shooting the Aurora, I always just seem to miss it.”
Peter Deck’s wonderful image capturing the auroral sprites also know as the “picket fence”. (Facebook: Peter Deck)
Mr Deck’s photo, one of many posted on social media, managed to capture the picket fence dangling above the horizon against a backdrop of green and magenta light, with cloud cover mercifully low.
Living not far from a good viewing spot in southern Tasmania, keen landscape and portrait photographer Mr Deck naturally turned to chasing the ultimate aurora image, a challenge as conditions have to be right.
“The fact that picket fences come during a shoot and then go so quickly, means that they are easy to miss.
“I’ve been shooting sometimes and completely missed their appearance. So I was just so excited to finally capture one!”
Bruce Cooper’s photo of the Aurora Australis, taken at Howrah, just 5 kilometres from Hobart. (Facebook: Bruce Cooper)
Another who got the shot was Tim Grimsey, whose time-lapse shows the evolution of the event, taken “on the side of a back road somewhere in Southern Tasmania”.
“Right before the show started, the owners of the property I was overlooking came out to see what I was up to. I was so happy they didn’t send me away. It’s important to not get too excited and go onto private property.”
Mr Grimsey’s footage not only shows the picket fence and dancing colours, but several shooting stars are also captured against the turning starscape.
“I haven’t heard of other names for it. Picket fence is the perfect way to describe it. I was stoked to capture it. Last night was the first time I got one,” he said.
Photos of the event, taken by people all over Tasmania, are being shared on social media and praised by those who know just how tricky they can be to get.
“This year I have seen about five shows. But I’ve gone out about 20 times to try my luck. Sometimes you get lucky,” Tim Grimsey said.
“I had lived in Tasmania for over 15 years before I knew you could see the southern lights. Ever since, I’ve been addicted.”
Craig Stevens’ photo of Aurora Australis with the elusive “picket fence”, taken at Mortimer Bay, south-east of Hobart. (Facebook: Aurora Australis Tasmania)
For those who have the fever, Mr Grimsey has this advice:
“For anyone planning to try and capture the Aurora Australis, planning is key. I use Google Street View to find accessible locations. Go out to the location during the day to see where you will set up your tripod.
“Go out with your camera at night and learn how to focus on stars and what settings you need for a good exposure.
“Don’t ruin your aurora experience by driving around in the dark or messing around with your camera manual.”