(Pocket-lint) - Each year, travel photography blog Capture the Atlas puts together an annual Northern Lights Photographer of the Year competition. This year, the competition has had entries from around the world from the US, Russia, New Zealand, Canada, Norway and more.
With a multitude of images to choose from, selecting the winner was no doubt tough. The Northern Lights aren't easy to photograph either. They're best shot between September and April in the Northern Hemisphere and from March and September in the Southern Hemisphere and you need a dark sky without light pollution too.
We're collecting some of the winners for your enjoyment.
- 34 fantastic photographic firsts
- 37 stunning photos from the 2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards
Forest of the Light
Snapped in Alaska, Marc Adamus managed to capture this magical view of a snow-covered landscape with an amazing background.
"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."
This photo comes from the incredible depths of the Kola Peninsula, Russia and offers a lot more than just an awesome view of the night's sky.
Photographer Sergey Korolev explained a bit about their logic when taking this sort of image.
"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."
Aurora Sherbet in the Apostles
This wonderfully colourful view was influenced by interesting activity in the night's sky.
"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!"
Amy J. Johnson tells a wonderful story of serene and peaceful it is being an aurora photographer who is hunting down incredible shots like this.
"In March of 2021, a G1 solar storm was predicted when I ventured to this forest north of Fairbanks. For years, I’ve spent many nights in this region waiting for a beautiful aurora display only to be disappointed.
This night, however, I reached my set location right in time for the start of an amazing show. The black spruce in this part of the boreal forest are caked with snow due to hoarfrost and the forces of wind. Finding a nice composition has become more challenging due to a forest fire that spread through the region in 2020. As I set out on snowshoes into this enchanted scene, temps hovered at -21 degrees Fahrenheit."
Iceland has plenty of fantastic views and this one taken over the iconic Vestrahorn location is no different.
For the Northern Lights
This image almost looks like it's from another planet, with incredibly harsh wintery conditions backdropped by a gloriously colourful view. It might as well be too, as the photographer explains:
"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."
Another colourful view, this time from Australia. David Oldenhof's photo is fantastic not just for the view, but for the reflection as well. Perfectly peaceful.
"Tasmania is the most southern state in Australia. As well as having beautiful coastlines, World Heritage rainforests, and national parks to photograph, we also have the added bonus of being able to witness the most intense auroras in the country because we are the furthest south."
The year-on-year popularity of this competition brings plenty of photographers with awesome photographs to show off. Below are some of the best we saw from 2020's awards that are worth seeing too.
This image was snapped by Sergey Korolev at the Kola Peninsula in Russia by the coast of the Barents Sea. The combination of incredible light show in the sky and mist-like waters at the coast's edge result in a staggering view.
Sergey Korolev explained that the image is actually the result of two photos combined into one - a quick exposure to capture the lights and a long one for the rocks.
The Hunt’s Reward
Another incredible view of a colourful night's sky, this time from Tasmania, Australia.
Ben Maze, the photographer explains it best:
"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. "
The colours of this one are most unusual when compared with the usual photos with a green hue that you'd see from these night-time shots.
This photo is almost other-worldly with an amazing icey view and broken areas where the ice has seemingly shattered.
Roksolyana Hilevych created this shot with images taken in the Lofoten Islands in Norway and crafted them together by focus-stacking three photos for the perfect image.
"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."
From the freezing zone of Antarctica comes another incredible photo, with a colourful aurora over the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole.
It's actually part of a long-term time-lapse that Benjamin Eberhardt was crafting at the time, which is a tricky thing to pull off in the ultra-low temps:
"...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."
In September 2020, Agnieszka Mrowka took this image on the Northern Lights in Jökulsárlón, Iceland.
Calm weather, a bright moon and a wonderful view of the glaciers around the lagoon resulted in one of the most impressive images you're likely to see of this region.
Finland at night
Nestled in the cold forests of Ruka, Finland, where temperatures were down to minus 36 degrees C, Kim Jenssen managed to snap this image of the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above.
After spending hours waiting, they were finally giving up and heading home just before this happened:
"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."
Lofoten ice lights
Another breathtaking image from the Lofoten Islands. This time with incredibly thick icicles framing the outside of the image and adding an interesting highlight to the Northern Lights.
Photographer Dennis Hellwig had to be patient to get this one as the lights from passing cars were apparently ruining the shot:
"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."
This photo was actually taken in 2019, in April, which is the end of the aurora season in the Arctic. Finally, the patience paid off:
"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."
Symphony of the lights
This photo by Iurie Belegurschi is another story of good fortune. After waiting for ages for the Northern Lights to appear at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland, they gave up. But when the car got stuck on the way home the dancing Northern Lights finally made an appearance.
When a dream became a reality
Mohad Almehanna put maximum effort into this shot, taking the time to plan it out and find the perfect spot for an awesome composition in Yukon, Canada.
Despite all the planning, difficult weather and low temperatures made the actual photography tricky. The end result was worth the effort though:
"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."