The 25 Most Spellbinding Photos of the Northern Lights

The winners of the Northern Lights photography competition capture the magic and mystery of the Aurora Borealis

If If you happen to feel a great disturbance in the magnetosphere, it might be because some charged particles from the sun are bopping around in there. And as freaky as that sounds, it’s actually no cause for alarm (as far as I know?). What it is the cause of though, is an Aurora — glowing polar lights named after the Roman goddess of dawn that are just one more reason that our planet is a magical place.

These 25 gorgeous photos of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights (borealis is Late Latin for “North Wind”) were selected by the Travel Photography Blog Capture the Atlas as winners of their Northern Lights Photographer of the Year competition, which aims to “inspire and share the beauty of this natural phenomenon” by highlighting the most powerful and evocative images of the Aurora Borealis captured around the world.

“Under a Canadian Sky” — Parker Burkett

British Columbia, Canada.

Racing to find a good location as the Lights came out, we just barely caught the tail end of the show. A quick sprint to the lake edge, and the magic happened. Experiences like these remind me that sometimes I need to stop and enjoy what’s in front of me.

“Vikings in the Sky” — Nico Rinaldi

When I finally visited this location, it left me totally amazed: an imposing mountain lying on a volcanic black sand beach, surrounded by large dunes created by the wind. It was a concentration of beautiful natural elements that really impressed me.

“Affirmation” — William Patino

Iceland.

This image was captured at Stokssnes in Iceland, showing the Northern Lights above Vestrahorn. It’s rare for everything to align when capturing the Northern Lights, especially in Iceland, but on this occasion, everything came together, including a meteor shower and the icy foreground, which is rare for this location.

“Flames in the Sky” — Risto Leskinen

Finnish Lapland.

Satellite data indicated strong solar winds for the evening, and I decided to drive to Pallas Fell, where the landscape was ideal, with fresh snow on the trees. I usually concentrate on one composition per night, but this time, the aurora storm was exceptionally long, covering the whole sky, and I was able to get several images with various foregrounds. It was freezing cold, but flames like these make you forget the temperature.

“Finland at Night” — Kim Jenssen

Finnish Lapland.

After spending many hours waiting in the cold forest of Ruka, Finland, at — 36 Cº, and without any visible aurora activity, we decided to walk back to our cars.

On the trail down, I saw something on my left side and told my friend to stop and wait. Suddenly, the aurora started to “dance”, and all I had to do was to jump in the snow, get my camera ready, and shoot! There was no planning or time to focus on composition. After 5 minutes, the Northern Lights disappeared, but it was a night with a happy ending.

“Right Before the Freezing” — Aki Mikkola

Finnish Lapland.

It was early winter, the water was still, and there was a reflection and reddish Aurora; not a very common combination! Many times, when the winter comes, the water freezes before the first snowfall. To capture the reflection of the sky you need open water with no snow, but this October, the snow came first.

“When a Dream Became a Reality” — Mohad Almehanna

Yukon, Canada.

The day I took this photo, the weather was extremely difficult; the temperature was 20 degrees below zero and the strong wind didn’t make the situation any easier. I had a certain vision of the photo I wanted, and because of the extreme weather, I had to build the photo in stages. The overwhelming feeling of seeing the spectacular phenomenon for the first time and racing against time and cold to get the photo was such a thrill that I want to experience again.

“Turbulence” — John Weatherby

Iceland.

The forecast on this night was for a solar storm, and it did not disappoint. After the first sign of green in the sky, the group decided to book it out to the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. It was a group effort, but we managed to light the plane from the inside with two colored LED lights that a participant brought. Hearing the group’s screams in the dark from seeing a KP6 aurora for the very first time was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

“Spring Fireworks” — Ole Salomonsen

Tromso, Norway.

I have been chasing the Northern Lights for 10+ years now, and I know that they are quite unpredictable. However, some of my best Aurora captures have indeed resulted from unexpected events or uncertain forecasts.

That night was one of those when the forecast was uncertain, but I decided to go out to this fantastic location called “Ersfjordbotn,” which is a 20-min drive from the City of Tromsø, and I was so glad that I did it. A magnificent display took place over my head after one hour of waiting. I shot many different images, but this one stretching all over the sky with me standing on the rock in the foreground shows very well how amazing and large the auroras can be.

“Antarctic Night” — Benjamin Eberhardt

This image shows a strong and colorful aurora over the IceCube Neutrino observatory in the South Pole and is part of a longer time-lapse series. The South Pole is probably one of the most remote and challenging environments to do photography, and it is strenuous for both humans and technology.

“Dragon Eggs” — Roksolyana Hilevych

Lofoten Islands, Norway.

I found this unknown place on the Lofoten Islands as I was moving around the Gimsoya Islands. That night was very cold, with temperatures reaching -20º C. It was probably one of the best shows of watching and photographing the Northern Lights I’ve ever experienced, because in a place like this, it’s not easy to find something new with such a magical foreground and the kp5/kp6 Northern Lights dancing all night long.

“Heavenly Dance” — Sergey Korolev

I’ve been hunting landscapes and Northern Lights on Russia’s Kola Peninsula for several years and I still find new spots. I found this stone beach on the coast of the Barents Sea a few years ago. At the time, I was mesmerized by the shape of the boulders, which moved with the rumble of the ocean waves, as well as the steep mountains rising from the sea.

“Gate to the North” — Filip Hrebenda

Iceland.

After a few hours of waiting, Lady Aurora came out with amazing power. The shooting conditions weren’t easy. In the evening, winds of 70+ km/h began to blow, which is difficult for shooting long exposures. To take this photo, I also had to make sure that my tripod was as steady as possible. Despite the challenges, I managed to pull off a very special Aurora image. It doesn’t matter how tired you are; when the aurora shows up, euphoria always wins over fatigue!

“Lights in the Land of Living Skies” — Jeanine Holowatuik

I captured this image during a surprise aurora storm that came out of nowhere near the end of May in the boreal forest of Saskatchewan, Canada. The moon was illuminating the clouds and the Northern Lights reached overhead. It was a magical moment!

“The Tower of Sorcery” — Joaquín Marco

Iceland.

As I do in the rest of my night photographs, I shot the foreground during blue hour and waited for the show to happen; that way, I can achieve the best quality in my images. This time, the Northern Lights were so intense that I had to use a shutter speed down to 1 second to capture all the textures of the Aurora, forcing me to use very high ISO ranges between 8000 and 12800. I took this photo at the top of the Skogafoss waterfall, a composition that I hadn’t seen before and that sums up that magical night.

“Aurora Eruption” — Tor-ivar Næss

Lyngen Alps, Norway.

A few years ago, I realized how spoiled I am. On a random Tuesday night, I can head out, if the weather is decent, and capture one of the most sought-after phenomena in the world: the Northern Lights.

This image came from a night just like that in the majestic Lyngen Alps, which are always a fantastic background when the Northern Lights go bananas. It was a clear night in February, and the Northern Lights started moving very slowly, but they kept building up, so when I watched what was happening on my LCD screen, the Northern Lights looked as if they were erupting from the mountain.

“Convergence” — Agnieszka Mrowka

Jökulsárlón, Iceland.

It was late September 2020, and finally, the perfect conditions for the Northern Lights came together; +Kp6 converged with unusually calm weather and the moon illuminating the ice of the most popular glacier lagoon in Iceland.

It was a fierce and peaceful night to remember.

“Pictured Rocks Magic” — Marybeth Kiczenski

Upper Michigan Peninsula, USA.

Unpredictable. Wild. Mesmerizing. The Aurora speaks to a certain area of your soul: the part that transcends everyday life, and enters into the almost supernatural. This is the draw to chasing the Aurora. It’s a feeling I have trouble putting into words.

Not many realize that the Northern Lights can be seen pretty regularly from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

“Natural Mystic” — Virginia Yllera

It was a cold and windy night in November, and one of the most spectacular moments I have experienced chasing the Northern Lights. The wind-chill, added to the spray coming from the waterfall, was part of the adventure. The shooting conditions were challenging, as I constantly had to wipe out the lens and make sure that the composition and exposure were correct. Finally, the Lights exploded and all the effort paid off.

“The Hunt’s Reward” — Ben Maze

Captured in this image is a trifecta of astronomical phenomena that made for some of the best astrophotography conditions one can witness in Australia, namely, the setting Milky Way galactic core, zodiacal light, and of course, the elusive Aurora Australis. On top of this, a sparkling display of oceanic bioluminescence adorned the crashing waves, adding the cherry on top to what was already a breathtaking experience.

“Over the Lofoten Mountains” — Jose Antonio Mateos Fajardo

March 1st, 2020, 11:30 pm in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. I don’t know if it was -10ºC or -12ºC, but I couldn’t have been more excited about the chance to see and photograph those magic green lights that show up at northern latitudes.

“Ghosts of the Fell” — Petri Puurunen

These snowy candle spruces can be up to 10 meters high and, with the snowy coat, weigh several tons.

The half-moon was illuminating the scenery, so the conditions were nearly perfect. While wandering around the area and searching for compositions, the Auroras were slowly climbing up to the sky, fading away just ten minutes later. I managed to get a couple of decent photos.

“Hafragilsfoss Aurora” — Stefano Pellegrini

Iceland.

Dettifoss was too big and full of spray to photograph at night, so I got in the car and searched for other spots. My final destination was Hafragilsfoss, where I found an interesting composition. As soon as I was in the right position, I started with a 4-minute shot for the foreground. After a minute, I saw the sky exploding, so I quickly got my camera ready to catch the aurora. It was absolutely breathtaking and one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen!

“Lofoten Ice Lights” — Dennis Hellwig

This place was very difficult to get to. It was narrow and there was ice and snow over the icicles. I was able to stand through a hole in the stream and use the tripod to bring my camera close to the icicles. It was so tight that it was almost impossible to work with a tripod. I also had to make sure that my tripod legs didn’t break the ice.

“Symphony of the Lights” — Iurie Belegurschi

Thingvellir, Iceland.

My plan for the night was to photograph the Northern Lights at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland.

The day before the chase, there was a blizzard and the roads were full of snow. After waiting 4 hours for the Aurora to show up with no luck, I decided to drive home. My car got stuck in the snow and, when I was waiting for help, the Northern Lights finally showed up and “danced” for about ten minutes. I was lucky to get stuck next to this pond and take this shot with the Aurora reflected on the water.

It was probably the first time that I was happy to be stuck in the snow.

You can find more on the competition and its winners at Capture the Atlas.

Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Currently editor @Tenderly and writer at large. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail

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