Capture the Atlas has published its annual Northern Lights Photographer of the Year selections, which feature the best photos of the aurora borealis or australis captured from around the world.
Capture the Atlas is a travel and photography blog that helps others plan their trips and improve their photography. The blog’s main focus is landscape and astrophotography, and its articles include photography guides, tutorials, and inspiration.
The full 25-photo Northern Lights Photographer of the Year collection features images taken from around the world in countries like the United States, Canada, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, Greenland, and New Zealand, by photographers of 13 different nationalities.
Dan Zafra, editor of Capture the Atlas, curates these photos throughout the year and says he looks not only for images taken by some of the most renowned photographers but also for new talents and for new locations where the Northern Lights haven’t been photographed before. Additionally, the quality of the images, the story behind each shot, and the overall inspiration that it provides are the main factors for consideration. This 2022 edition includes unique images like the Northern Lights captured in a glacier cave that recently collapsed in Alaska and in rare locations across Denmark and Michigan.
Below are 15 of the photos selected this year with associated descriptions written by the photographers. The full collection available to peruse on Capture the Atlas.
“Elves’ House” – Asier López Castro
On my last trip to Iceland, I decided to try my luck in one of its most iconic locations, a magical place for any landscape photographer.
It snowed the day before, and the air mixed the fallen snow with the fine sand, making the textures on the ground incredibly beautiful. Then the sky did the rest.
The biggest problem in photographing this kind of scene is the limited information you get for the foreground since the exposure times are usually short (between 2 and 10 seconds) in order to capture the shape of the Aurora. That’s why I was forced to take pictures with different settings for the foreground and the sky.
“Nordic Quetzal” – Luis Solano Pochet
This rare red Aurora that shined after a powerful solar event in Iceland reminded me of the iconic tropical bird of my home country: the Quetzal. It was a dream come true!
I had to take a vertical panorama to frame the action since my 14mm lens wasn’t wide enough to capture the grandeur of this Aurora. It was hard to process and edit these images because of how unreal they seemed to me with the unique red color. It made me think of all the myths and legends that this natural phenomenon must have awakened in ancient civilizations. I am grateful to have been there, and I will always carry the experience in my heart.
“Under a Northern Sky” – Rachel Jones Ross
The northern sky is utterly fascinating.
We have all heard stories about the land of the Midnight Sun: in the summer, the sun doesn’t really set, and in the winter, nights are long with no sun, or very little sun at all. But there are also 3-4 days each month when the moon doesn’t set (circumpolar) and 3-4 days each month when it doesn’t rise!
Before I left, I checked the moon calendar, and I was a bit disappointed to see that my visit would coincide with a waxing gibbous approaching a full moon. But on closer investigation, there were four nights when the moon didn’t make it above the horizon, and I had dark nights for shooting the Aurora!
“Michigan Night Watch” – Marybeth Kiczenski
Lady Aurora waits for no photographer or schedule. However, when I returned from Canada to Chicago, I was greeted by an Aurora forecast that was slated to be quite good (G1/G2 with a slight possibility of G3 conditions).
I decided to choose Point Betsie as my main location for this Aurora chase. I was greeted with quite heavy winds but a beautiful sunset and warm weather. It was super busy since it was a Friday, and there were good conditions for Auroras. It was fun to make some new friends, and we chatted while waiting for Lady Aurora to make an appearance.
Around 11:30pm, she made herself known. We cheered. We clapped. This is what makes all of it worth it! Afterward, we packed up and drove the three hours back to Martin, MI, to start work for the day. Ah, the life of an Aurora chaser!
“Nugget Point Lighthouse Aurora” – Douglas Thorne
Nugget Point Lighthouse is on the eastern side of New Zealand’s South Island. It rests above the famous rocks, which were named by Captain Cook because they looked like pieces of gold. The lighthouse is set on a precipice, where the ocean meets the sky. From here, you can get panoramic views of the southern seas, so it’s a photographer’s dream location.
I arrived here early one autumn morning to capture the Milky Way rising above the lighthouse. It was an image that I’ve planned to capture for a long time. However, I was greeted by a surprise visitor. The Aurora Australis began to glow, its beams blooming over the ocean. I quickly changed my approach and got excited as flashes of yellow and red began to appear in my frame.
Eventually, the Milky Way and the Aurora began to synchronize harmoniously, resulting in this image. I love the leading lines and the way the Milky Way surrounds the Aurora. Mostly though, I love that this wasn’t the picture I planned. It reminds me that sometimes the best shots happen unexpectedly. You have to take risks and go exploring because you just never know what you might come across.
“Towering Ice” – Virgil Reglioni
At high latitudes such as 71-degrees North on the eastern side of Greenland, the Aurora oval varies and slightly leans down. The Aurora is stronger here than at more southern latitudes due to the tilt of the magnetic north.
That night, the Aurora forecast predicted a KP 2 to 3, and with those conditions, it would have been easy to see the lights when looking north; however, we were facing southeast.
”Towering Ice” was captured from an icebreaker, meaning that the exposure time had to be quite short to avoid movement from the drifting and rocking vessel. The Aurora exploded above our heads, which also required a faster shutter speed, allowing me to freeze its movement.
Additionally, that night the full moon was shining light into the fjord, which was filled with giant icebergs.
“Inception” – Giulio Cobianchi
These are the Arctic nights that leave you breathless!
I decided to spend that night up in the mountains with one of the most beautiful views of the Lofoten Islands. My goal was to photograph a “double Aurora & Milky Way arc”, to add to my Aurora collection. I had been planning this pano for a couple of years, and finally, all the elements aligned.
It wasn’t completely dark yet when I began to see the faint Milky Way in front of me. I hoped that in the next hour, a faint Aurora would appear on the opposite side, creating an arc that would fit perfectly into the composition, and so it was! What a night!
Under the Milky Way, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy in the middle of the two arcs. A shooting star acts as the cherry on top, and above a colorful Aurora, there is one of the most beautiful constellations, the Big Dipper! To the north, you can still see the light of the sun, which had recently gone below the horizon.
“Spirits of Winter” – Unai Larraya
This year, I took a trip to the Finnish Lapland with the goal of capturing the elusive Northern Lights. However, the first few days in Kuusamo, where I stayed, were a bit disappointing due to the terrible weather conditions.
Day 3 looked promising with a KP6 and clear skies for the whole night. However, after being out all night, we didn’t see a single light, which was unusual.
The Aurora forecast for the next day didn’t look good, and the weather forecast showed that there would be some clouds. However, we wanted to photograph the Northern Lights so badly that even with an unpromising forecast and temperatures of -30ºC, we decided to give it a try. Finally, the magic happened, and I was able to photograph the Aurora Borealis! I was so happy to finally photograph the Northern Lights that I didn’t care about the cold; I just had a great time with my friends!
“An Explosion of Color” – Vincent Beudez
On this night, the Aurora forecast was very promising, but I was not expecting anything like this. It was cloudy all over Senja, where I was staying, so I had to drive a few hours to escape the clouds.
It was a really beautiful night, and I saw some “coronas” and Northern Lights to the south. However, what happened at 3am was totally unexpected. A huge red Aurora traveled across the southern sky (visible with the naked eye), while a spectacular Aurora exploded just above my head.
This was by far the most colorful night I’ve ever witnessed up there, and it was a rare event that I’m very grateful to have been able to see.
“The Light Upon Kerlaugar” – Jannes Krause
I was lucky enough to witness a fantastic KP 8 display on my trip to Iceland back in October. Not only that, but it was also my first time experiencing and photographing the Northern Lights.
Originally my flight back home was scheduled to depart about 12 hours before this intense solar storm, but as soon as I saw the perfect weather and Aurora projections, I knew that I just had to change my plans and extend my trip by an additional day. Things finally came together, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the images I got.
“Explosions of the Sky” – Kavan Chay
New Zealand is really a special place for astrophotography. The skies are beautifully dark, and there are so many interesting landscape features to take in. Despite this, I’ve never managed to capture an Aurora shot with an interesting foreground element prior to this moment.
Unfortunately, the Aurora activity is not as consistent compared to other forms of astrophotography, so I had to be patient.
It was a cold night when the alerts and posts from other excited Aurora chasers popped up online. I sent a quick message to a few friends and went out to this spot. I ended up spending some time here with a friend as the lights put on a show, but the display kicked it up a notch once he left. With the whole beach to myself, no pesky lights from other people or cars, the perfect weather and strong beams… I really couldn’t have asked for anything better.
It’s this exact shot that made me addicted to chasing Auroras, and I’ve had the privilege of enjoying this sight many more times since then, with hopefully more of these moments to come.
“Chasing the Light” – David Erichsen
As a kid growing up, chasing the Northern Lights had always been a mystical dream. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to witness quite a few shows over the last few years, it never gets old.
What’s not pictured in this shot are the several nights I wandered out to this cave in sub-zero temperatures waiting for just a hint of green to dance through this frozen window. After repeatedly striking out, I finally got another opportunity on a night following a huge G2 with clear skies.
I knew the recent CME (coronal mass ejection) might be strong enough to make this 2-hour midnight hike worth the journey. As I made my way out to the cave, my walk quickly became a full-on run as I saw the sky split open with magnificent color. Sadly, the ice cave collapsed on itself a couple months ago, which just shows that you have to chase every opportunity before it’s gone.
“Red Skies” – Ruslan Merzlyakov
Absolutely insane red pillars of the Aurora showed up above Limfjord, just a 3-minute drive from my house.
Many think that Denmark, being placed far away from the general Northern Lights activity, is not an ideal place to see the Aurora. This might be true, but there is always hope for magic during the darkest months of the year.
I have been photographing the night sky for more than 10 years, and I always try to inspire people to go outside to experience our wonderful night skies and explore the unknown.
The happiness you feel when watching the sky glow like this in your hometown is unforgettable.
“Auroraverse” – Tor-Ivar Næss
When the Northern Lights go crazy in the night sky, focusing on your composition is worth the utmost effort because there is so much happening so quickly.
Even for a seasoned photographer, it’s very hard to focus on enjoying the Aurora while photographing it.
“Polaris Dream” – Nico Rinaldi
I had dreamed about photographing the landscapes of Northern Russia for a long time, and this year it came true! There, you feel like you’re in the realm of snow monsters, in a landscape where the mountains and trees are dominated by ice and snow. That night, the Northern Lights put on an incredible show!
It was hard work to get to this place, since exploring this location and organizing logistics required a lot of time, effort, and the help of the friendly locals we found in our path. I only hope we can see the peace reestablished soon and re-connect with so many incredible people and landscapes on this plane
Image credits: All photos individually credited and provided courtesy of Capture the Atlas.