25 Spellbinding Photos of the Northern Lights

25 Spellbinding Photos of the Northern Lights

Check out some award-winning imagery of our planet's most otherworldly display.

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The Northern Lights and snow-laden trees look like a Seussian vision.
The Northern Lights and snow-laden trees look like a Seussian vision.
Photo: Nico Rinaldi

The Northern Lights (aurora borealis) are caused by energized particles from the Sun that collide with gases in Earth’s atmosphere. The collisions cause the dazzling light displays known as aurorae; in the southern hemisphere, they’re aurora australis.

The lights can appear up to 400 miles above Earth’s surface and change color depending on the gases the solar particles are interacting with. The photography site Capture the Atlas has released the fifth edition of its Northern Lights Photographer of the Year contest. Here are the 25 winning images aurorae around the world.

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“Magic Night”

“Magic Night”

The Northern Lights over an icy river in Russia.
The Northern Lights over an icy river in Russia.
Photo: Aleksey & Anastasia R.

This image shows lights above Russia’s Kola Peninsula. The glow is reflected in the river—despite temperatures dropping below -22°F in the winter, the rivers don’t often freeze over.

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“Elves’ House”

“Elves’ House”

A person silhouetted under the Northern Lights.
A person silhouetted under the Northern Lights.
Photo: Asier López Castro

This shot from Iceland captures a recent snowfall under the Northern Lights. The aurorae frames the peaks below, as well as a person silhouetted under their vastness.

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“Chasing the Light”

“Chasing the Light”

A person silhouetted under the Northern Lights, looking out from an ice cave.
A person silhouetted under the Northern Lights, looking out from an ice cave.
Photo: David Erichsen

Taken at Alaska’s Castner Glacier, this image shows a person holding a light under the aurorae from within an ice cave. It was a two-hour hike to the cave, which has since collapsed. “You have to chase every opportunity before it’s gone,” said photographer David Erichsen in a Capture the Atlas release.

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“Northern Lights Over Dramatic Lofoten Peaks”

“Northern Lights Over Dramatic Lofoten Peaks”

The Northern Lights over the Lofoten Island peaks.
The Northern Lights over the Lofoten Island peaks.
Photo: David Haring

This shot shows the jagged peaks of the Lofoten Islands in Norway. The tallest peak almost seems to scrape the aurora, a gossamer of pale green in the night sky.

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“Green Balls”

“Green Balls”

The aurorae over Teriberka, Russia.
The aurorae over Teriberka, Russia.
Photo: Jose D. Riquelme

Taken in Northern Russia in February 2022, getting this image required braving frigid temperatures. At about -22 degrees Fahrenheit, “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,” said photographer Jose D. Riquelme. Behold the result: an arresting shot of the aurora’s arcs, sweeping across the sky.

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“Nugget Point Lighthouse Aurora”

“Nugget Point Lighthouse Aurora”

A pinkish-yellow aurora over New Zealand.
A pinkish-yellow aurora over New Zealand.
Photo: Douglas Thorne

This unique shot captures two cosmic phenomena—the large aurorae but also the glorious arc of the Milky Way galaxy. At left, a lighthouse on New Zealand’s Nugget Point shines.

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“Magical Forest”

“Magical Forest”

The Aurora Borealis over Russia.
The Aurora Borealis over Russia.
Photo: Elena Ermolina

This image uses geometry to pull the viewer in. At bottom, snowcapped stones are soft, lumpy spheres. In the sky, the aurora’s streaks make for a nice linear contrast. Separating the two are the wintry forests of Murmansk, Russia.

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“The Fjord Guardian”

“The Fjord Guardian”

The Northern Lights over Norway.
The Northern Lights over Norway.
Photo: Filip Hrebenda

In this image, the aurora lines are mirrored by streaks of snow on the ground. Between the two is a towering peak of the Lofoten Islands, Norway, where plenty find a good spot for observing the cosmic lights.

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“Inception”

“Inception”

The Northern Lights over Norway.
The Northern Lights over Norway.
Photo: Giulio Cobianchi

There’s a lot going on in this thrilling photo. Three arcs illuminate the sky here: two belong to the aurora borealis and one to the Milky Way galaxy. Below the Milky Way’s arc is a splotch of light—the Andromeda Galaxy. Between the aurora and the Milky Way is a shooting star, and above the aurora is the Big Dipper. The peaks of Norway pepper the bottom of the photo.

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“Emerald Howl”

“Emerald Howl”

A frozen water body beneath the aurora in Finland.
A frozen water body beneath the aurora in Finland.
Photo: Itai Monnickendam

Here, a frozen waterway sits below streaks of the Northern Lights in Finland. The ethereal scene feels timeless—fitting, considering the thousands of human generations that have probably witnessed this atmospheric light show.

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“Bridge to Dreams”

“Bridge to Dreams”

The Northern lights and flowing water in Brúarfoss, Iceland.
The Northern lights and flowing water in Brúarfoss, Iceland.
Photo: Jabi Sanz

Here, water flows in the direction of the photographer and the Northern Lights seem to follow a similar path. Both lead toward the vanishing point of the photograph—somewhere near the Icelandic horizon.

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“The Light Upon Kerlaugar”

“The Light Upon Kerlaugar”

The lights and a waterfall in Iceland.
The lights and a waterfall in Iceland.
Photo: Jannes Krause

A large hill juts out in front of an emerald tapestry of the Northern Lights. Below, a waterfall drops into a dark pool.

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“Explosions of the Sky”

“Explosions of the Sky”

The aurora—as well as countless stars in our galaxy—over New Zealand.
The aurora—as well as countless stars in our galaxy—over New Zealand.
Photo: Kavan Chay

The Milky Way and aurora over New Zealand’s Taiari Beach. This aurora shows up in bands of salmon pink and yellow, due to the solar particles interacting with different gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

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“Reflections on the Ice”

“Reflections on the Ice”

A pale green aurora over a mountain.
A pale green aurora over a mountain.
Photo: Lena Pettersen

The title of the photo tells no lies. A wispy blueish-green aurorae appears over snow-capped mountains in Norway. Below, a dull reflection of the illustrious lights appears on a dark waterway.

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“Nordic Quetzal”

“Nordic Quetzal”

Luminous red and green streaks of the Aurora borealis.
Luminous red and green streaks of the Aurora borealis.
Photo: Luis Solano Pochet

At first glance, the Northern Lights are more reminiscent of a tropical bird or butterfly than an atmospheric phenomenon. (The title specifically refers to a tropical bird, whose own name is derived from that of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent of Mesoamerican mythology.)

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“Michigan Night Watch”

“Michigan Night Watch”

Pink and yellow bands of light in the Michigan sky.
Pink and yellow bands of light in the Michigan sky.
Photo: Marybeth Kiczenski

As seen one Michigan night, the aurora is a vibrant combination of pink and yellow. In the foreground is the Point Betsie lighthouse on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

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“Captain Hook”

“Captain Hook”

A pale yellow hook of light above Iceland.
A pale yellow hook of light above Iceland.
Photo: Mattia Frenguelli

The remarkable landscapes of Iceland are capped off here by the wispy yellow-green arcs of the aurora. A distinctive hook shape illuminates the right corner of the image, hence its title.

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“Polaris Dream”

“Polaris Dream”

Seussian trees under the aurora in Russia.
Seussian trees under the aurora in Russia.
Photo: Nico Rinaldi

This scene was captured in northern Russia, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an artist’s rendering of a Dr. Seuss illustration. Snow-laden trees sag under the weight, and the purplish green aurora complete the dreamy scene.

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“Queen of the North”

“Queen of the North”

The lights over a mountain.
The lights over a mountain.
Photo: Pierpaolo Salvatore

The Northern Lights have many nicknames, one of which (you guessed it) is the Queen of the North. In this stunningly composed photo, the aurorae appears to crown an Icelandic mountain.

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“Under a Northern Sky”

“Under a Northern Sky”

A deep green sweep of the Northern Lights.
A deep green sweep of the Northern Lights.
Photo: Rachel Jones Ross

This photo was taken on a moonless night, allowing the aurora to shine without competition. The luminous greens silhouette a dark mountain range and meadow on the ground.

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“Red Skies”

“Red Skies”

A lime-green, pink mashup of the lights over Denmark.
A lime-green, pink mashup of the lights over Denmark.
Photo: Ruslan Merzlyakov

The aurora reflects on a water body in Denmark. Through the pinkish light, the Big Dipper is visible. A person stands on the dock, apparently awed by the sight before them.

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“Auroraverse”

“Auroraverse”

You might need some nausea medicine for this woozy shot of the aurora.
You might need some nausea medicine for this woozy shot of the aurora.
Photo: Tor-Ivar Næess

This psychedelic sight comes from Nordreisa, Norway. A human stands on a hillside for sense of scale. If you stare at the scene, concentric rings of color become apparent: a green shell, a purple ring within it, and another green ring within the purple.

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“Spirits of Winter”

“Spirits of Winter”

A snowy forest under the Northern Lights.
A snowy forest under the Northern Lights.
Photo: Unai Larraya

Taken in bone-chilling temperatures more than 20 degrees below freezing Fahrenheit, this image shows a pale aurora above snow-covered trees. The image comes from Riisitunturi National Park in Finland.

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“An Explosion of Color”

“An Explosion of Color”

A spellbinding, technicolor view of the phenomenon.
A spellbinding, technicolor view of the phenomenon.
Photo: Vincent Beudez

This wild image of the aurora shows a kaleidoscope of color in several bands. The image was taken in Tromsø, Norway, and shows greens, yellows, reds and purples caused by solar particles hitting Earth’s atmosphere.

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“Towering Ice”

“Towering Ice”

Green streaks of the Northern Lights over Greenland.
Green streaks of the Northern Lights over Greenland.
Photo: Virgil Reglioni

The green lights of the aurora borealis over Greenland. The photo was taken aboard an icebreaker vessel, so the photographer used a fast shutter speed. Below the aurora is the luminous Moon, which also reflects off the water.

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