“Waning Sun” by Alex Wides. Location: Senja Island, Norway “A 300° panorama captured on Senja Island (Norway) featuring the setting sun and an intense kp7 Northern Lights display. Embarking on a three-month journey from Italy to the Great North, you anticipate witnessing incredible sights, but this trip surpassed all my expectations. Arriving at Senja Island, my personal favorite among the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit, we encountered the most powerful Northern Lights of the year, exactly as predicted. The horizon is glowing with the light of the setting sun; in September, it sets at 11:00 PM, painting the sky in vibrant shades of green, purple, and red. This shot encapsulates the essence of the journey, capturing the beauty of an extraordinary adventure on one unforgettable evening with my family and two dogs, witnessing an awe-inspiring spectacle.”
For the sixth year, travel photography blog Capture the Atlas is celebrating the best Northern Lights photography. For 2023, there are 25 photographers from 13 different countries whose Aurora images placed on the list. From the remote forests of Finnish Lapland to the far reaches of New Zealand, the 2023 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year brings us on a colorful journey around the world.
The powerful greens and pinks of the aurora are celebrated by these talented astrophotographers, and this list is a wonderful way to see how each photographer gets creative with the composition. Whether incorporating other manmade structures like lighthouses or focusing on natural wonders like mountains, the choices made by each photographer only enhance the scene.
The images are curated throughout the year by photographer and Capture the Atlas editor Dan Zafra. To put together the list, Zafra evaluates the image quality, as well as the story and inspiration behind the photograph. He hopes that the images will bring people closer to the phenomenon so they can learn more about it, or even get out their camera and attempt to take their own Northern Lights photograph.
See some of our favorite images from this year's list and check out the full gallery on Capture the Atlas.
Here are the best Northern Lights photographs of 2023 according to travel photography blog Capture the Atlas.
“Island of Aurora” by Kat Lawman. Location: Wales, United Kingdom “I was fortunate enough to capture the Northern Lights from Northern Sweden back in March, with beautiful visible green waves overhead. However, I never expected to capture an incredible Aurora like this just a 15-minute drive from my door. Upon reaching the location, the aurora was exceptionally powerful. I worried that by the time I had sorted all my equipment and scouted my composition, I might miss the main show. Nevertheless, I set up my tripod next to a small pool of seawater, focusing on capturing reflections. At this point, the aurora had slightly diminished, and I had to endure a few rain showers. However, my efforts and perseverance paid off around 9:30 pm when huge green and pink light pillars shot out of the sky—completely mesmerizing!”
“Red Alert” by William Preite. Location: Dolomites, Italy “I was in the right place and at the right time, during my usual autumn tour in Italy’s Dolomites. That Sunday, I never thought I would witness such a rare spectacle. There was a strong magnetic storm in the north, which partly spread to Southern Europe. Scientists call this event SAR (Stable Auroral Red arcs) which is even more rare than the Aurora itself.”
“Goleuadau’r Gogledd” by Mathew Browne. Location: Wales, United Kingdom “The title of this image, “Goleuadau’r Gogledd,” translates to ‘Northern Lights’ in Welsh. Finding the accurate translation proved challenging, as this phrase isn’t commonly used in everyday conversations here in South Wales. Witnessing the aurora borealis this far south is a rare occurrence, and capturing it at an iconic location like Paxton’s Tower adds to its uniqueness. Paxton’s Tower, a hilltop folly with a history spanning over 200 years, overlooks the picturesque Carmarthenshire countryside. For over an hour, the horizon beyond the clouds emitted hues of green and pink. However, for a brief yet magical moment, the sky came alive with impressive pink pillars, visible to the naked eye.”
“Circle of Life” by Frøydis Dalheim. Location: Lappland, Finland “This is a magical place in the forests of the Finnish Lapland that I was fortunate to capture during an evening in late March. A pair of swans were further down the river, and occasionally I could hear them singing. Even though it was freezing cold, at almost -30° Celsius, I enjoyed being embraced by the peace and harmony of this beautiful night!”
“Bakers Oven Aurora Australis” by Josh Beames. Location: Bakers Oven, Australia “I just recently noticed that the sun had emitted a massive solar flare which looked to be heading in Earth’s direction. I kept an eye on the charts and was excited to see that it would be a direct hit, granting a great opportunity to capture the elusive Southern Lights! As I checked the weather forecast, I saw we were going to have the perfect conditions, combined with the possibility of capturing a strong Aurora Australis. We made our way along the Great Ocean Road, to Bakers Oven, where were treated to an absolute show after sunset.”
“Infinity” by Giulio Cobianchi. Location: Lofoten Islands, Norway “In the last few years in Lofoten, I’ve captured several “double arc” panoramas, but each time is a complex endeavor as many factors must align, and in the Arctic, it’s no easy feat. The aurora needs to be visible only to the north; it has to be a moonless night, and clear skies are essential. Additionally, the conditions must allow you to reach the peaks without excessive risk. Picture yourself at the summit of a mountain, positioned between the Northern Lights and the Milky Way, aware that this ephemeral moment may last only seconds or minutes. Being focused on such a situation, and not wasting the moment, is challenging. The planning involved in capturing this type of photo brings immense satisfaction, watching the elements of this intricate puzzle slowly converge. This photography style has become one of my favorites.”
“The Red Flame” by Laura Oppelt. Location: Wadden Sea National Parks, Germany “What a crazy night it was in Northern Germany on September 25th! It’s still hard to believe that I witnessed such a strong aurora show this far South from the polar circle. It began with a faint glow on the horizon around 10 PM and intensified over time. The live view of my camera displayed the greens quite well, though they weren’t visible to the naked eye. Later, as the reds and pinkish/purple tones emerged, the colors became clearly visible to the human eye. At a certain point, everything in the sky seemed to explode, and I couldn’t help but scream out loudly on the beach in pure excitement and disbelief! Experiencing such an intense show in Germany was truly awesome. I’m still astonished while writing down these words, and I’m grateful to have witnessed this special event in my home country on a small island in the North Sea. The photograph’s composition might not be original, and the horizon is illuminated by lots of ships anchoring nearby overnight, but the clearly visible aurora makes this image special and meaningful to me.”
“Storm Over Sukakpak” by Nickolas Warner. Location: Alaska, USA “Located approximately 70 miles North of the Arctic Circle, Sukakpak Mountain is one of the most beautiful peaks in the Brooks Mountain Range. While I have photographed the Northern Lights in this area on numerous occasions, the most photogenic angle typically faces south, making it a bit challenging for auroras to align with the mountain. That night, there was an expectation of an X-Class flare hitting, so I knew we needed to head somewhere great. We took our chances and decided to drive an hour north from our accommodation to capture Sukakpak Mountain in all its glory. It’s very tempting to pull over and shoot where you are standing when the aurora is blazing above your head. When we got there, the sky exploded with more energy than I’ve seen in more than a decade of photographing the Aurora. Attempts to capture Northern Lights that intense resulted in a blurry mess. Instead, we ignored the cameras and stared up in awe as to not miss the light show. It was only once things slowed down that I captured this panorama.”
“Green Snakes” by Filip Hrebenda. Location: Vikten, Norway “This photo was taken at one of the lesser-known beaches in Lofoten, Norway, called “Vikten.” As with my other shots, I aimed to capture something new and different. During low tide at Vikten Beach, numerous small pools emerge in the rocky paths carved by the ocean. So the first crucial step was to wait for the low tide. Then, I sought the ideal composition with a foreground pool to create a leading-line effect. After a few minutes of searching, I found it! The next challenge was achieving sharpness, which can be challenging in low light conditions. To address this, I needed to focus stack the foreground. I used six individual shots for focus stacking the foreground to ensure everything was sharp. Following that, I had to wait for the ideal aurora shape to improve my composition. I captured several photos and selected the one in which it formed the ideal shape for my composition. This allowed the aurora itself to become a part of the leading lines, resembling “green snakes”.”
“The Platform” by Virgil Reglioni. Location: Otertinden, Norway “That day, March 23, 2023, Earth experienced the strongest geomagnetic storm in six years, and I was out executing my unique aurora shot of the year, “The Platform.” Both Maria and I had significant doubts about this climb. While we unintentionally chose one of the best aurora night displays in years for this mission, this accounted for only 10% of the work for “The Platform” image to come to fruition. We started the ascent of this 47° steep snowy slope during the blue hour, enduring -21°C temperatures, while the Northern Lights lit up the Southern sky. After overcoming the steepest part, Maria, ahead of me, spotted the tip of the cliff and exclaimed, “I see the cliff! I see the cliff!” I’ll remember the adrenaline kick it gave me for a while. All I could think was, “No way, we made it… now, how is the sky?” Facing the cliff on the platform, the Aurora Borealis danced above us — jackpot.”
“The Arctic Dance” by Vincent Beudez. Location: Tromso, Norway “As Northern Lights photographers, this is the moment we live for, the strongest solar storm of the year. That particular night, the Northern Lights were so strong that they were even visible from France, my home country. At that time, I was in Northern Norway, which meant I could see an incredible show even facing south. I was able to see the most colorful Northern Lights I’ve ever witnessed. Being a night photographer as well, I’m not only looking for the Northern Lights, but I chase shapes within a perfect environment, to create the perfect composition. It’s hard to put into words the feeling when I saw this red curtain surrounded by dancing lights.”
“Lady in Pink” by Kenneth LeRose. Location: Death Valley, USA “I really didn’t believe I’d see the aurora at the lowest altitude point in the US. When I saw the aurora forecast, I was in Vegas. The decision to drive to Badwater Basin was a last-minute one. When I arrived, I started to second-guess myself once I saw all the atmospheric particles sinking into the basin. I kept thinking about changing locations because it wasn’t looking promising. I parked just before blue hour and gathered a tripod and camera. I didn’t even take my camera bag out. I thought there would be no need to carry my second camera and tripod, but as I got halfway to my destination, I started seeing some faint lights in the sky. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I stopped and took a test shot and there it was! Pink pillars in the sky! I started running to find a composition to set up a timelapse. I ran back to my airstream a mile behind me to get the rest of my gear. I started snapping stills and set up another timelapse. This was my favorite still frame taken from this memorable night.”
”Lost Who I Want To Be” by Jordan McInally. Location: Moke Lake, New Zealand “I was pretty lucky this night to have a few friends message me a heads up that a big Aurora Australis was forecast, so I had just enough time to rush to this local spot with a painfully steep ascent, watching beams start to dance across the horizon as the sunlight was fading! I spent around 5 hours up here and had this whole ridge to myself, shooting over 300 frames of all manner of beams and colors as the show was constantly changing!”
“Gatklettur Northen Lights” by Stefano Pellegrini. Location: Gatklettur, Iceland “I spent a week in Iceland, chasing the Northern Lights. Opting for total freedom of movement to track clear skies each night, I lived in a car, planning my itinerary day by day instead of booking hotels in advance. The strategy paid off, and I captured the aurora on four out of seven nights. This photo is from the first night. Arriving at the location after dark, I parked the car and prepared my sleeping bag. Despite being up since 4 AM, I set my alarm clock to wake me every hour in anticipation of a KP5 forecast for the night. I woke up at 2:30 am on my own and spotted green hues from the car window. I hurried out, shooting frantically to seize the opportunity. The final image is my second attempt. Initially, I framed the arch from the front down on the rocky shore but I wasn’t satisfied with the result. After a night of running around various locations, at 5 AM in the morning, I returned to the beach for another composition.”