Northern Lights Photographer of the Year captures the most magical skies

Northern Lights Photographer of the Year captures the most magical skies


Capture the Atlas (opens in new tab) has just announced its Northern Lights Photographer of the Year winners. The Aurora Borealis has mesmerized people for millennia with its dancing waves of light in green, purple, and blue hues. It can be seen from both the North and South Pole and while incredibly beautiful to watch, it’s actually the result of solar storms that give out huge clouds of electrically charged particles. 

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Seeing the Aurora Borealis is a bucket list dream not just for keen landscape photographers but for a lot of people who are left in awe of its beauty. This year’s entries were taken all over the world from places you’d expect to see it such as Iceland, Norway, New Zealand and Canada, however, some countries are not so well-known spots to watch the stunning spectacle. 

Nugget Point Lighthouse Aurora, Nugget Point Lighthouse, New Zealand [14 secs, f/3.5, ISO 6400, 16 images stitched] (Image credit: 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.

Under a Northern Sky, Tombstone Mountain Range, Yukon Territory, Canada [Foreground: f/2 1/60 seconds, ISO 3200 Sky: f/2.8, 1 second, ISO 3200] (Image credit: Rachel Jones)

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!

Explosions of the Sky, Taiari Beach, Otago, New Zealand [Sky: Panorama made up of 11 tracked shots. Each shot at ISO1600, f/2.8, 15 secs.
Foreground: 2 row x 3 shot panorama. Each shot at ISO6400, f/6.3, 150 secs]
(Image credit: Kavan Chay)

New Zealand is really a special place for astrophotography (opens in new tab). 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.

Inception, Lofoten Islands, Norway [Sky: 10 shots, 14mm, f/2.8, 15 sec, 6400 ISO Foreground: 10 shots, 14mm, f/4, 60 sec, 4000 ISO Model: 1 shot, 14mm, f/3.2, 10 sec, 8000 ISO] (Image credit: 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.

Captain Hook, Kirkjufell, Iceland (Image credit: Mattia Frenguelli)

This day will probably remain etched in my memory forever. It’s difficult to explain with words since to fully understand it you had to be there. To take this photo, I had to stay focused while contemplating this immense spectacle of nature, trying to stay as calm as possible despite my strong emotions.

The Light Upon Kerlaugar, Suðurland, Iceland [Sky: f/4, ISO 6400, 5 sec Foreground: f/5.6, ISO 1600, 25 sec] (Image credit: 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. 

Auroraverse, Nordreisa, Norway [12mm, 6 sec, f/2.8, ISO5000] (Image credit: Torvlar Naess)

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.

Bridge to Dreams, Brúarfoss, Iceland [F/2.8 ISO 6400 2.5 sec. Single exposure] (Image credit: Jabi Sanz)

This is one of the most magical experiences I had on my last visit to Iceland.

I would also like to say that it was not easy at all. I took this picture the first day I arrived after a very long trip from Thailand. Of course, my goal was to chase the Green Lady during this trip, but I went to this location with the idea of photographing the sunset and then getting back to the hotel to rest.

Queen of the North, Iceland [Sky: ISO 6400, f/2.8, 5 sec
Foreground: ISO 3200, f/2.8, 60 seconds]
(Image credit: Pierpaolo Salvatore)

Seeing the Northern Lights dance above one of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland is a difficult experience to put into words. Imagine the wind in your face, the smell of the sea, and the sound of the waves on the rocks while the Queen of the North dances in the sky.

I love nature in all its forms precisely because it offers moments like this.

Green Balls, Teriberka, Russia [ISO 3000, 14mm, 1.8, 4 sec] (Image credit: Jose D Riquelme)

Last February, I took a trip to explore Northern Russia. The place was very inhospitable, but we had some spectacular encounters with the “Green Lady”.

I took this image in Teriberka at about -30ºC. At these temperatures, you can only leave your tripod in one position because it will freeze, and you won’t be able to get it up or down, and therein laid the challenge of finding the perfect composition.

Check out the best lenses for astrophotography (opens in new tab) and our astrophotography tips (opens in new tab) so you can capture your own stunning shots of the Northern Lights.