Borealis: bringing the northern lights to the Bullring in Birmingham

Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024

The Bullring centre is hosting a light show called Borealis for one week in February.  This production by the artist Dan Acher is on display every evening during the week.  With a mixture of dry ice smoke and laser beams, the “northern lights” are recreated in the centre of Birmingham.  The performance is accompanied by haunting music which sets the scene and cranks up the atmosphere. When you stand still and look up at the colours, you are transported to a magical place where the northern lights are happening. Borealis is a photographer’s dream. As the laser beams crisscross through the smoke, colours are created and these are highlighted by the surrounding buildings.  The gentle breeze in the area moves the smoke around leading to pleasing patterns against the backdrop of the Selfridges building and St Martin’s Church.  

I arrived there just as the sun was setting and the golden hour followed by the blue hour provided a changing backdrop to the scenes being created.  The hypnotic music added to the atmosphere.  The smoke adds to the surreal atmosphere and produces a haunting appearance to the area which is part dreamy and romantic at the same time. As it is half term week there are many people in the city shopping.  The area around St Martin’s was packed with onlookers gazing into the sky. There was one child dressed in white who seemed to be leading the crowds in a service for the Borealis. The imagery could be appreciated either close up or at a distance allowing everyone to take in the spectacle.    

Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
The lights over St Martin’s Church with a construction crane leading the dance of the colours.
Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
There was a golden sunset that enhanced the colours of the laser show.
Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
There were packed crowds along St Martin’s way.
Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
The show caught the attention of everyone even this child who is leading the crowds.

Using both iPhone and my Fujifilm x100v, I had fun taking pictures before heading off for an evening meal in town.  After dinner, I dropped by to see Borealis on my way to the train, the night was dark and there was a different take to the light show as the powerful laser colours shone through the smoke layers.  I stayed around for a few more pictures. Even at that late time, there were people out and about enjoying the show.   

Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
The light show created a calming atmosphere with the lights and the music

Here is a link if you wish to know more about the work of Dan Acher.

The last light show in Birmingham that I visited was in February 2020 when the world was still very young and the idea that a virus would force us all indoors was a fanciful idea.  My record of the festival light from 2020 is outlined on a previous blog. 

About the picture taking.
I was fortunate to have a dinner booked in town at 6pm. This gave me time to see the Borealis early and late in the evening. I always have my iPhone with me and wherever possible my Fujifilm x100v. When I arrived, my mind already starts to think how can I tell a story about the show. There were several things that caught my eye. The smokey atmosphere was one. Standing at the top of St Martin’s Walk looking downwards to the Church is a popular vantage point and captures the haze above the crowds. I moved closer to take in the sunset and the source of the smoke and lasers. My photographic mind is thinking about the big picture and then the smaller things that make up the view. What amazed me were the crowds of people, so I knew that I wanted them in the picture. I swap from iPhone to compact camera when taking my pictures. The iPhone is so good but I find that it wants to adjust the shadows and compensate for the darkness. Meanwhile the x100v requires a very high ISO and wide aperture to let the light in. Fortunately post processing is done with Lightroom and the “denoise” button is a dream to use. This has rejuvenated my night time use with the Fujifilm and I am not afraid to crank up the ISO. Selecting images proved a challenge and I limited myself to just 8 pictures. As always on social media, there were some very good pictures taken by other photographers. Seeing them, I think to myself, if only I had taken that photograph but I know that they also challenge me to adjust my view of the scene when out taking photographs. A selection of them may be found on the Beautiful Productions Instagram page.

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