Capturing migraine aura

By: Jo Emery, a photographer from Staffordshire who lives with migraine with aura

16th November 2021

When people think of migraine they think pounding head pain, a throbbing headache.

Whilst the feeling of being hit over the head by the pointy part of an anvil is a large part of being a migraine sufferer, many people have lots of other neurological symptoms before and after the agonising pain.

Vision, for some people with migraine can be the most debilitating symptom; extreme sensitivity, aura, seeing stars tunnel vision, visual disturbances.

Visual disturbances are a common symptom of migraine

Visualising aura through art

I’ve focused on photosensitivity for these images. Light is such an important part in life and it’s not until it makes you unwell that you realise how important.


I’ve created these set of images to try and illustrate one of my visual disturbances that I have to manage, the migraine aura. For me the onset sometimes presents as blurred spots in the centre of my vision, with rainbow stars that start to build a little triangular mosaic oval.

Holographic almost; it shimmers and sparkles around all shapes and the blurred bits, even when you close your eyes.

When I get aura

If I’m ever to experience this in a bed I’m sure I could maybe learn to relax into the pattern!

Patterns when my eyes are closed

Sadly these only ever occur outside in the daytime, normally whilst walking and there’s never a way to shake it off!

It’s there. It’s happening. You just have to try and make yourself as safe as possible and literally ride it out.

After aura

After the aura all lights becomes oversaturated, as if you’ve taken off sunglasses. It’s near impossible to keep your eyes open as the pain it gives you burns into the back of your head creating a thump like throb all over.


Once the throbbing has subsided I’m left with, not as much light sensitivity but no focus. It’s like a broken camera that doesn’t adjust. It takes as long as it takes, there’s never a set length of time sometimes it can be a week or if you’re lucky a few hours.

The first time you experience  it is frightening. You find yourself reaching out as you try to get your mind to realise what’s going on. It’s a very weird perspective shift that uncontrollable and your brain doesn’t always know what’s happening!

Life with migraines is always perceived as a very bad headache whereas realistically many of symptoms people experience generally is more comparable to concussion, frequent sustained blows to the head without the external bruising.