Glow and behold! The 25 best aurora pictures of 2021, from dazzling light shows in Alaska to heavenly displays over Tasmania and New Zealand
- The photos have been gathered over the course of the year by travel and photography blog Capture the Atlas
- They are in the site’s Northern Lights Photographer of the Year collection, which it presents each year
- Some of the photographers braved extreme temperatures, up to -35C, to snare their image
They’re some of the most illuminating photographs you’ll ever set eyes on.
Here we present the best aurora pictures taken around in the world in 2021, as chosen by travel and photography blog Capture the Atlas.
They are in the site’s Northern Lights Photographer of the Year collection, which it presents each year.
This year’s list includes images taken in countries such as the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Australia, and New Zealand, by 25 photographers of 13 different nationalities.
Capture the Atlas said: ‘The quality of the image, the story behind the shot, and the overall inspiration that the photograph can provide are the main factors for selecting the images every year.’ Dan Zafra, editor of Capture the Atlas, curates the photos throughout the year, ‘looking for images taken by some of the most renowned photographers, but also for new talents and for new locations where the Northern Lights haven’t been photographed before’.
Scroll down for the glow-down on this year’s list…
This image was captured in February in Teriberka, in the Kolsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia, on the Barents Sea coast. The photographer, Russian Aleksey R, said: ‘This night was definitely special. The perfect conditions for shooting the Northern Lights came together: frost, ice, a full moon, a clear night, and no wind. The weather was extremely difficult – the temperature was 34 degrees below zero, but flames like these make you forget the temperature. I had a certain vision of the photo I wanted and, because of the extreme weather, I had to build the photo in stages. Thanks to the moonlight, the landscape was nicely illuminated, and I got a decent balance with the overwhelming display of the aurora borealis. To get the most out of this opportunity, I took a combination of shots: one for the foreground and one for the sky. That way, you can see more detail in the foreground while retaining the detail in the Northern Lights’
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This incredible image was taken at Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota. The photographer behind it, Marshall Lipp, said: ‘After following the space weather for a few days, I knew that there was a good chance the Lights were going to be out during this fall, so I went to one of my favorite places and set up my gear in hopes the aurora would show. And it did! I was in amazement as it danced overhead at times, and I was able to capture some images just how I envisioned them’
LEFT: A dazzling image taken in Iceland by Slovak landscape photographer Filip Hrebenda, who said: ‘Although the best time to see the aurora in Iceland is mainly from the fall to early spring, I took this photo in the southeast of Iceland during the late spring. After three days of shooting volcanoes without sleeping, I was really tired, but when the KP index jumped to four [the higher the number out of nine, the greater the chance of seeing an aurora], I knew I would not be sleeping again that night. I found an interesting foreground with colour reflections and waited for the aurora to appear. All of a sudden, she started dancing exactly where I wanted – right above the mountainside! It had been a long night, but the adrenaline gave me enough energy at that moment to keep me awake until morning.’ RIGHT: A stunning photograph of a spectacular aurora display over Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. The photographer, Herry Himanshu, said: ‘In all my years of aurora chasing in Saskatchewan, I had never seen such vivid, fast-moving, wild formations and incredible, purple, pulsating lights. A friend who was also out shooting the Lights phoned me at 1am when the skies were going berserk and we were both just hysterical, probably howling louder than the coyotes in the distance. That night, I only got a couple of hours of sleep before going to work, but I was buzzing off the aurora high all day’
This mesmerising image was taken in Alaska by Marc Adamus, who said: ‘Wandering around these forests coated in rime ice is one of the most magical experiences, but also one of the most difficult to capture. Temperatures are often in the minus 30s and negotiating the easily broken, crusty snow on snowshoes with nothing but a headlamp makes for great challenges in hiking and composing. I used the last light of twilight to set up the shot you see here and returned to it hours later as the lights were dancing overhead’
Behold Lake Tekapo in New Zealand – with a dazzling aurora makeover. The snapper behind this shot, Larryn Rae, said: ‘I was on a photography trip when aurora alerts began popping up on my phone, so we started searching for a unique place to shoot them from. We ended up at this lakeside location, and as soon as the sunset faded and dusk fell, we could already see the colour and shape of the aurora happening. The next few hours, the sky was filled with incredible colours as the pillars danced across the sky in one of the best displays I have seen for years. The aurora is my favourite night sky phenomenon to capture and this night was simply incredible’
This amazing image of an aurora above the Geldingadalir volcano in Iceland was captured by Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove, who described the scene as ‘the holy grail of photography in Iceland’
LEFT: This eye-catching image was taken by John Weatherby on the Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland while he was co-leading a photography workshop. He said: ‘It sounds cliche, but a good aurora show is still so special, even after seeing it many times. Each aurora is as unique as a fingerprint and forms different shapes at different paces.’ RIGHT: A sensational light show over the Lofoten Islands in Norway, captured by Frank Olsen. He said: ‘This night, I got all my shots lined up of the aurora, the moonlight, and snow-covered mountains. When the Northern Lights started running, I got out of the car and started shooting a crazy show for the entire evening. I’ve been photographing all my life. I bought my first film-based SLR when I was 16 years old and took my first digital photo in 1997 using a borrowed camera. I took my first aurora photo in 2008, and now, I’ve taken more than three million Northern Lights photos’
Michigan native Marybeth Kiczenski is the photographer behind this breathtaking image, taken in Bayfield, Wisconsin. She said: ‘I went to a location I had never been to before – which is always a gamble – but made it work somehow. Hunting for compositions in the dark is always a challenge. The amount of colour detail in this image is amazing. I’ve never seen so much teal and purple. The whole night felt like a dream’
LEFT: A jaw-dropping image captured in Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Canada, by Joshua Snow. He said: ‘This image captures my week in Tombstone like no other ever will. After losing my dad in May and experiencing a full-on mental breakdown shortly before this trip, it felt like I was on a roller coaster I didn’t know when would stop or even slow down. However, I am learning how to beat it back and slow the ride down. This week in the mountains gave me a chance to heal, think, and feel more deeply than I have in a long time: slowing down to appreciate where I am in life, and reflect on what it is I want and need from it. Sometimes things can feel impossible. Hopeless. Scary. But sometimes, when things seem their most dim, their most hopeless, the universe reminds you that the sun will shine again. And how bright it shines on me now.’ RIGHT: A spellbinding image taken by Mark Jinks in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. He said: ‘I took this image during one of the more intense periods just before 2am. The aurora can certainly be fickle, especially in the mid-latitudes of Canada. Using Space Weather Live as a resource and learning how to predict the Northern Lights can go a long way in having a successful viewing session. Being patient and having perseverance can often be key to seeing a great display. Staying warm by dressing for colder temperatures than expected and having some friends along for company can help make the experience much more comfortable’
Stefan Liebermann is the photographer behind this striking image, taken in Iceland. He said: ‘The full spectrum of the Northern Lights over the iconic “Vestrahorn” location in Iceland. What a dreamlike experience. A G3 (strong) geomagnetic storm hit the earth on October 31, 2021, and produced these wonderful colours’
LEFT: Olli Sorvari took this image in Levi, Finland, and named it ‘Santa’s Cabin’. Apparently, reaching it was quite a struggle. He said: ‘I know the journey is often more important and memorable than the results, and after taking this picture, I think this was a trip to remember. It wasn’t a long hike, but when you don’t have snowshoes and you sink half a meter with every step you take, it kind of feels fifty times longer. The next time I go there, I’ll follow the skiing routes. The whole way up there was partly cloudy with no signs of the Northern Lights, but finally I could capture what I was looking for. I also managed to get some pretty decent shots of the winter Milky Way before the real show started, which was the cherry on the cake of this night.’ RIGHT: This snap is the work of Mike Karpov and was taken in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region. Karpov said: ‘I had been dreaming of taking this photo for a very long time. The place is known for its mineral springs with curative properties as well as an 18th-century church and newly rebuilt chapels. On the night this photo was taken, the weather was clear and cold in the Kurtyaevo area. The thermometer outside the city showed a temperature of -28 degrees Celsius. Above and around, there were the moon, stars, calmness, and a silence that was only occasionally broken by the crackling of a tree in the frost. Soon, the sky was lit up with a bright flash, which, overflowing, disintegrated into parts spread across the sky, wriggling and twisting in spirals’
This image was taken by Stefano Astorri, who explained: ‘I went to this location in the Swedish Lapland, where I hoped to see the Northern Lights rising right between two mountain peaks. When I was there, the “green lady” started dancing suddenly on my left while, right behind me, the Milky Way in her winter dress had joined the party. I was feeling very cold until it was replaced by pure excitement. I immediately re-adjusted the composition to include the red cabin in the shot as well. The result is a photo that actually merges 12 vertical shots at 14mm (around 270 degrees) to fully cover the two overlapping arches’
This image was taken in Northern Norway by French photographer Virgil Reglioni, who specialises in Arctic landscape and night photography
Sergey Korolev is behind this magical picture, taken on Russia’s Kola Peninsula. He said: ‘At the very beginning of my career, when I first started learning how to take landscape photographs, I was not at all impressed by photographs of the Northern Lights because most of them contained nothing in the composition other than the Lights and the sky. I always thought it was boring to take pictures of just the sky, but one day, I saw Marc Adamus’ photographs with the aurora borealis over some beautiful mountain scenery and I was really impressed. Since then, I have had a new passion – taking Northern Lights pictures where the landscape and its composition play the main role, and the sky with the aurora is in harmony with the composition. In this picture, I also focused on the “snow monsters” in the composition to make this shot look like an alien scene’
Amy J Johnson took this hypnotic image in Alaska and named it ‘Narnia’. She said: ‘In March of 2021, a G1 solar storm was predicted when I ventured to this forest north of Fairbanks. For years, I’ve spent many nights in this region waiting for a beautiful aurora display only to be disappointed. This night, however, I reached my set location right in time for the start of an amazing show. The black spruce in this part of the boreal forest are caked with snow due to hoarfrost and the forces of wind. Finding a nice composition has become more challenging due to a forest fire that spread through the region in 2020. As I set out on snowshoes into this enchanted scene, temperatures hovered at -21 degrees Fahrenheit (-6C). At times, the aurora became so bright that 1-sec exposures were blown out. During times like that, I prefer to set my camera aside, dance for warmth, and just enjoy the show. For me, the best part of being an aurora photographer is when I’m alone in the wilderness and feeling euphoric under nature’s magical skies’
LEFT: Jacob Cohen took this awe-inspiring picture in Sutton, Alaska, while battling temperatures of around -10C. He said it was one of the most impressive light displays he’d ever seen. RIGHT: This image, called ‘The Aurora Cave’, was taken in Norway’s Lofoten Islands by Giulio Cobianchi, who explained how it was composed: ‘This was one of the most beautiful green nights I have experienced since living in Lofoten. This was just the beginning of a long night of chasing the aurora until sunrise. I have been inside this hidden cave in all seasons since I like to explore locations and find new compositions that have never been seen before. Inside the caves, it is never easy to photograph. You have to use more techniques in the shooting phase, such as focus-stacking and multi-exposure, for example, but I must say that these are the compositions I appreciate the most. I love the natural frame and the three-dimensional effect that they give’
This mesmerising snap was taken in Senja, northern Norway, by Froydis Dalheim, who declared: ‘This image is the perfect representation of one of my best nights seeing the Northern Lights in Norway in Senja. The views were stunning, with snow-capped landscapes, spectacular mountains, and a dancing aurora that coloured everything green. It was truly a night to remember’
This stunning photo was snared by David Oldenhof in Tasmania. He explained: ‘Tasmania is the most southern state in Australia. As well as having beautiful coastlines, World Heritage rainforests, and national parks to photograph, we also have the added bonus of being able to witness the most intense auroras in the country because we are the furthest south. I have only witnessed three auroras and this one was the most beautiful and longest-lasting of them’
A stunning snap of an aurora over Iceland by Agnieszka Mrowka, who explained: ‘The photo was challenging in the sense that I had to run back and forth to adjust the settings on my camera depending on the strength of the Northern Lights. The place I was standing was also a bit tricky, as there was not enough space for my feet, so I could not even fully stand straight. When the lights came, however, I was able to freeze, staring at the mesmerising sky above’
This magical image was taken in Murmansk, Russia, by photographer Daniel Kordan. He revealed: ‘Last winter, I took a trip to explore the north of Russia. I drove across the Barents Sea and hiked to the “edge of the world” in the Arctic. The adventure was full of storms and blizzards but also precious encounters with Lady Aurora. I took this image on the Kolskyi peninsula, and the amazing thing about this area is that most rivers don’t freeze, even at -35C temperatures. This night, my tripod froze while I was waiting for the Northern Lights in my wader boots with the water up to my knees in this river. Only a hot Russian “banya” [steam room] could help me defrost after that’
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