Travel photography blog Capture the Atlas has published the latest edition of their annual Milky Way Photographer of the Year, a collection featuring the 25 best Milky Way galaxy pictures. The compilation is published in late May every year, during the peak of the Milky Way season, aimed at inspiring and sharing the beauty of our galaxy.
This year’s list includes images from around the world, taken in 12 countries like the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Egypt, France, Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia, Japan, and China by 25 photographers of 14 different nationalities.
Dan Zafra, the editor of Capture the Atlas, curates these photos throughout the year. He looks not only for images taken by some of the most renowned photographers but also for new talents and new locations where the Milky Way hasn’t been photographed before, such as the Tibet and Xinjiang images in this year’s edition. The quality of the image, the story behind the shot, and the emotions it can evoke in a viewer make up the main criteria for selection.
Scroll down to see a curated selection from the 2022 Milky Way Photographer of the Year compilation.
House of Lavender—Benjamin Barakat
I captured this image of the Milky Way last summer in Valensole, France. The smell and atmosphere of these lavender fields are unreal, and standing there among them in the middle of the night is blissful, especially since the bees have gone to sleep and you don’t risk getting stung! Nothing is better than a warm summer night with a beautiful view of the night sky and this lonely, iconic house that sits in the middle of the lavender plateau!
The Rocks—Rachel Roberts
Motukiekie, West Coast—New Zealand
Some of the darkest and most underrated skies in New Zealand are along the West Coast of the South Island, a place I am so fortunate to call home. Motukiekie, situated along The Great Coast Road, is a truly unique area where our southern Milky Way’s galactic core sets over the ancient sea stacks and exposed reefs. While not the composition I was hoping to shoot this night, due to a big swell hindering any chance of getting out onto the main reef, I’m still incredibly happy with what I came away with and really quite proud of the fact I was out shooting at all, as I had just had a baby 6 weeks earlier. The sleep deprivation I was feeling was next level!
Ice Age—Alvin Wu
This is the Chinese version of the blue ice lake, Pumoungcuo, at an altitude of 5.070 meters (16,600 feet). This lake, located in Tibet, freezes every winter. At night, under the low temperatures of minus 20 °C (-4 °F), you can listen to the sound of the ice cracking while capturing the most beautiful winter sky. The blue ice surface and dazzling Orion constellation create a fantasy landscape. I felt so happy to have the stars as my companion on this magical night.
These petroglyphs were carved into a large volcanic boulder by Native Americans who inhabited this part of Eastern California thousands of years ago. By chipping away at the dark surface of the rock, they exposed the lighter rock underneath. What’s unusual about this panel is that it faces upward towards the sky, enabling some interesting compositions that include the California Sierra Nevada mountains and the night sky in the same frame.
The Salt Road—Alexis Trigo
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
When you visit the Atacama Desert, with its arid formations and starry sky, you feel like you’re on another planet. This place is the millenary salt mountain range where an unbreakable silence reigns, which is ideal for introspection and contemplating the sky. One of my favorite features of this place is the ground’s extensive layer of salt that reflects and enhances the scarce light, which comes mainly from zodiacal light and translates into less noise in the photograph. I discovered this corner one afternoon while I was on a bicycle looking for a unique panoramic view, and I’m so glad I found it!
The Milky Way Arching over the Pinnacles Desert—Trevor Dobson
Nambung National Park, Australia
This is a 180-degree panorama of the Milky Way as it begins to set towards the western horizon at The Pinnacles Desert, two hours north of Perth in Western Australia. Using a fast prime lens with a longer focal length allows me to capture the night sky with great detail and vibrancy, but in order to capture the same field of view as a wider-angle lens, it requires so many more shots. For this image, I took 124 individual shots! The Pinnacles are such an amazing location for astrophotography. The area is littered with thousands of these limestone monoliths, which means that composition possibilities are almost endless and one of the reasons I keep coming back here year after year. It’s such a popular spot that I am almost always in the company of other astrophotographers whenever I visit.
Milky Way Arch in the Morning Hours of Spring—Egor Goryachev
La Palma, Canary Islands—Spain
During the spring months, the Milky Way core starts to appear in the southeast part of the early morning sky, so it becomes possible to photograph the whole Milky Way Arch at an almost 180-degree angle from north to south. I chose Pico de la Cruz, one of the summits on La Palma Island, as my main location to spend the night shooting our galaxy. Around 4 AM, the Milky Way was high enough in the sky that I could start shooting at 50mm and capture a pretty decent arch shape without any distortion of the surrounding stars. All the colours of the Arch, the green airglow emission, the dark sky, and the lights of the neighboring island of Tenerife on the horizon are visible and remind me of this unforgettable experience.
Starlit Needle—Spencer Welling
The badlands of Utah are brimming with stunning, unearthly landforms, hidden in the seldom seen corners of the desert. This needle-like pinnacle is one such location nestled below a set of blue shale cliffs in the Hanksville Badlands. The night sky over this region offers some of the darkest, clearest views of the stars in the entire Southwest. On clear, moonless nights, the stars shine bright enough to cast perceptible shadows on the ground, as they did on this night when I was standing below the Needle.
Lightning the Milky way—Jinyi He
This photo was shot in Dahaidao Desert, the no-man’s-land in Xinjiang. Because of the often fierce wind, this area gradually eroded into separate hills that take on the unique shape of a yardang. I found this location online after lots of research and drove there in a Land Cruiser with GPS.
Path to the past—Jose Manuel Galvan Rangel
Not only are the flora and fauna of the lesser-known Spanish region of Extremadura spectacular, but so are the night skies, which are full of millions of stars that seem to light up when night falls and are free of pollution and parasitic lights from large cities. Given the quality of the skies in Extremadura, there are numerous Starlight Reserves that can be enjoyed in these uninhabited lands, with many astrophotographers traveling here as their favourite destination. I took this photograph in a remote town in the southwest part of this community called Salvatierra de los Barros. In this town that’s practically unheard of by the rest of the world, you’ll find an imposing, privately owned castle that has been standing, under the light of millions of stars, since the fifteenth century.
Mt. Fuji and the Milky Way over Lake Kawaguchi—Takemochi Yuki
Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
This location is called Fujiyama Twin Terrace and is located in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. At night, you can get there by climbing some steps from the parking lot for about an hour. I captured this image on April 9th, 2022, around 3 AM. This is the only time in spring that you can take a picture of this night view, with Mt. Fuji and the Milky Way. In winter, it becomes difficult to reach the road, since it’s covered in snow. When it gets warmer in the summer, the Milky Way rises to the west and it’s out of frame. I photographed different exposures for the different areas of the scene to balance all the light.
Galactic Kiwi—Evan McKay
Mount Taranaki, New Zealand
I had shot at this location before but felt I could do better, so I returned on an unexpected trip to give it another go. I was pleasantly surprised to find the skies had cleared up by the morning and proceeded to hike up and shoot from this spot on The Puffer. While it’s not a perfect alignment with the Milky Way, it was still my first setting arch of the year. There were even a few meteors flying around and I caught some of them on my frames. I arrived a bit late, so the foreground shots ended up being taken during twilight, which required plenty of color, temperature, and exposure adjustments to merge them into a panorama.
Winter Sky over the Mountains—Tomáš Slovinský
Low Tatras, Slovakia
Although the winter portion of the Milky Way is much weaker than the summer portion, it’s still full of beautiful features that also deserve attention. This part of the galaxy contains many bright stars, particularly those of the Winter Hexagon asterism. Galactic arms are full of hydrogen-alpha nebulae: objects that are (almost always) invisible to the naked eye, but totally visible with an astro-modified camera. To capture more details of the H-alpha emission, I also used a special Hα filter. The arc of our galaxy is stretching above the Low Tatras mountains in Slovakia, where the temperatures dropped below -14°C that night. Over the subject (me), there’s a bright cone of zodiacal light pointing to a nice conjunction at the time: the Red Planet, Mars, just between two open star clusters, the Pleiades and Hyades.
Egyptian Nights—Burak Esenbey
White Desert, Egypt
This year, I went to Egypt for the first time. The White Desert was our focus here, in a place full of nature and Bortle 1-2 skies. From Cairo, we drove about five hours west to our base camp, where we always started our explorations. The desert in Egypt is divided into the White and Black Desert. As its name suggests, the Black Desert consists of dark soil and large hills, while the White Desert is somewhat rugged but mostly consists of fine, light Saharan sand. This part is really exciting, because in addition to photogenic sand dunes, there are also a lot of particularly shaped rock formations. Due to the many sandstorms, many of these rock formations are uniquely shaped and thus offer a wide variety of compositions.