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10 best northern lights photos of 2021

Green swirls of northern lights over a dark blue sky with an icy ship stuck on shore.
Aleksey R took this image in February in Teriberka, Kolsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia. Aleksey said: “This night was definitely special. The perfect conditions came together: frost, ice, a full moon, a clear night and no wind. The temperature was 34 degrees below zero, but flames like these make you forget the temperature…. 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. It was definitely a night to remember.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

In December 2021, Dan Zafra, at his travel photography blog Capture the Atlas, released the top 25 best aurora images from photographers around the world. We’re sharing 10 of these amazing photographs with you at EarthSky. And you can see the full set of 25 images at Zafra’s website.

The submissions came from nine countries, including images of the southern lights from New Zealand and Australia. These stunning images will transport you to icy realms under magical skies. Have a great image to share? You can submit it to us at EarthSky Community Photos.

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Forest of the Lights by Marc Adamus

Trees bent over with heavy snow and turquoise to purple colored streamers in the sky.
Marc Adamus took this image of the aurora from Alaska. Marc 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.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

Aurora Sherbet in the Apostles by Marybeth Kiczenski

Pink, yellow and green streamers across the sky and reflected in a pool below.
Marybeth Kiczenski took this image of the northern lights from Bayfield, Wisconsin, in early November 2021. Marybeth said: “The aurora sparked on this night was from a combination of an M-class solar flare and a CME; on their own, they were not much, but together, they sure packed a punch. No one really saw this coming, and we had recently been burned by the X-class event that never materialized. I saw the initial ‘hit’ in the data, immediately jumped into the car, and drove 8 hours north to get away from the horrible cloud cover over much of the Midwest Great Lakes region. I went to a location I had never been to before – which is always a gamble – but made it work somehow! I’ve never seen so much teal and purple. The whole night felt like a dream.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

The Northern Lights Cathedral by Frøydis Dalheim

Green stripes in the sky over thin pinnacles of rock and ice.
Frøydis Dalheim took this image in Senja, Northern Norway. Frøydis wrote: “The views were stunning, with snow-capped landscapes, spectacular mountains, and a dancing aurora that colored everything green. It was truly a night to remember. The conditions were perfect this evening in March, not too cold. The Northern Lights appeared not long after I arrived and lasted for a long time. I returned home really happy and grateful for this amazing experience.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

The Aurora Cave by Giulio Cobianchi

A ring of green aurora over cliffs and water seen through a rocky cave.
Giulio Cobianchi in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, captured this shot of the aurora. Giulio said: “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 3-dimensional effect that they give.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

Volcanic Aurora Borealis by Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove

Orange light of fire and white smoke with black background and green wisps above.
Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove in Geldingadalir, Iceland, took this image of the aurora over a volcanic eruption. Van Nieuwenhove said: “One month into the eruption of the Geldingadalir volcano in Iceland, I was thinking a lot about whether it would be possible to photograph the aurora above the eruption. I tend to think of it as the holy grail of photography in Iceland. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime capture. That night seemed like one of the last opportunities we would get before the nights got too bright again. … I took shot after shot while just staring at the event that unfolded before me.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

When the Stars Align by Joshua Snow

Large rocky mountain in front of green tentacles of light reflected in foreground pool.
Joshua Snow in Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Canada, took this powerful image of the aurora. Joshua said: “What a sight to behold. The incredible majesty of the aurora borealis. Lights that move and dance through space. Fleeting moments of vibrancy and shimmery glow. Life is much the same experience if you let it be. Learn to savor the little, passing moments. Learn to ebb and flow with space and time, and glow when the inspiration strikes. Wait for no one. Stop for nothing. Shine, dance and shimmer your heart out because you only get one life.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

Tranquil by Larryn Rae

Yellow, pink and violet light streaming above a quiet lake. Person in silhouette at shore.
Larryn Rae took this image of the southern lights at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. Larryn 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 color and shape of the aurora happening. The next few hours, the sky was filled with incredible colors as the pillars danced across the sky in one of the best displays I have seen for years. The aurora is my favorite night sky phenomenon to capture and this night was simply incredible.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

Santa’s Cabin by Olli Sorvari

Green and magenta streamers over a snowy cabin with a light in the window.
Olli Sorvari in Levi, Finland, captured this view of the northern lights. Olli 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 50 times longer. The next time I go there, I’ll follow the skiing routes. 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.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

Spectrum by Stefan Liebermann

Green and pink flames of aurora over a long mountain range.
Stefan Liebermann shared this image he took of the aurora in 2021. Stefan 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 colors.” Image via Capture the Atlas.

Bottom line: The blog Capture the Atlas announced its 2021 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year contest. This annual edition showcases 25 of the best aurora photos taken from all over the world.

December 28, 2021
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