Ask any photographer what images are on their photo bucket list and there’s sure to be one answer that crops up again and again. Shooting the aurora, also called the Northern Lights, is both an exciting and challenging photo task, but one that can create amazing frames. Well, the best images of the aurora have been recognised by the Northern Light Photographer of the Year contest.
Organised by travel and photography blog Capture the Atlas, this year’s finalist collection saw images that were taken around the world, in countries like the United States, Russia, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, and Antarctica, by 25 photographers of 18 different nationalities.
“Heavenly Dance” was captured by Sergey Korolev on the 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 freeze the movement of the Aurora in the sky, and another longer exposure for the rocks,’ commented Sergey.
Of course, along with the Northern Lights the Southern Lights can also be seen, as demonstrated by Ben Maze’s image – entitled ‘The Hunt’s Reward” – which was captured at Tasmania, Australia. ‘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.’
Roksolyana Hilevych captured this spectacular image, entitled; Dragon’s Eggs’ in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. Roksolyana commented; ‘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.’
Some of the locations for the contests’s images were extremely remote. “Antarctic Night” by Benjamin Eberhardt was captured at the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica. ‘This image shows a strong and colorful aurora over the IceCube 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,’ commented Benjamin.
“Convergence” was captured by Agnieszka Mrowka in Jökulsárlón, Iceland. ‘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.’
Photographers must endure extreme temperatures when shooting the aurora. “Finland at night” was captured by Kim Jenssen at a location in Finnish Lapland. “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.”
“Lofoten ice lights” was captured by Dennis Hellwig in Norway’s stunning Lofoten Islands. “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 was 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.”
Thingvellir in Iceland was the location for this epic frame by Iurie Belegurschi, which is entitled “Symphony of the lights”. “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.”