Photographing the aurora australis on an aircraft 41,000ft above the Antarctic is an activity 14-year-old Tilly King can now tick off her to-do list.
Recently, the avid photographer went on board a flight to the Antarctic circle to view the aurora australis with Oamaru man Damien McNamara.
The flight lasted about 11 hours, starting at 7.30pm and finishing at 6am.
Tilly, a year 10 pupil at Waitaki Girls’ High School, won the trip after Mr McNamara called for nominations for worthy recipients at local secondary schools.
Before flying to the aurora, the pair managed to get a few photos of the moon, Venus and Orion’s Belt.
“All we were doing was photographing the sunset, waiting for something to happen,” Mr McNamara said.
Midnight became dull for the pair due to a lack of activity in the sky.
It wasn’t until about 1am that the aurora reached its peak.
“I thought there would just be grey clouds and not much action,” Tilly said.
The highlight of the night for Mr McNamara was seeing Tilly’s face light up after getting her first photo of the aurora.
Mounting their cameras directly on the window with a suction cup prevented the issue of camera shake – a problem Mr McNamara had on his flight last year.
With the help of a rubber bathmat and a bit of Kiwi ingenuity, Mr McNamara created a lens shield that blocked out light from inside the cabin.
The lack of interference made it easier for the pair to capture high-quality photos of the aurora.
“There’s a lot more to it than taking pretty photos,” he joked.
Overall, the plane went through the aurora about eight times.
“For us to be able to put a plane in the air and see that – it’s pretty cool.”
Despite a lack of sleep, the pair were still “fizzing” with excitement and had smiles from ear to ear when they arrived back at Christchurch Airport.
Tilly considered herself fortunate enough to be able to witness such an event.
“It was really amazing.”
If she had the money, it was something she could see herself doing again in the future.
Mr McNamara’s fascination with auroras began when he was a child. Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, he would study the night skies with his dad.
“I recall many nights sleeping in the back of the station wagon on top of the hill watching the stars with him.”
Mr McNamara said plans were “in the pipeline” to take another flight over the Antarctic circle next year.
If he was on it, it was highly likely he would buy a second ticket and create another competition, giving another lucky pupil the chance to take up the experience.
The Forrester Gallery planned to hold an exhibition about the aurora australis, featuring photographs taken on the flight.
An aurora is a natural display of light, seen mostly in high-latitude regions – the Antarctic and the Arctic.