This is photography at its most enlightening.
Here we present the best aurora pictures taken around the world in 2022, as carefully chosen by the travel and photography blog Capture the Atlas.
They feature in the blog’s Northern Lights Photographer of the Year collection, which it presents each year to ‘inspire and share the beauty of this natural phenomenon’.
This year’s list features stunning photographs that have been captured everywhere from the U.S to New Zealand via Norway by 25 photographers of 13 different nationalities.
Dan Zafra, the editor of Capture the Atlas, curates these photos and keeps an eagle eye out for shots that have been taken in locations where the Northern Lights aren’t typically photographed. Memorably unique images to appear in this edition include one shot that was captured in a since-collapsed glacier cave in Alaska and others that were taken in rare locations for aurora-spotting across Denmark and Michigan.
Capture the Atlas says: ‘The lifting of travel restrictions and the increase in solar activity with the new solar cycle [the cycle that the Sun’s magnetic field goes through] are providing great opportunities to see dazzling aurora shows. After two difficult years, we are seeing again a growing number of exceptional Northern Lights images, making it the most difficult selection of this collection to date.’ Scroll down to see the illuminating pictures in the collection…
The Northern Lights play out in the skies over the mountain of Eystrahorn in Iceland’s Eastfjords in this bewitching photograph by Pierpaolo Salvatore. ‘Seeing the Northern Lights dance above one of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland is a difficult experience to put into words,’ he says, adding: ‘Imagine the wind in your face, the smell of the sea, and the sound of the waves on the rocks while the Queen of the North dances in the sky. I love nature in all its forms precisely because it offers moments like this’
‘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,’ says Asier Lopez Castro of the southern Icelandic peninsula of Stokksnes, where this picture was captured. It’s a place known for its dramatic mountains and black sand beaches. Castro recalls: ‘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’
LEFT: Alaska’s since-collapsed Castner Glacier ice cave frames the Northern Lights in this magnificent shot by photographer David Erichsen. He explains that the ice cave collapsed on itself in July – ‘which just shows that you have to chase every opportunity before it’s gone’. Erichsen continues: ‘What’s not pictured in this shot are the several nights I wandered out to this cave in sub-zero temperatures waiting for just a hint of green to dance through this frozen window. After repeatedly striking out, I finally got another opportunity on a night following a huge G2 [strong geomagnetic storm] with clear skies. I knew the coronal mass ejection [ejections of plasma and magnetic field from the sun] might be strong enough to make this two-hour midnight hike worth the journey. As I made my way out to the cave, my walk quickly became a full-on run as I saw the sky split open with magnificent colour.’ The photographer adds: ‘As a kid growing up, chasing the Northern Lights had always been a mystical dream. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to witness quite a few shows over the last few years, it never gets old.’ RIGHT: Bruarfoss waterfall in the west of Iceland is illuminated by the aurora in this evocative shot by Jabi Sanz, who describes the moment as ‘one of the most magical experiences’. Sanz hiked along a ‘very muddy’ route to reach this spot at night. He recalls: ‘When it got dark and I started to see the Green Lady [nickname for the Northern Lights] dancing above me, I forgot about the cold and the hike back. It was a magical and epic moment, as one of my dreams had become a reality!’
Kavan Chay captured this vibrant picture on Taieri Beach in the Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. He says: ‘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.’ He continues: ‘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’
LEFT: Northern Norway was the setting for this awe-inspiring shot by Vincent Beudez. ‘On this night, the aurora forecast was very promising, but I was not expecting anything like this,’ he reveals. Beudez says that at around 3am, a ‘huge red aurora travelled across the southern sky (visible with the naked eye), while a spectacular aurora exploded just above my head’. He reveals: ‘This was by far the most colourful night I’ve ever witnessed up there and it was a rare event that I’m very grateful to have been able to see.’ RIGHT: Virgil Reglioni took this picture from an icebreaker vessel in the Scoresby Sound fjord system by Greenland’s eastern coast as a spectacular light show ‘exploded’ over his head. ‘That night the full moon was shining light into the fjord, which was filled with giant icebergs,’ he adds
‘These are the Arctic nights that leave you breathless!’ So says photographer Giulio Cobianchi, who captured this breathtaking picture on Norway’s Lofoten Islands. ‘My goal was to photograph a “double aurora and Milky Way arc”, to add to my aurora collection,’ he says. ‘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!’ Outlining what appears in the shot, he continues: ‘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 colourful 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 Northern Lights put on an eye-popping display over southern Iceland’s Thjofafoss waterfall and the Burfell hill in this shot by Jannes Krause. The photographer says: ‘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’
Rachel Jones Ross turned her lens to the skies above the Tombstone Mountain Range in Canada’s Yukon territory for this mesmerising photograph. The photographer says: ‘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 three to four days each month when the moon doesn’t set and three to four days each month when it doesn’t rise!’ Ross says that when she visited this region, there were four nights when the moon didn’t make it above the horizon, so she had dark nights for shooting the aurora
‘This day will probably remain etched in my memory forever,’ Mattia Frenguelli says of the October day that she took this picture of the aurora over Kirkjufell hill in western Iceland. She says: ‘Unexpectedly, this was one of the most prominent displays of the Northern Lights in recent years’
A breathtaking light show fills the sky in this beautiful shot of Point Betsie Lighthouse, which sits on the northeast shore of Lake Michigan in the U.S state of Michigan. Photographer Marybeth Kiczenski says that there was a ‘beautiful sunset and warm weather’ on the evening that she took the picture. She made friends with fellow aurora chasers who were also waiting at the spot, and when the Northern Lights finally appeared at 11.30pm, they all clapped and cheered, she reveals. ‘Afterward, we packed up and drove the three hours back to Martin [a village in Michigan] to start work for the day. Ah, the life of an aurora chaser!’ she says
LEFT: Unai Larraya is behind this stunning photograph, captured in the snow-covered Riisitunturi National Park in Finnish Lapland. RIGHT: Ruslan Merzlyakov captured this wonderful photograph of ‘absolutely insane red pillars of the aurora’ over the Limfjord channel in his hometown of Nykobing Mors in Denmark. He says: ‘Many think that Denmark, being placed far away from the general Northern Lights activity, is not an ideal place to see the aurora. This might be true, but there is always hope for magic during the darkest months of the year. I have been photographing the night sky for more than 10 years, and I always try to inspire people to go outside to experience our wonderful night skies and explore the unknown. The happiness you feel when watching the sky glow like this in your hometown is unforgettable’
Photographer Nico Rinaldi snared this picture in Murmansk Oblast, a region in northwestern Russia that he had ‘dreamed’ about photographing for a long time. He says: ‘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.’ Rinaldi notes that it was hard work to reach this location, but he managed to get there with the help of the ‘friendly locals’. He reveals: ‘That night, the Northern Lights put on an incredible show!’
LEFT: Costa Rican photographer Luis Solano Pochet took this spellbinding picture near the seaside village of Vik in southern Iceland. ‘This rare red aurora that shined after a powerful solar event in Iceland reminded me of the iconic tropical bird of my home country: the quetzal. It was a dream come true!’ he reveals. Praising the ‘grandeur’ of the aurora, he continues: ’It made me think of all the myths and legends that this natural phenomenon must have awakened in ancient civilizations. I am grateful to have been there, and I will always carry the experience in my heart.’ RIGHT: The Northern Lights over Kolari, a region in North Finland, are stunningly captured in this photo by Itai Monnickendam, who says: ‘I was so happy that everything converged nicely that moonlit night. An amazing show in the sky’
Jose D Riquelme battled temperatures of about minus 30 degrees Celsius to capture this brilliant shot of the Northern Lights near the village of Teriberka in northwestern Russia. He recalls: ‘The place was very inhospitable, but we had some spectacular encounters with the “Green Lady” [nickname for the Northern Lights]. 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’
LEFT: Describing this majestic photograph, taken on Norway’s Lofoten Islands, photographer David Haring says: ‘After hours of patience, a beautifully ethereal symphony took over the sky.’ RIGHT: Nordreisa, a region in northern Norway, was the setting for this magical photograph, captured by Tor-Ivar Naess. The photographer notes that ‘there is so much happening so quickly’ when the Northern Lights ‘go crazy in the night sky’. ‘Even for a seasoned photographer, it’s very hard to focus on enjoying the aurora while photographing it,’ he admits
This otherworldly shot was captured by photographer Aleksey R on the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia. He says: ‘The beautiful thing about this area is that most rivers don’t freeze. Wandering around winter rivers coated in rime ice is one of the most magical experiences but also one of the most difficult to capture. Temperatures often drop below minus 30 degrees Celsius and moving through the fragile snow with snowshoes and a headlamp makes for a great challenge in hiking and composing images’
This shot of the aurora australis was taken facing Nugget Point Lighthouse on the eastern side of New Zealand’s South Island. Photographer Douglas Thorne says: ‘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 love the way the Milky Way surrounds the aurora.’ The photographer adds that Nugget Point was named by the British explorer James Cook, who thought the huge rocks in the water looked like pieces of gold
LEFT: Elena Ermolina captured this ethereal shot in the Murmansk Oblast region in northwestern Russia on a night when the sky was ‘covered in a pale haze full of stars’. RIGHT: Lena Pettersen took this eye-catching photograph of a light display over a frozen lake in Troms og Finnmark county in northern Norway
Filip Hrebenda captured this breathtaking shot on a trip to Norway’s Lofoten islands. He says: ‘It was a really cold night, but that didn’t deter me. What a great night it was!’