“Polaris Dream” by Nico Rinaldi. Location: Murmansk Oblast, Russia “I had dreamed about photographing the landscapes of Northern Russia for a long time, and this year it came true! There, you feel like you’re in the realm of snow monsters, in a landscape where the mountains and trees are dominated by ice and snow. That night, the Northern Lights put on an incredible show! It was hard work to get to this place, since exploring this location and organizing logistics required a lot of time, effort, and the help of the friendly locals we found in our path. I only hope we can see the peace reestablished soon and re-connect with so many incredible people and landscapes on this planet.”
Winter is here and that means it's time to discover the best Northern Lights photos of 2022. Thanks to Capture the Atlas‘ annual Northern Lights Photographer of the Year awards, we're able to see these spectacular—and colorful—views of the Aurora borealis. This year there are more images than ever thanks to travel restrictions being lifted.
From the remote corners of the Arctic to the beaches of New Zealand, photographers traveled far and wide to chase the Northern Lights. The results are a visual testimony to the beauty of nature, with the sky's incredible green, pink, and yellow lights on full display.
This year, 25 photographers from 13 countries were singled out for their Northern Lights photography. When making a decision about who makes the cut, photographer and Capture the Atlas co-founder Dan Zafra always considers the quality of the image, the story behind the shot, and the overall inspiration that the photograph can provide.
Here are some of the best Northern Lights photographs from 2022.
“Nugget Point Lighthouse Aurora” by Douglas Thorne. Location: Nugget Point Lighthouse, New Zealand “Nugget Point Lighthouse is on the eastern side of New Zealand’s South Island. It rests above the famous rocks, which were named by Captain Cook because they looked like pieces of gold. The lighthouse is set on a precipice, where the ocean meets the sky. From here, you can get panoramic views of the southern seas, so it’s a photographer’s dream location. I arrived here early one autumn morning to capture the Milky Way rising above the lighthouse. It was an image that I’ve planned to capture for a long time. However, I was greeted by a surprise visitor. The Aurora Australis began to glow, its beams blooming over the ocean. I quickly changed my approach and got excited as flashes of yellow and red began to appear in my frame. Eventually, the Milky Way and the Aurora began to synchronize harmoniously, resulting in this image. I love the leading lines and the way the Milky Way surrounds the Aurora. Mostly though, I love that this wasn’t the picture I planned. It reminds me that sometimes the best shots happen unexpectedly. You have to take risks and go exploring because you just never know what you might come across.”
“Captain Hook” by Mattia Frenguelli. Location: Kirkjufell, Iceland “This day will probably remain etched in my memory forever. It’s difficult to explain with words since to fully understand it you had to be there. To take this photo, I had to stay focused while contemplating this immense spectacle of nature, trying to stay as calm as possible despite my strong emotions. Unexpectedly, this was one of the most prominent displays of the Northern Lights in recent years, with a KP 6.33. This powerful solar explosion caused blackouts across India, (as the newspapers reported the following day), but paved the way for this beautiful light show.”
“Elves' House” by Asier López Castro. Location: Stokknes, Iceland “On my last trip to Iceland, I decided to try my luck in one of its most iconic locations, a magical place for any landscape photographer. It snowed the day before, and the air mixed the fallen snow with the fine sand, making the textures on the ground incredibly beautiful. Then the sky did the rest. The biggest problem in photographing this kind of scene is the limited information you get for the foreground since the exposure times are usually short (between 2 and 10 seconds) in order to capture the shape of the Aurora. That’s why I was forced to take pictures with different settings for the foreground and the sky.”
“Explosions of the Sky” by Kavan Chay. Location: Taiari Beach, Otago, New Zealand “New Zealand is really a special place for astrophotography. The skies are beautifully dark, and there are so many interesting landscape features to take in. Despite this, I’ve never managed to capture an Aurora shot with an interesting foreground element prior to this moment. Unfortunately, the Aurora activity is not as consistent compared to other forms of astrophotography, so I had to be patient. It was a cold night when the alerts and posts from other excited Aurora chasers popped up online. I sent a quick message to a few friends and went out to this spot. I ended up spending some time here with a friend as the lights put on a show, but the display kicked it up a notch once he left. With the whole beach to myself, no pesky lights from other people or cars, the perfect weather and strong beams… I really couldn’t have asked for anything better. It’s this exact shot that made me addicted to chasing Auroras, and I’ve had the privilege of enjoying this sight many more times since then, with hopefully more of these moments to come.”
“Green Balls” by Jose D. Riquelme. Location: Teriberka, Russia “Last February, I took a trip to explore Northern Russia. The place was very inhospitable, but we had some spectacular encounters with the “Green Lady”. I took this image in Teriberka at about -30ºC. At these temperatures, you can only leave your tripod in one position because it will freeze, and you won’t be able to get it up or down, and therein laid the challenge of finding the perfect composition.”
“The Fjord Guardian” by Filip Hrebenda. Location: Lofoten Islands, Norway “I took this photo last winter on the Lofoten Islands in Norway. I was supposed to fly home that day, but due to the heavy snowfall and avalanches on the road, I couldn’t get to the airport. I had to stay a few extra days in the area, so I used that time to explore and capture this photo. It was a really cold night, but that didn’t deter me. Forecasts were reporting KP5 values, which would mean a bright Aurora if there were clear skies. At first, it was cloudy, but after a while, it cleared up and the Northern Lights appeared between the clouds. What a great night it was! It was worth staying there for a few more days.”
After two years of travel restrictions, photographers were finally able to travel widely to get their best photos of the Aurora borealis.
“Inception” by Giulio Cobianchi. Location: Lofoten Islands, Norway “These are the Arctic nights that leave you breathless! I decided to spend that night up in the mountains with one of the most beautiful views of the Lofoten Islands. My goal was to photograph a “double Aurora & Milky Way arc”, to add to my Aurora collection. I had been planning this pano for a couple of years, and finally, all the elements aligned. It wasn’t completely dark yet when I began to see the faint Milky Way in front of me. I hoped that in the next hour, a faint Aurora would appear on the opposite side, creating an arc that would fit perfectly into the composition, and so it was! What a night! Under the Milky Way, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy in the middle of the two arcs. A shooting star acts as the cherry on top, and above a colorful Aurora, there is one of the most beautiful constellations, the Big Dipper! To the north, you can still see the light of the sun, which had recently gone below the horizon.”
“The Light Upon Kerlaugar” by Jannes Krause. Location: Suðurland, Iceland “I was lucky enough to witness a fantastic KP 8 display on my trip to Iceland back in October. Not only that, but it was also my first time experiencing and photographing the Northern Lights. Originally my flight back home was scheduled to depart about 12 hours before this intense solar storm, but as soon as I saw the perfect weather and Aurora projections, I knew that I just had to change my plans and extend my trip by an additional day. Things finally came together, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the images I got.”
“Michigan Night Watch” by Marybeth Kiczenski. Location: Point Betsie Lighthouse, Frankfort, Michigan “Lady Aurora waits for no photographer or schedule. However, when I returned from Canada to Chicago, I was greeted by an Aurora forecast that was slated to be quite good (G1/G2 with a slight possibility of G3 conditions). I decided to choose Point Betsie as my main location for this Aurora chase. I was greeted with quite heavy winds but a beautiful sunset and warm weather. It was super busy since it was a Friday, and there were good conditions for Auroras. It was fun to make some new friends, and we chatted while waiting for Lady Aurora to make an appearance. Around 11:30pm, she made herself known. We cheered. We clapped. This is what makes all of it worth it! Afterward, we packed up and drove the three hours back to Martin, MI, to start work for the day. Ah, the life of an Aurora chaser!”
“Under a Northern Sky” by Rachel Jones Ross. Location: Tombstone Mountain Range, Yukon Territory, Canada “The northern sky is utterly fascinating. We have all heard stories about the land of the Midnight Sun: in the summer, the sun doesn’t really set, and in the winter, nights are long with no sun, or very little sun at all. But there are also 3-4 days each month when the moon doesn’t set (circumpolar) and 3-4 days each month when it doesn’t rise! Before I left, I checked the moon calendar, and I was a bit disappointed to see that my visit would coincide with a waxing gibbous approaching a full moon. But on closer investigation, there were four nights when the moon didn’t make it above the horizon, and I had dark nights for shooting the Aurora!”