THE 2021 Northern Lights photographer of the year
Photographing the Northern Lights is an otherworldly experience.
There aren’t many events as moving as seeing the aurora borealis dance and illuminate the night sky with mesmerizing movements and vibrant colors.
To help you find inspiration for planning and executing your images, in this new edition of the Northern Lights Photographer of the Year, we present the 25 best aurora images captured around the world.
Buckle up because this trip is going to take you from the remote boreal forests of the Arctic to the far landscapes of the Southern Hemisphere, passing by spectacular frozen forests, volcanoes, mountains, and beaches along the way…always with the Northern Lights dancing in the sky.
“Forest of the lights” – Marc Adamus
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.
“Murmansk” – Daniel Kordan
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 -35º Celsius 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” could help me defrost after that.
“Tranquil” – LArryn Rae
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.
“When the stars align” – Joshua Snow
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.
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 rollercoaster 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. I am growing leaps and bounds toward the best version of me that I could have ever imagined just a year ago…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…
“Polar-snow monsters” – Sergey Korolev
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.
The photo was created from three shots at 15mm. 1 and 2 are two identical shots with f2.8, iso 1000, 35sec, but with a different focus. 3 is a shot of the northern lights sky at f2.8, iso 1000, 6sec
“Aurora Sherbet in the Apostles” – MArybeth Kiczenski
The solar storm that wasn’t but was: the events that unfolded from November 3, 2021 into November 4, 2021 will stay with me forever.
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 solar storm that was but wasn’t, i.e., the X-class event that never materialized. In any case, I saw the initial “hit” in the data, immediately jumped into the car, and drove eight 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! Hunting for compositions in the dark is always a challenge. The amount of color detail in this image is amazing. I’ve never seen so much teal and purple. The whole night felt like a dream. Here’s to solar cycle 25!
The image is focus stacked for the intricate foreground elements and detail.
-Foreground: 3 images for focus stacking) ISO 4000, F/4.5, 180seconds
-Sky/reflection (1 shot) – ISO 2000 – F/2.2, 6-seconds
-Camera: Nikon Z6 (Astro modified by Spencer’s Camera) + Nikkor 20mm F/1.8S lens
“The Northern Lights Cathedral” – FRøydis Dalheim
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 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.
“Santa’s Cabin” – Olli Sorvari
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.
“Aurora Australis” – David Oldenhof
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. On the other two occasions I photographed the aurora, most of the brilliance could only be seen through the back of the camera, but on this night, it could be seen without it. Nature showed off her brilliance and I stood there in amazement for many hours. I can’t wait for Lady Aurora’s next dance.
“For the Northern Lights” – Aleksey R.
Nature is mysterious and unpredictable, and often leaves us open-mouthed at the inexplicable manifestations of its power. This image was captured in February in Teriberka, in the Kolsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia, on the Barents Sea coast.
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. It was definitely a night to remember.
“Higher prediction” – Virgil Reglioni
Northern Norway hosts some of the most beautiful and dramatic sights you can find in northern Europe.
Some nights, strong intensity auroras are predicted, which leads to incredible, bright displays spreading across the sky. The cold temperatures form ice shapes by the riverbank and these structures help direct your eyes in the right direction.
“Nature & Landscape photographer” – Agnieszka Mrowka
Another long and beautiful night in Iceland. I had had the foreground for the Northern Lights in mind for some time already and just waited for the perfect condition to come and capture it.
I needed strong Northern Lights, a clear sky on the Reykjanes peninsula, and calm, windless weather, which is quite rare in Iceland. 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 mesmerizing sky above.
“Keepers of the lake” – Marshall Lipp
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.
“Whirlwind” – John Weatherby
It was the night of Oct 30th, 2021. I had been in Iceland for just a couple of days when I got the alert that a massive solar flare had just occurred and that there would be a KP7 aurora in a day or two as a result.
It just so happened I was co-leading a photography workshop and the show occurred on the first night. Needless to say, the participants lucked out. Not only because they got this massive aurora as a welcome, but also because we were still in Reykjavik (near the peninsula) and that was the only place in the entire country with completely clear skies. We patiently waited at the cliff for the fireworks as we watched a subtle, faint green glow low on the horizon. Within an hour, the show began and then all you heard were shouts and cries of excitement as the sky danced in every direction.
It sounds cliché, 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.
“Nobody Home” – Herry Himanshu
The night of November 3rd-4th produced the most incredible show I have ever experienced while seeing the Northern Lights in Canada. I had been keeping an eye on the forecast all day, and the data started looking juicy in the evening, so I got out early around 7 PM.
The show began solidly around 7:30 PM. I shot at a few locations throughout the night, and from around 10 PM onwards, it just turned into a big green curtain that I slowly lost interest in shooting. With not much action happening, I packed up around midnight and headed home. On the way back, however, I could clearly see the lights growing higher in the sky, so I decided to stop again.
And WOW! From about 12:30 AM onwards, it was absolutely spectacular. 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 1 AM 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 hours of sleep before going to work, but I was buzzing off the aurora high all day.
“Narnia” – Amy J. Johnson
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, temps hovered at -21 degrees Fahrenheit.
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.
“The Aurora cave” – Giulio Cobianchi
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.
“Volcanic Aurora Borealis” – Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove
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. While the cloud coverage forecast was not looking particularly good, I decided to go up to the eruption anyway and try my luck. At around 11 PM, the clouds weren’t budging much so I decided to head back down the mountain. Sitting down while waiting in the harsh, freezing wind made my body temperature plummet. However, on the way back, everything changed. The clouds started opening up, and suddenly I noticed the aurora was faintly dancing above.
I decided to put down my tripod and wait to see what, if anything, would happen. After about an hour, the lights suddenly became very active. I couldn’t believe my luck! I took shot after shot while just staring at the event that unfolded before me.
“Reine Northern Lights” – Frank Olsen
I live a 4.5-hour drive from Reine, Lofoten where I took this photo. Although I’d been there many times, I had never succeeded in getting the right photos.
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 3 million Northern Lights photos.
Being retired due to illness, I have all the time I need for exploring my hobby. I do a little guiding upon request, and I sell a few pictures now and then. I never expected to become rich doing this, but it keeps me somewhat active.
“Embracing the green lady” -Filip Hrebenda
The Northern Lights are one of the most interesting natural phenomena. This year was great for aurora visibility. 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 4, I knew I would not be sleeping again that night. I found an interesting foreground with color 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.
“Under the malachite rain” – Mike Karpov
I had been dreaming of taking this photo for a very long time, probably since I got my first Nikon SLR camera. For several years in winter, when the weather conditions allowed and I had suitable company, I got ready and went to the Kurtyaevo Tract near Severodvinsk.
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.
Photographer Maksim Zelyanin and I had been shooting lazy flashes for several hours, but the radiance still did not want to flare up. I took a series of shots for a time-lapse with two cameras, mounted on tripods, running from one to the other. When the time passed after midnight, and the temperature dropped below -30 degrees Celsius, the camera shutters began to freeze. It was time to return to the city, but as soon as the equipment was put into the backpacks, bright snakes streamed in the sky, shimmering in yellow and pink shades – a sure sign that it had finally STARTED!
Soon, the sky was lit up with a bright flash, which, overflowing, disintegrated into parts spread across the sky, wriggling and twisting in spirals.
“Dancing on ice” – Mark Jinks
In the overnight hours of November 3/4, 2021, we experienced one of the most powerful displays of aurora in recent years at mid-latitudes.
I had always wanted to capture the Northern Lights over this island. After four hours of mediocre aurora, the skies finally came alive. The aurora danced and shimmied across the thin sheet of ice covering the lake, and varied in intensity as sub-storms flared up throughout the overnight hours. Coyotes howled nearby as if to voice their approval, and during the quiet lulls, a great-horned owl could be heard off in the distance.
I took this image during one of the more intense periods just before 2 AM. 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.
“Norrsken over Vintergatan” – Stefano Astorri
Shooting the winter Milky Way and the aurora together was one of my 10 resolutions for 2021. I never imagined I would fulfill this one so soon.
It was a freezing, windy night. 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.
“Aurora over Alaska” – Jacob cohen
With the anticipation of a massive solar storm heading to the northern sky due to a Coronal Mass Ejection, excitement was setting in. Unfortunately for all the aurora watchers in Anchorage, the weather forecast was not looking promising, as it was 100% cloudy everywhere in the immediate area.
After hours of research and trying to find an area with clear skies, I set out with another photographer friend of mine, Travis Mathes, to our predetermined location, about 3 hours outside of town. We arrived at 9:30 PM local time, and the skies were already lighting up. We knew tonight was going to be special and, as it turned out, the show of a lifetime.
We stayed in the area for the better part of the night and into the early morning hours, battling temps of around -10 degrees Celsius. Around 4 AM, after taking hundreds of exposures, we decided to head to a spot where I have always wanted to take a good aurora image. When we arrived, the cloud cover from Anchorage was still thick, and we waited for a clearing in the clouds for over an hour. We were treated to a few minutes of some of the most impressive light displays I have ever seen as the sky cleared, and that’s when this image was taken.
“Spectrum” – Stefan Liebermann
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 31st, 2021, and produced these wonderful colors.
I hope you found these images inspiring and that they encourage you to go out and have incredible adventures shooting the Northern Lights.
If you’re interested in shooting the aurora, some technical knowledge is key, and the best way to prepare your shots is by downloading our Northern Lights photography guide, which will help you figure out the best way to capture the “green lady.”
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Below is a gallery with all the images at their full size. Enjoy it!
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