THE Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, is one of the most spectacular displays in nature, and it has fascinated, frightened and inspired humans for millennia. 

More recently, photographers such as Bovey Tracey’s Kevin Ashford have gone to remarkable lengths to try and capture the beauty of these events. However, it was not an easy journey to get to where he is now. 

The Aurora above Kennick Reservoir (Kevin Ashford)

‘I first picked up a camera when I was twelve,’ Kevin explained. ‘I copied my dad at every air show and then got into photography from that.’

However, in 2005, a tragic incident left Kevin with irreparable injuries. Only regular surgery and a strict regime of painkillers could begin to control the pain. 

Kevin said: ‘Initially, when it happened, I thought that photography was done for as I wouldn’t be able to move again. But moving down here meant I made new friends and had new opportunities.’ 

(Julian Barnes/MDA)

Moving to the Westcountry a decade ago, the good company and new opportunities meant that Kevin could once again get behind a lens, albeit with new limitations and options. 

He said: ‘I wasn’t sleeping anyway because of the pain. I needed a distraction, and the obvious distraction was to pick up a camera again. I went from photographing fast-moving stuff to now photographing stuff with huge exposure times, sitting in a camp chair in the freezing cold at 2am. 

‘One difference from my condition is that my brain doesn’t get side-tracked by getting cold, I’m happy to just keep going all night and sit there.’

‘I love being out that late, anywhere on Dartmoor, if I can see the night sky, I’m a happy man. Dartmoor is a very spiritual place, where you can feel freer than you perhaps actually are. Whilst there are a lot of people that will hike across Dartmoor for their freedom, I can barely get out of my car. I learn and adapt to find accessible areas.’ 

Another Aurora near Dean Prior
Another Aurora near Dean Prior (Kevin Ashford)

The many years on the moor meant that when the latest Aurora arrived unexpectedly, Kevin was equipped for the job.

‘My friend Mike picked me up at 11.30pm, and didn’t even tell me that the Aurora was happening, I thought we were photographing a meteor shower.’ 

‘At first, you don’t see much, but as the night goes on you start to see these beams of light, almost like the sunrays that come through clouds. With my camera sensor, you really pick up all the colours as well. I was there all night!’