9 Spellbinding photos of the Northern Lights

Winning images from the 2021 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year contest are out of this world…

For true landscape photographers, there are few sights as captivating and pursuit-worthy as the Northern Lights. Well, the best of the best aurora images have been recognised as travel photography blog Capture the Atlas has published the latest edition of their annual Northern Lights Photographer of the Year.

This year’s list includes images that were taken around the world, in countries like the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Australia, and New Zealand, by 25 photographers of 13 different nationalities. 

‘For The Northern Lights’ by Aleksey R was captured at Teriberka, Kolsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia and is the product of a focus stacked creation that merges three shots (two for the foreground and one for the sky). Aleksey commented; ‘This image was captured in February in Teriberka, in the Kolsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia, on the Barents Sea coast. 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. To get the most out of this opportunity, I took a combination of shots: one for the foreground and one for the sky. That way, you can see more detail in the foreground while retaining the detail in the Northern Lights. It was definitely a night to remember.’

Image by Aleksey R / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

‘Aurora Australis’ by David Oldenhof shows the Aurora over the skies of Tasmania in Australia and was shot using a Fuji X-T3 mirrorless camera. David commented; ‘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. I have only witnessed three auroras and this one was the most beautiful and longest-lasting of them. On the other two occasions I photographed the aurora, most of the brilliance could only be seen through the back of the camera, but on this night, it could be seen without it. Nature showed off her brilliance and I stood there in amazement for many hours. I can’t wait for Lady Aurora’s next dance.’

Image by David Oldenhof / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

‘Higher Prediction’ is the title of this sublime scene by Virgil Reglioni that was captured in Northern Norway. Virgil commented; ‘Northern Norway hosts some of the most beautiful and dramatic sights you can find in northern Europe. Some nights, strong intensity auroras are predicted, which leads to incredible, bright displays spreading across the sky. The cold temperatures form ice shapes by the riverbank and these structures help direct your eyes in the right direction.’

Image by Virgil Reglioni Snow / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

Iceland was the setting for this epic frame that is part portrait, part landscape. Captured by Agnieszka Mrowka, who used a five second exposure to shoot the frame, the photographer commented; ‘Another long and beautiful night in Iceland. I had had the foreground for the Northern Lights in mind for some time already and just waited for the perfect condition to come and capture it. I needed strong Northern Lights, a clear sky on the Reykjanes peninsula, and calm, windless weather, which is quite rare in Iceland. The photo was challenging in the sense that I had to run back and forth to adjust the settings on my camera depending on the strength of the Northern Lights. The place I was standing was also a bit tricky, as there was not enough space for my feet, so I could not even fully stand straight. When the lights came, however, I was able to freeze, staring at the mesmerising sky above.’

Image by Agnieszka Mrowka / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

This spectacular image is entitled ‘The Northern Lights Cathedral’ and was captured in Senja, Norway by Frøydis Dalheim who commented; ‘The views were stunning, with snow-capped landscapes, spectacular mountains, and a dancing aurora that coloured everything green. It was truly a night to remember. The conditions were perfect this evening in March, not too cold. The Northern Lights appeared not long after I arrived and lasted for a long time. I returned home really happy and grateful for this amazing experience.’

Image by Frøydis Dalheim / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

‘Where The Stars Align’ was photographed by Joshua Snow at Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Canada using a Sony a7R IV paired with a 12-24mm lens and Joshua commented; ‘This image captures my week in Tombstone like no other ever will. After losing my dad in May and experiencing a full-on mental breakdown shortly before this trip, it felt like I was on a rollercoaster I didn’t know when would stop or even slow down. However, I am learning how to beat it back and slow the ride down. I am growing leaps and bounds toward the best version of me that I could have ever imagined just a year ago…This week in the mountains gave me a chance to heal, think, and feel more deeply than I have in a long time: slowing down to appreciate where I am in life, and reflect on what it is I want and need from it. Sometimes things can feel impossible. Hopeless. Scary. But sometimes, when things seem their most dim, their most hopeless, the universe reminds you that the sun will shine again. And how bright it shines on me now…’

Image by Joshua Snow / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

The title for this epic capture by Stefan Liebermann is ‘Spectrum’ and it is well named with the frame showing the aurora in a range of colours. Captured at Vestrahorn in Iceland via a panorama of three separate frames, Stefan commented; ‘The full spectrum of the Northern Lights over the iconic “Vestrahorn” location in Iceland. What a dreamlike experience! A G3 (strong) geomagnetic storm hit the earth on October 31, 2021, and produced these wonderful colours.’

Image by Stefano Liebermann / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

‘Norrsken Over Vintergatan’ was captured by Stefano Astorri via a 13 second exposure over the skies above Swedish Lapland. Stefano commented; ‘Shooting the winter Milky Way and the aurora together was one of my 10 resolutions for 2021. I never imagined I would fulfill this one so soon. It was a freezing, windy night. I went to this location in the Swedish Lapland, where I  hoped to see the Northern Lights rising right between two mountain peaks. When I was there, the “green lady” started dancing suddenly on my left while, right behind me, the Milky Way in her winter dress had joined the party. I was feeling very cold until it was replaced by pure excitement. I immediately re-adjusted the composition to include the red cabin in the shot as well. The result is a photo that actually merges 12 vertical shots at 14mm (around 270 degrees) to fully cover the two overlapping arches.’

Image by Stefano Astorri / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year

Looking like a page from a fairytale book was this image from Marc Adamus, entitled ‘Forest Of The Lights’, which was captured in Alaska using a Nikon D850 DSLR. Marc commented; ‘Wandering around these forests coated in rime ice is one of the most magical experiences, but also one of the most difficult to capture. 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.’

Image by Marc Adamus / Northern Lights Photographer of the Year