15 Photos From the 2021 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year
Travel and photography blog Capture the Atlas has released the images from its annual Northern Lights Photographer of the Year competition which features 25 of the best photos that highlight the aurora borealis or australis captured from around the world.
The competition publishes these images in December to coincide with the Northern Lights season with the hope of inspiring others to get out and experience the magnificent light show for themselves. Unlike other competitions, this contest has no “winners” or “runners-up” prizes. Instead, Capture the Atlas simply selects and highlights 25 of the most inspiring Northern Lights in their publication. The image collections are curated throughout the entire year by Dan Zafra, the editor of Capture the Atlas, where he looks for not only images taken by famous and world-renowned photographers but also the new talent and creative eyes from all over the world, especially from locations where the northern lights have not been captured from yet.
The Northern Lights season ranges from September to April in the Northern Hemisphere and from March to September in the Southern Hemisphere, with the best time to see and photograph the Lights being during the fall and spring equinoxes because of the orientation of Earth’s axis. The Photographer of the Year 2021 list includes images by 25 photographers of 13 different nationalities taken from the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia.
Below are 15 of the 25 amazing images from this year’s finalists:
“Nature and Landscape Photographer” – Agnieszka Mrowka
“Another long and beautiful night in Iceland. I had had the foreground for the Northern Lights in mind for some time already and just waited for the perfect condition to come and capture it.
” needed strong Northern Lights, a clear sky on the Reykjanes peninsula, and calm, windless weather, which is quite rare in Iceland. The photo was challenging in the sense that I had to run back and forth to adjust the settings on my camera depending on the strength of the Northern Lights. The place I was standing was also a bit tricky, as there was not enough space for my feet, so I could not even fully stand straight. When the lights came, however, I was able to freeze, staring at the mesmerizing sky above.”
“For The Northern Lights” – Aleksey R.
Location: Teriberka, Kolsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia
“Nature is mysterious and unpredictable, and often leaves us open-mouthed at the inexplicable manifestations of its power. This image was captured in February in Teriberka, in the Kolsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia, on the Barents Sea coast.
“This night was definitely special. The perfect conditions for shooting the Northern Lights came together: frost, ice, a full moon, a clear night, and no wind. The weather was extremely difficult; the temperature was 34 degrees below zero, but flames like these make you forget the temperature. I had a certain vision of the photo I wanted, and because of the extreme weather, I had to build the photo in stages. Thanks to the moonlight, the landscape was nicely illuminated, and I got a decent balance with the overwhelming display of the aurora borealis.
“To get the most out of this opportunity, I took a combination of shots: one for the foreground and one for the sky. That way, you can see more detail in the foreground while retaining the detail in the Northern Lights. It was definitely a night to remember.”
“The Northern Lights Cathedral” – Frøydis Dalheim
Location: Senja, Northern Norway
“This image is the perfect representation of one of my best nights seeing the Northern Lights in Norway in Senja.
“The views were stunning, with snow-capped landscapes, spectacular mountains, and a dancing aurora that colored everything green. It was truly a night to remember. The conditions were perfect this evening in March, not too cold. The Northern Lights appeared not long after I arrived and lasted for a long time. I returned home really happy and grateful for this amazing experience.”
“The Aurora Cave” – Giulio Cobianchi
Location: Lofoten Islands, Norway
Caption: This was one of the most beautiful green nights I have experienced since living in Lofoten. This was just the beginning of a long night of chasing the aurora until sunrise. I have been inside this hidden cave in all seasons since I like to explore locations and find new compositions that have never been seen before.
Inside the caves, it is never easy to photograph; you have to use more techniques in the shooting phase, such as focus stacking and multi-exposure, for example, but I must say that these are the compositions I appreciate the most. I love the natural frame and the three-dimensional effect that they give.
“Volcanic Aurora Borealis” – Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove
Location: Geldingadalir, Iceland
“One month into the eruption of the Geldingadalir volcano in Iceland, I was thinking a lot about whether it would be possible to photograph the aurora above the eruption. I tend to think of it as the holy grail of photography in Iceland. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime capture.
“That night seemed like one of the last opportunities we would get before the nights got too bright again. While the cloud coverage forecast was not looking particularly good, I decided to go up to the eruption anyway and try my luck. At around 11 PM, the clouds weren’t budging much so I decided to head back down the mountain. Sitting down while waiting in the harsh, freezing wind made my body temperature plummet. However, on the way back, everything changed. The clouds started opening up, and suddenly I noticed the aurora was faintly dancing above.
“I decided to put down my tripod and wait to see what, if anything, would happen. After about an hour, the lights suddenly became very active. I couldn’t believe my luck! I took shot after shot while just staring at the event that unfolded before me.”
“When the stars align” – Joshua Snow
Location: Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Canada
“What a sight to behold. The incredible majesty of the aurora borealis. Lights that move and dance through space. Fleeting moments of vibrancy and shimmery glow. Life is much the same experience if you let it be. Learn to savor the little, passing moments. Learn to ebb and flow with space and time, and glow when the inspiration strikes. Wait for no one. Stop for nothing. Shine, dance, and shimmer your heart out because you only get one life.
“This image captures my week in Tombstone like no other ever will. After losing my dad in May and experiencing a full-on mental breakdown shortly before this trip, it felt like I was on a rollercoaster I didn’t know when would stop or even slow down. However, I am learning how to beat it back and slow the ride down. I am growing leaps and bounds toward the best version of me that I could have ever imagined just a year ago…This week in the mountains gave me a chance to heal, think, and feel more deeply than I have in a long time: slowing down to appreciate where I am in life, and reflect on what it is I want and need from it.”
“Sometimes things can feel impossible. Hopeless. Scary. But sometimes, when things seem their most dim, their most hopeless, the universe reminds you that the sun will shine again. And how bright it shines on me now…”
“Tranquil” – Larryn Rae
Location: Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Caption: I was on a photography trip when aurora alerts began popping up on my phone, so we started searching for a unique place to shoot them from.
We ended up at this lakeside location, and as soon as the sunset faded and dusk fell, we could already see the color and shape of the aurora happening. The next few hours, the sky was filled with incredible colors as the pillars danced across the sky in one of the best displays I have seen for years. The aurora is my favorite night sky phenomenon to capture and this night was simply incredible.
“Forest of the Lights” – Marc Adamus
Location: Alaska, USA
“Wandering around these forests coated in rime ice is one of the most magical experiences, but also one of the most difficult to capture.
“Temperatures are often in the minus 30s and negotiating the easily broken, crusty snow on snowshoes with nothing but a headlamp makes for great challenges in hiking and composing. I used the last light of twilight to set up the shot you see here and returned to it hours later as the lights were dancing overhead.”
“Dancing on ice” – Mark Jinks
Location: Edmonton, Alberta – Canada
“In the overnight hours of November 3/4, 2021, we experienced one of the most powerful displays of aurora in recent years at mid-latitudes.
“I had always wanted to capture the Northern Lights over this island. After four hours of mediocre aurora, the skies finally came alive. The aurora danced and shimmied across the thin sheet of ice covering the lake, and varied in intensity as sub-storms flared up throughout the overnight hours. Coyotes howled nearby as if to voice their approval, and during the quiet lulls, a great-horned owl could be heard off in the distance.
“I took this image during one of the more intense periods just before 2 AM. The aurora can certainly be fickle, especially in the mid-latitudes of Canada. Using Space Weather Live as a resource and learning how to predict the Northern Lights can go a long way in having a successful viewing session. Being patient and having perseverance can often be key to seeing a great display. Staying warm by dressing for colder temperatures than expected and having some friends along for company can help make the experience much more comfortable.”
“Aurora Sherbet in the Apostles” – Marybeth Kiczenski
Location: Bayfield, Wisconsin, USA
“The solar storm that wasn’t but was: the events that unfolded from November 3, 2021 into November 4, 2021 will stay with me forever.
“The aurora sparked on this night was from a combination of an M-class solar flare and a CME; on their own, they were not much, but together, they sure packed a punch. No one really saw this coming, and we had recently been burned by the solar storm that was but wasn’t, i.e., the X-class event that never materialized. In any case, I saw the initial “hit” in the data, immediately jumped into the car, and drove eight hours north to get away from the horrible cloud cover over much of the Midwest Great Lakes region.
“I went to a location I had never been to before – which is always a gamble – but made it work somehow! Hunting for compositions in the dark is always a challenge. The amount of color detail in this image is amazing. I’ve never seen so much teal and purple. The whole night felt like a dream. Here’s to solar cycle 25!”
“Santa’s Cabin” – Olli Sorvari
Location: Levi, Finland
“I know the journey is often more important and memorable than the results, and after taking this picture, I think this was a trip to remember.
“It wasn’t a long hike, but when you don’t have snowshoes and you sink half a meter with every step you take, it kind of feels fifty times longer. The next time I go there, I’ll follow the skiing routes. The whole way up there was partly cloudy with no signs of the Northern Lights but finally, I could capture what I was looking for. I also managed to get some pretty decent shots of the winter Milky Way before the real show started, which was the cherry on the cake of this night.”
“Polar-snow monsters” – Sergey Korolev
Location: Kola Peninsula, Russia
“At the very beginning of my career, when I first started learning how to take landscape photographs, I was not at all impressed by photographs of the Northern Lights because most of them contained nothing in the composition other than the Lights and the sky.
“I always thought it was boring to take pictures of just the sky, but one day, I saw Marc Adamus’ photographs with the aurora borealis over some beautiful mountain scenery and I was really impressed. Since then, I have had a new passion – taking Northern Lights pictures where the landscape and its composition play the main role, and the sky with the aurora is in harmony with the composition. In this picture, I also focused on the “snow monsters” in the composition to make this shot look like an alien scene.”
“Spectrum” – Stefan Liebermann
Location: Vestrahorn, Iceland
“The full spectrum of the Northern Lights over the iconic “Vestrahorn” location in Iceland. What a dreamlike experience! A G3 (strong) geomagnetic storm hit the earth on October 31st, 2021, and produced these wonderful colors.”
“Norrsken over Vintergatan ” – Stefano Astorri
Location: Swedish Lapland
“Shooting the winter Milky Way and the aurora together was one of my 10 resolutions for 2021. I never imagined I would fulfill this one so soon.
“It was a freezing, windy night. I went to this location in the Swedish Lapland, where I hoped to see the Northern Lights rising right between two mountain peaks. When I was there, the “green lady” started dancing suddenly on my left while, right behind me, the Milky Way in her winter dress had joined the party. I was feeling very cold until it was replaced by pure excitement. I immediately re-adjusted the composition to include the red cabin in the shot as well.
“The result is a photo that actually merges 12 vertical shots at 14mm (around 270 degrees) to fully cover the two overlapping arches.”
“Higher prediction” – Virgil Reglioni
Location: Northern Norway
“Northern Norway hosts some of the most beautiful and dramatic sights you can find in northern Europe.
“Some nights, strong intensity auroras are predicted, which leads to incredible, bright displays spreading across the sky. The cold temperatures form ice shapes by the riverbank and these structures help direct your eyes in the right direction.”
To see all 25 of this year’s winners, make sure to visit Capture the Atlas. For those who want to learn how to capture images like these, the blog also has some excellent resources to help out, like this detailed article on how to photograph the Northern Lights.
Image credits: All photos individually credited and provided courtesy of Capture the Atlas.