Travel photography blog Capture the Atlas has published the latest edition of their annual Milky Way Photographer of the Year, a collection featuring the best 25 photos of the Milky Way. This compilation is always published in late May/early June during the peak of the Milky Way season, and it is aimed at inspiring and sharing the beauty of our galaxy. 2021’s cream of the crop includes images that were taken around the world, including entries from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Greece.
Capturing successful imagery of the Milky Way is an art form and the Milky way season ranges from February to October in the Northern Hemisphere and from January to November in the Southern Hemisphere. The best time to see and photograph the Milky Way is usually between May and June with the maximum hours of visibility of the Milky Way on both hemispheres.
Lorenzo Ranieri Tenti used an astro-modified Sony A7s to capture this jaw-dropping frame entitled ‘Rising from the dust’ in Tenerife, Canary Islands. Lorenzo commented; ‘This photograph was taken in Teide Volcano National Park on the island of Tenerife and shows our beautiful Galaxy over an incredible volcanic landscape – a real night-photographer’s wonderland! From my adventure in Tenerife, this image is the one that best represents my experience, both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ side. As you can see in the photo, the landscape is shaped by incredible volcanic structures that rise toward the sky as huge towers that perfectly frame the mighty Milky Way. Then, our home Galaxy, the Milky Way, seems to rise from a thick blanket of dust that scatters all the light from the faraway towns, creating a warm glow over the horizon. This glow is caused by the “Calima,” a warm wind that comes from Africa, especially from the region of the Sahara Desert. This warm wind is always loaded with the sand of the desert and it has a big impact on night sky visibility, obscuring the sky and the beautiful Milky Way. In the end, all the good and bad things came together perfectly in this image, giving me the chance to show you this incredible panorama and to come back home with a beautiful memory.
This spectacular image, entitled “Chamber of light” was taken by Spencer Welling from Utah, USA, who commented; ‘The deserts of the Southwest are abound with places to capture the night sky. With all that the Southwest has to offer, it’s easy to overlook some of the more obscure hidden gems hovering under the radar.This is one such location, which is situated below a remote set of cliffs in Grand Staircase-Escalante. Due to its remoteness, this natural stone chamber provides some of the clearest, most pristine views of the Milky Way framed by the copper-coloured opening of the cavern.’
Daniel Thomas Gum proved a little planning can go along with this image entitled ‘Dragon’s Lair’. ‘This is my favourite nightscape image to date. Mungo is a 12-hour drive away from my home in Sydney, but those Bortle 1 skies are the best I’ve ever witnessed and photographed at night. I had perfect conditions for three straight nights, with really good seeing throughout. The moment I came upon this scene, I knew exactly what I wanted to the name the image. It was otherworldly – think Game of Thrones – and it lined up perfectly for how I wanted to capture it. Large, jagged walls framed a winding path leading to a centered spire to the west. There was only ever going to be one way to do it justice and that was as a multi- layered Milky Way panorama. I planned this image using PhotoPills during the day, but in post-processing, I decided to use the blue-hour blend for the foreground with a tracked sky for the cleanest possible image.’
This spectacular frame, entitled “Riaño” and captured by Pablo Ruiz was captured in Riaño, Spain and Pablo commented; ‘I captured this image last winter in the Riaño Mountain Reservoir in Spain. The biggest difficulty that night was mainly the cold; it was over -10 degrees. The moisture in the reservoir was freezing the lens and it was difficult to shoot for a long period of time. I planned the photograph using PhotoPills and, when the weather forecast was promising, I decided to try for it. The composition of the winter Milky Way over the mountains and the reservoir created magical scenery.’
“Temple of the sun” was captured by Bryony Richards at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah using a Nikon Z 7 paired with a Voigtländer 65 mm (f2.0) lens and Bryony commented; ‘The Milky Way core rises before dawn under the southern skies of Capitol Reef National Park’s “Temple of the Sun.” This area of the Colorado Plateau Desert, known for its domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, natural bridges, and slot canyons, includes the Temples of the Sun and Moon. These Jurassic-aged sandstone monoliths, which formed as sandy mud on a tidal flat, tower above the otherwise flat desert floor. It seems like more than a coincidence that the Temples line-up perfectly with the Milky Way, their vibrant orange colours seemingly reflecting the colour of the stars above.’
“When all the stars align”, which was captured by Kelly Teich at Mammoth Lakes, California using a Sony A7III is a great example of how a great foreground can compliment a celestial subject. Kelly commented; ‘Some of the darkest skies in California are along Hwy 395 on the eastern side of the Sierras. This particular location, near Mammoth Lakes, is a unique spot where the vertical alignment of the Milky Way’s Galactic Core sits perfectly over a mountain peak and a creek with natural hot springs flowing into it. You really couldn’t ask for a better foreground to work with! This image was taken in July, so I had to wait until a little past midnight for the proper alignment to begin shooting. Rather than going fully wide angle at 16mm, I zoomed in a little to 24mm, so the Milky Way took up more of the frame and I could capture only the most interesting area of the foreground. The sky was shot first using a star tracker. Then, I turned off the tracker and shot the foreground using the same camera settings. A simple post-processing blend of the two (sky and foreground) completed the image.’
Capturing a stunning Milky Way image can mean going the extra mile, like Larryn Rae did for this frame, entitled “Mt. Taranaki Milky Way”, which was shot at Fanthams Peak, Mt. Taranaki in New Zealand. Larryn commented; ‘This is one of the most challenging shots I have ever captured, as it required climbing for 4 hours in 70km/h winds to reach the ice summit of Fanthams Peak – a volcano on the side of Mt Taranaki. At an elevation of 2000 m and -15ºC outside with gusty wind blasts, I had to choose settings that would get me the capture rather than what I may have considered more ideal settings. I am so stoked to have captured what I did under perfect clear skies, as it was both a true test of both mountaineering and endurance carrying all my gear to this location, but one I will look back on with pride and success.’
Gary Bhaztara captured this epic frame – entitled “Around dead trees” in Java, Indonesia and commented; ‘I took this shot of the Milky Way facing south after the sun set in the west. At the same time, the blue fire was burning just below the mountain while the Milky Way kept rising. Taking the picture at this spot was a bit difficult because of healthy reasons and the National Parks schedule. It’s prohibited to stay there after midnight, so I didn’t have much time to take more images. This trip was a struggle because of the many challenges but I love every single corner of the Ijen Crater; it’s like a piece of heaven on earth.’
John Rutter used a Sony A7RII to capture this image – entitled ‘Heavens Above’ – in Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia and John commented; ‘This old church sits peacefully in a paddock in the Hunter Valley of NSW, Australia. That night, the forecast was for terrible weather, so I had written the night off and went home. To my amazement, the skies cleared and it was a race to get back to the location and start shooting. As the fog started rolling in towards the end of the capture, a perfectly timed car drove past to illuminate the scene and the fog. My passion is bringing the full Milky Way arch into people’s homes via large panoramas. I would encourage everyone to head out to a dark sky and experience it. Camera or not, it is a truly amazing sight to stand under the full arch of the Milky Way.’