The Best Milky Way Photographers of the Year Show the Beauty of Our Galaxy

Milky Way Over Trees at the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia

“Deadvlei” by Stefan Liebermann. Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
The trees in Deadvlei have been dead for over 500 years. Located in Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia, these saplings grew after local rivers flooded because of severe rainfalls, but died after the sand dunes shifted to section off the river.
High above and far in the distance, the band of our Milky Way galaxy forms an arch over a large stalk in this night panorama image.

Travel and photography blog Capture the Atlas is known for its spectacular imagery and it particularly loves to share how amazing the cosmos are through breathtaking Milky Way photos. In fact, the site even published a calendar charting the best days and times to photograph the Milky Way to make it easier for photographers to take more stunning photos of our galaxy. Now, editor Dan Zafra has sifted through an incredible amount of photos to find the 25 best Milky Way photographers of the year.

This list has become an annual tradition at Capture the Atlas, with Zafra not only featuring well-known astrophotographers, but also spotlighting new talent. This year's list features photographers from 14 different countries, as well as images of the Milky Way in remote locations like Antarctica.

The photographs also highlight the adventurous spirit of these travelers and photographers. Whether its climbers scaling a glacier in the Dolomites under the glow of the Milky Way or a solitary traveler standing alone in the Sahara, each photographer has a special story to tell. In fact, these stories prove that what we're looking at is more than a simple photograph, it's a special memory that can't be replicated.

If anything, these pictures will certainly be an inspiration to get out in the open and try to get your own glimpse of the Milky Way. Coincidentally, June is the perfect time to view the Milky Way, as its Galactic Core is most visible for the longest amount of hours during this month.

Check out some of the best Milky Way photos of 2020.

Milky Way in Parque Nacional del Teide in Tenerife

“Milky Way over Parque Nacional del Teide” by Mehmet Ergün. Tenerife, Spain.
This photo was taken on one of my favorite islands: Tenerife. This is an island with unlimited possibilities, where you can enjoy nature in all its glory. In particular, the night sky over Tenerife is renowned worldwide for its excellent conditions for stargazing and astrophotography.

Milky Way Over the Badlands in New Mexico

“Alien Eggs” by Debbie Heyer. Badlands of New Mexico, USA.
The Badlands of New Mexico are otherworldly and mysterious. They resemble an alien planet. If you don’t believe in aliens, you will after seeing this place. This is not an easy terrain to navigate, and it is very easy to get lost. Luckily, my friends knew the area well, and we could enjoy this photographer’s paradise of endless compositions that blew my mind! This was shot last October on a two-week photo tour with friends through the Southwest. It was the best way to end the Milky Way season.

Milky Way in the Dolomites

“Winter Milky Way” by Dr. Nicholas Roemmelt. Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy.
Although the Milky Way during the winter and early spring is often ignored in Astro-landscape photography, I really love the bright stars (some of the brightest of the night sky), colorful constellations, and fainter elements of this part of our galaxy when the galactic core is beneath the horizon.

Milky Way Over Dumbleyung Lake in Australia

“Nightmare” by Michael Goh. Dumbleyung Lake, Australia.
Dumbleyung Lake is a salt lake located in western Australia. The lake is surrounded by hundreds of trees that have died due to the salt levels, and, on a calm night, all the stars reflect off the water. For this image, the dead trees gave me the idea of capturing them clawing up at the sky—the fish-eye panorama turned out better than expected, as the trees almost looked like tentacles. The location is very dark, so with no moonlight available, I used my self-portrait style with the figure holding the light (now a bit clichéd) to create more depth in the image as a solitary figure standing amongst the dead trees.

Milky Way in Antarctica

“Gran Firmamento” by Jorgelina Alvarez. Marambio Base, Antarctica.
This was a very special night full of emotions that I tried to capture in this photograph. Planets like Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, always attract my attention. The galactic center was about to hide, among thousands of other stars in composition with the snowy Antarctic landscape.

Milky Way Over the Alabama Hills in California

“Desert Nights” by Peter Zelinka. Alabama Hills, California, USA.
When I’m traveling through California, I always make sure to stop by the Alabama Hills. This is one of the most iconic locations in the western USA, with its incredible snow-capped Sierra Mountains, unique rock formations, and dusty roads.
In June, I spent a few nights camping in the desert beneath the stars. Once the Milky Way was shining brightly overhead, I wandered through the brush and found this unique arch.

Milky Way in the Sahara Desert

“Alone & Together in the Stardust” by Marco Carotenuto. The Sahara desert.
Describing this place in words or pictures is not easy because there are many emotions you can feel spending a night in the heart of the desert. Staying in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles away from civilization and with no electricity, cellular network, or water certainly puts you to the test. Shooting with your group, you can feel the emotion of sharing moments of humanity, even with those who you don’t know, being present, and forgetting about the daily routine.

Milky Way Over a Rocky Landscape in the Southwest USA

“Heavenly Throne” by Ryan Smith. Southwest USA.
I took this picture with the Canon EOS Ra; a mirrorless astrophotography camera that has a built-in infrared-cutting filter (positioned immediately in front of the CMOS imaging sensor), which permits approximately 4x as much transmission of hydrogen-alpha rays vs. standard digital cameras. This allows to capture more details of the night sky and the Milky Way, and really makes a difference in astrophotography.

Milky Way Over the Picos de Europa Mountain Range in Spain

“Double Arch” by Pablo Ruiz García. Picos de Europa, Spain.
This spectacular arch-shaped rock formation is located in “La Hermida” gorge, in the Picos de Europa mountain range in Spain.
At first, my initial idea was to capture the galactic center inside the arch, but finally, I decided to shoot the two arches overlapped at this time of the year (late spring) when the Milky Way is still not too high in the sky.

Milky Way Over the Halema’uma’u Crater in Hawaii

“Elemental” by Miles Morgan. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, USA.
During my trip to Hawaii, we were typically up around 2:30 am, and playing all day and well past sunset out on the lava flows. On this particular evening, after shooting the sunset, we checked Stargazer and saw that around 3-4 am, many of the planetary elements would be aligning around the plume at the Halema’uma’u crater.
Even though the skies were covered during most of the night, we happened to be at the right time to capture the lava and the Milky Way

Milky Way Over Ta Marija Cave in Malta

“A Night at the Caves” by Sam Sciluna. Ta Marija Cave, Malta, Italy.
I wanted to capture the core of the Milky Way over the entrance to ‘Ta Marija’ cave for years. I tried it several times previously, but I was unable to capture an image I was happy with. Last July, I headed back with a friend of mine to try to get a better shot, and finally make this dream a reality.

Milky Way in Kanab, Utah

“Good Night Utah” by Julio Castro. Kanab, Utah, USA.
After visiting this location in 2017, it became my personal obsession to take a photo there, mainly because I couldn’t take any night shots since the place was very remote.
In May, I decided to go back and try to take the photo I had in mind. After a very cloudy night, just before dawn, the sky opened up, and a spectacular starry sky gave me the opportunity to take this picture with the arch of the Milky Way above the “wave” of rock that seems to surround the two hills, creating an almost perfect circle and allowing me to get the photo I had dreamed of.

Milky Way Over Campsite in the Dolomites

“Base Camp” by Giulio Cobianchi. Dolomites, Italy.
I love shooting the Milky Way throughout all 12 months of the year. I must admit that during the winter season, it fascinates me even more, probably because the Milky Way has cooler colors that combine perfectly with the snow, and also because shooting under these conditions is much more challenging.

Milky Way Over an Old Monastery in Spain

“Enchanted Monastery” by Ramón Morcillo. Ávila, Spain.
The idea of shooting an old monastery under the Milky Way in the Spanish mountains was just hanging around my head for months. I was fascinated by the idea of planning this image; having the Milky Way arch above the ancient and lonely bell tower. The monastery was an Augustinian convent founded in 1504 and called the “Monastery of Our Lady of the Crag”. A few hundred miles drive followed by a long walk and a challenging climb and bushwhack ended in this beautiful and magical place where I could capture our galaxy arch.

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My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Capture the Atlas.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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