Recently, travel and photography website Capture the Atlas held its third “Northern Lights Photographer of the Year” competition, where the organizers picked out the best photos of aurora borealis from photographers from all over the world. They ended up choosing 25 winning photos, and they will absolutely take your breath away.
In a recent interview with Bored Panda, landscape photographer Dan Zafra said Capture the Atlas was created by himself and his partner Ascen back in 2016. Initially, the two wanted to help people plan their trips and learn photography, but the website quickly grew in popularity, and is now a reference blog in the travel photography industry, helping photographers from all over the world take their dream pictures through online and offline photography tours.
Dan says that after shooting the Northern Lights in Canada for the first time, it instantly became one of his passions, and since then he hasn’t stopped chasing aurora borealis all over the world. “However, photographing the Aurora is not as easy as it seems; it requires great planning, using the best settings, lots of practice, and one important thing… inspiration!,” explained the photographer. “Intending to get to inspire as many people as possible to know more about this beautiful phenomenon and to encourage them to travel and shoot it, we decided to create a Northern Lights photography collection to feature the best 25 Northern Lights images captured around the world.”
The competition is a little different from the others, and Dan explained how. “Photographers don’t apply, but they’re selected following different criteria like the quality of the image, the shooting conditions, the originality of the composition, and the uniqueness of the location,” said Dan. “Both Ascen and I personally curate the images throughout the year, looking not only for images taken by some of the best photographers in the world but also from new talents that are working hard to create those fascinating images.”
See some of the most amazing photos of aurora borealis taken this year in the gallery below!
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#1 “The Hunt’s Reward” By Ben Maze
Image source: benjamin.maze
“I have had the incredible fortune to witness the Southern Lights twice during two photography trips to Tasmania. Captured in this image is a trifecta of astronomical phenomena that made for some of the best astrophotography conditions one can witness in Australia, namely, the setting Milky Way galactic core, zodiacal light, and of course, the elusive Aurora Australis.
On top of this, a sparkling display of oceanic bioluminescence adorned the crashing waves, adding the cherry on top to what was already a breathtaking experience. Having been out of reception and civilization for over a day, fellow photographer Luke Tscharke and I had no idea the aurora would strike on this night. We’d just heard rumors of a potential solar storm. We could barely contain our excitement when the lights first showed up on our camera’s screens. We later realized we were in the best place on the entire continent to witness the rare show, with Lion Rock being on the southernmost cape of Tasmania and much more cloud-free than the rest of the state at the time.
The colors that our cameras picked up were incredible, too. Rather than the classic green, the display ranged from yellow and orange to pink and purple. When I’d captured enough frames that I was happy with, I simply stood by my camera with my head tilted towards the sky, occasionally swirling my hand around in the sparkling water by my feet. I’m forever grateful for moments in nature like this that show us the true wonders of our planet.”
#2 “Under A Canadian Sky” By Parker Burkett
Image source: parker_burkett
British Columbia, Canada
“Racing to find a good location as the Lights came out, we just barely caught the tail end of the show. A quick sprint to the lake edge and the magic happened. Experiences like these remind me that sometimes I need to stop and enjoy what’s in front of me.”
#3 “Spring Fireworks” By Ole Salomonsen
Image source: arcticlightphoto
“This image was captured on April 10th, 2019, at the very end of the aurora season in the Arctic. Most photographers had given up on the auroras by that date, but I didn’t want to surrender just yet. I have been chasing the Northern Lights for 10+ years now, and I know that they are quite unpredictable. However, some of my best Aurora captures have indeed resulted from unexpected events or uncertain forecasts.
That night was one of those when the forecast was uncertain, but I decided to go out to this fantastic location called Ersfjordbotn, which is a 20-min drive from the City of Tromsø, and I was so glad that I did it. A magnificent display took place over my head after one hour of waiting. I shot many different images, but this one stretching all over the sky with me standing on the rock in the foreground shows very well how amazing and large the auroras can be.
The Aurora Borealis, for me, is a wonder of the world. It is the most magnificent celestial and astronomical observation we can make with our eyes. Although most Northern Lights move slowly or appear static, if you are lucky like I was that night, you can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think that everyone should put ‘chasing the Northern Lights’ on their bucket list. It is definitely something you should witness and experience with your own eyes.”
#4 “Dragon Eggs” By Roksolyana Hilevych
Image source: roksolyana_hilevych
Lofoten Islands, Norway
“I found this unknown place on the Lofoten Islands as I was moving around the Gimsoya Islands. That night was very cold, with temperatures reaching -20º C. It was probably one of the best shows of watching and photographing the Northern Lights
I’ve ever experienced because, in a place like this, it’s not easy to find something new with such a magical foreground and the kp5/kp6 Northern Lights dancing all night long. For this shot, I did a focus-stacking of three shots, two for the foreground at f/8, 10s, ISO 400, and one for the sky at f/4, 2s, and ISO 640.”
#5 “Symphony Of The Lights” By Iurie Belegurschi
Image source: iuriebelegurschi
“My plan for the night was to photograph the Northern Lights at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. The day before the chase, there was a blizzard and the roads were full of snow. After waiting 4 hours for the Aurora to show up with no luck, I decided to drive home. My car got stuck in the snow and, when I was waiting for help, the Northern Lights finally showed up and ‘danced’ for about ten minutes. I was lucky to get stuck next to this pond and take this shot with the Aurora reflected on the water. It was probably the first time that I was happy to be stuck in the snow.”
#6 “Finland At Night” By Kim Jenssen
Image source: kimjenssenphotography
“After spending many hours waiting in the cold forest of Ruka, Finland, at –36 Cº, and without any visible aurora activity, we decided to walk back to our cars. On the trail down, I saw something on my left side and told my friend to stop and wait. Suddenly, the aurora started to ‘dance’ and all I had to do was to jump in the snow, get my camera ready, and shoot! There was no planning or time to focus on composition. After 5 minutes, the Northern Lights disappeared, but it was a night with a happy ending.”
#7 “The Tower Of Sorcery” By Joaquín Marco
Image source: jokinmarc
“I took this photo on my first trip to Iceland in September 2019 on a trip that I had been organizing for months with 5 of my best friends. We were lucky enough to enjoy a G1 solar storm with a Kp4 index and some Kp6 peaks. The first experience of seeing the Northern Lights was incredible. As I do in the rest of my night photographs, I shot the foreground during blue hour and waited for the show to happen; that way, I can achieve the best quality in my images.
This time, the Northern Lights were so intense that I had to use a shutter speed down to 1 second to capture all the textures of the Aurora, forcing me to use very high ISO ranges between 8000 and 12800. I took this photo at the top of the Skogafoss waterfall, a composition that I hadn’t seen before and that sums up that magical night.”
#8 “Gate To The North” By Filip Hrebenda
Image source: filiphrebenda
“I was really tired after a long day of traveling across Iceland and shooting the sunset in the northern part of the country. But after the sunset, charts of the KP index jumped to number 6! That meant that I couldn’t go to sleep; it was aurora chasing time! After a few hours of waiting, Lady Aurora came out with amazing power. The shooting conditions weren’t easy. In the evening, winds of 70+ km/h began to blow, which is difficult for shooting long exposures.
To take this photo, I also had to make sure that my tripod was as steady as possible. Despite the challenges, I managed to pull off a very special Aurora image. It doesn’t matter how tired you are; when the aurora shows up, euphoria always wins over fatigue!”
#9 “Convergence” By Agnieszka Mrowka
Image source: agnieszkamrowka.photography
“It was late September 2020, and finally, the perfect conditions for the Northern Lights came together; +Kp6 converged with unusually calm weather and the moon illuminating the ice of the most popular glacier lagoon in Iceland. It was a fierce and peaceful night to remember.”
#10 “Lights In The Land Of Living Skies” By Jeanine Holowatuik
Image source: jeanine.holowatuik
“I captured this image during a surprise aurora storm that came out of nowhere near the end of May in the boreal forest of Saskatchewan, Canada. The moon was illuminating the clouds and the Northern Lights reached overhead. It was a magical moment!
The show was strong, and the lights were visible in every direction at its peak, which doesn’t happen often at my latitude. I was able to stay close to home, watching in amazement as the lights reached further south. It was a warm spring evening and I captured the Lights dancing right until the morning light, a night I’ll never forget!”
#11 “Hafragilsfoss Aurora” By Stefano Pellegrini
Image source: pels_photo
“During my last trip to Iceland last August, the weather conditions were very ‘Icelandic’: cloudy & rainy. One evening, after spending sunset in Dettifoss, I looked up at the sky and saw something green. I didn’t plan a night session in that location since I didn’t have any subject to shoot. Dettifoss was too big and full of spray to photograph at night, so I got in the car and searched for other spots. My final destination was Hafragilsfoss, where I found an interesting composition. As soon as I was in the right position, I started with a 4-minute shot for the foreground. After a minute, I saw the sky exploding, so I quickly got my camera ready to catch the aurora. It was absolutely breathtaking and one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen!”
#12 “When A Dream Became A Reality” By Mohad Almehanna
Image source: mohad_almehanna
“Observing the location, seasons, and angles for about three years, I researched the perfect shoot that I had in my mind. I fell in love with this composition in Northern Canada. The day I took this photo, the weather was extremely difficult; the temperature was 20 degrees below zero, and the strong wind didn’t make the situation any easier.
I had a certain vision of the photo I wanted, and because of the extreme weather, I had to build the photo in stages. Taking many shots in different stages of the Aroura rising gave me a good chance to get the final photo here. The overwhelming feeling of seeing the spectacular phenomenon for the first time and racing against time and cold to get the photo was such a thrill that I want to experience again.”
#13 “Turbulence” By John Weatherby
Image source: whereisweatherby
“This night was surely special. It was the second night of our Iceland workshop, leading 10 people around the beautiful country for their first visit. The forecast on this night was for a solar storm, and it did not disappoint. After the first sign of green in the sky, the group decided to book it out to the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. It was a group effort, but we managed to light the plane from the inside with two colored LED lights that a participant brought.
Hearing the group’s screams in the dark from seeing a KP6 aurora for the very first time was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I love chasing the Northern Lights because it is always a new experience. No two auroras are the same. The thrill is the chase. The forecast could call for nothing, but then, out of nowhere, it’s amazing. It’s part careful planning and part luck, but when you get an incredible show on a clear night and in an open sky, time freezes while you stare up and shoot in complete awe.”
#14 “Vikings In The Sky” By Nico Rinaldi
Image source: nick_rinaldi_
“This photo was taken during my second tour in Iceland. On my first trip, I didn’t get to see this unique location, but on my second tour, this place was at the top of my list! When I finally visited this location, it left me totally amazed: an imposing mountain lying on a volcanic black sand beach, surrounded by large dunes created by the wind. It was a concentration of beautiful natural elements that really impressed me. After spending the whole afternoon exploring the area, I chose the photo composition that I liked the most.
The sunset was really disappointing. In fact, the weather conditions were bad, and it rained intermittently, but I kept waiting, hoping that at night, the conditions would improve and the Northern Lights would show themselves in all their beauty. And so it was! After spending several hours observing the sky, around 1 am, the clouds moved away, and the sky was already covered by the Northern Lights. Full of euphoria, I went to the spot I liked and took a series of photographs of this unique natural show! It was truly a wonderful experience, where I was able to test all my night photography skills.”
#15 “Lofoten Ice Lights” By Dennis Hellwig
Image source: dennis.hellwig
Lofoten Islands, Norway
“These beautiful icicles were created by thawed ice that froze over. I noticed this place during the day, and when the Northern Lights were visible, I returned to photograph it. This place was very difficult to get to. It was narrow and there were ice and snow over the icicles. I was able to stand through a hole in the stream and use the tripod to bring my camera close to the icicles.
It was so tight that it was almost impossible to work with a tripod. I also had to make sure that my tripod legs didn’t break the ice. Another challenge was the light pollution from passing cars (it was only 8 p.m. and there were still a lot of people on the road) and other photographers with their headlights on. But in the end, everything went well and I got my picture.”
#16 “Heavenly Dance” By Sergey Korolev
Image source: ksergart
Kola Peninsula, Russia
“I’ve been hunting landscapes and Northern Lights on Russia’s Kola Peninsula for several years and I still find new spots. I found this stone beach on the coast of the Barents Sea a few years ago. At the time, I was mesmerized by the shape of the boulders, which moved with the rumble of the ocean waves, as well as the steep mountains rising from the sea. I tried to shoot the Aurora here for a long time, and one day, I got lucky and captured this image. The photo is very simple and consists of two shots; one short exposure to freezing the movement of the Aurora in the sky, and another longer exposure for the rocks.”
#17 “Right Before The Freezing” By Aki Mikkola
Image source: prince_of_lapland
“It was early winter, the water was still, and there was a reflection and reddish Aurora; not a very common combination! Many times, when the winter comes, the water freezes before the first snowfall. To capture the reflection of the sky you need open water with no snow, but this October, the snow came first. October 23rd (2020) was a very cloudy day, which is the worst enemy of great Northern Lights displays.
In the afternoon, I saw that the solar wind and the magnetic field had started to show higher activity! I knew that there would be a great Northern Lights show in the evening if I managed to find a spot with clear skies. After doing some research and calling other friends who live in the regions to ask them about the weather, I decided to drive to the south from Rovaniemi to find clear skies. I was lucky enough to find clear skies, and pretty soon, the magic started to happen in the sky, as I had predicted! I was surprised by the great amount of red color that my camera captured and the wide range of colors that were visible, even to the naked eye.
I placed my camera on a small bridge facing north over the calm river, right in the best spot to see the Aurora dancing in the sky. One thing to consider when you’re chasing the Aurora is that it’s different every single time! And capturing them is not as easy as it seems… good timing and location matter!”
#18 “Affirmation” By William Patino
Image source: williampatino_photography
“This image was captured at Stokssnes in Iceland, showing the Northern Lights above Vestrahorn. It’s rare for everything to align when capturing the Northern Lights, especially in Iceland, but on this occasion, everything came together, including a meteor shower and the icy foreground, which is rare for this location.
I spotted the ice in the morning and knew it would reflect the green glow of the aurora really well, which is generally what I’m looking for in Northern Lights images. The aurora became visible during blue hour and continued to dance away for the night, lining up perfectly around the mountain. It was definitely a night to remember.”
#19 “Flames In The Sky” By Risto Leskinen
Image source: ristoleskinen
“This image was taken in the Pallas-Ylläs National Park in Finnish Lapland. Satellite data indicated strong solar winds for the evening, and I decided to drive to Pallas Fell, where the landscape was ideal, with fresh snow on the trees. I usually concentrate on one composition per night, but this time, the aurora storm was exceptionally long, covering the whole sky, and I was able to get several images with various foregrounds. It was freezing cold, but flames like these make you forget the temperature.”
#20 “Pictured Rocks Magic” By Marybeth Kiczenski
Image source: shelbydiamondstar
Upper Michigan Peninsula, USA
“Unpredictable. Wild. Mesmerizing. The Aurora speaks to a certain area of your soul: the part that transcends everyday life and enters into the almost supernatural. This is the draw to chasing the Aurora. It’s a feeling I have trouble putting into words. Not many realize that the Northern Lights can be seen pretty regularly from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!
While they are mostly confined to the horizon at that latitude, a good show is very much visible to the naked eye. In this image, I was out on this cove shooting the Milky Way. It is one of my favorite spots on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s an almost 2-mile hike through the woods to reach this area, so I never thought I’d ever catch the Aurora here since I typically pre-plan my Aurora shootings. When I checked the Northern Lights forecast the day prior, nothing stood out in terms of the likelihood of them happening, so, when they appeared around 11 pm, I was elated.
These are the moments in a night sky chaser’s life that make everything worth it. They danced for a few hours this night. The ribbons glowing and fluidly moving across the horizon left me speechless. To get the most from this opportunity, I took a combination of shots; a 2-min exposure of the foreground and a 15-second exposure of the sky. This way, you can see more detail in the foreground while retaining the detail in the Northern Lights.”
#21 “Antarctic Night” By Benjamin Eberhardt (Edit By Martin Heck)
Image source: Benjamin Eberhardt
Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory – Antarctica
“This image shows a strong and colorful aurora over the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole and is part of a longer time-lapse series. The South Pole is probably one of the most remote and challenging environments to do photography, and it is strenuous for both humans and technology. To achieve 24h-long time-lapse shots, you need some creativity to heat and insulate your equipment in order to keep it running, and even rotating, in temperatures ranging down to -80ºC (-112 ºF). In my case, this was a learning curve over multiple months, with a lot of trial and error and frostbite. On the upside, once you have tackled all the challenges, you have plenty of reasons to be proud of your shots.”
#22 “Natural Mystic” By Virginia Yllera
Image source: virgin_yllera_photography
“It was a cold and windy night in November, and one of the most spectacular moments I have experienced chasing the Northern Lights. The wind-chill, added to the spray coming from the waterfall, was part of the adventure. The shooting conditions were challenging, as I constantly had to wipe out the lens and make sure that the composition and exposure were correct. Finally, the Lights exploded and all the effort paid off.”
#23 “Aurora Eruption” By Tor-Ivar Næss
Image source: torivarnaess
Lyngen Alps, Norway
“A few years ago, I realized how spoiled I am. On a random Tuesday night, I can head out, if the weather is decent, and capture one of the most sought-after phenomena in the world: the Northern Lights. This image came from a night just like that in the majestic Lyngen Alps, which are always a fantastic background when the Northern Lights go bananas. It was a clear night in February, and the Northern Lights started moving very slowly, but they kept building up, so when I watched what was happening on my LCD screen, the Northern Lights looked as if they were erupting from the mountain. Thanks to the moonlight coming from the left (south), the landscape was nicely illuminated and I got a decent balance with the overwhelming display of the Aurora Borealis. One thing that I’ve learned over the years shooting the Aurora is that, if you wait for 100% clear skies before heading out, you will miss out on plenty of good Northern Lights displays. This is just a tip if you are in a region of the world where the Northern Lights are visible at night.”
#24 “Ghosts Of The Fell” By Petri Puurunen
Image source: petripuurunen
“The weather forecast promised clear skies and refreshing -24ºC temperatures, so what could be a better way to spend a night like that than hiking up to the Fells and photographing trees covered with hard-packed snow? These snowy candle spruces can be up to 10 meters high and, with the snowy coat, weigh several tons. The half-moon was illuminating the scenery, so the conditions were nearly perfect. While wandering around the area and searching for compositions, the Auroras were slowly climbing up to the sky, fading away just ten minutes later. I managed to get a couple of decent photos.”
#25 “Over The Lofoten Mountains” By José Antonio Mateos Fajardo
Image source: jamateos_photography
Lofoten Islands, Norway
“March 1st, 2020, 11:30 pm in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. I don’t know if it was -10ºC or -12ºC, but I couldn’t have been more excited about the chance to see and photograph those magic green lights that show up at northern latitudes. The night before, there was a great snowfall, so going off-road meant getting chest-deep in the snow. There was no other choice but to set the tripod in the road. At first, the Aurora seemed like a faint cloud changing its colors from yellow to lime. I used the moon to focus and I could see how my camera was picking up the first colors on my LCD screen. After some test shots, I started shooting at ISO 2500, F2.8, 3.2sec. The faint cloud had turned into a big Aurora, and the landscape was magical, with the moon illuminating the mountains. To capture the entire scene, I shot a pano of horizontal images. After this, I just focused on enjoying the scenery!”