Travel photography blog Capture the Atlas has published the latest edition of their annual Milky Way Photographer of the Year. The compilation is always published in late May/early June during the peak of the Milky Way season, and it is aimed at inspiring and sharing the beauty of our galaxy.
This year’s list includes images that were taken around the world, in 12 countries like the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Greece, by 25 photographers of 14 different nationalities.
The Milky Way season ranges from February to October in the Northern Hemisphere and from January to November in the Southern Hemisphere. The best time to see and photograph the Milky Way is usually between May and June with the maximum hours of visibility of the Milky Way on both hemispheres.
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 for new locations where the Milky Way hasn’t been photographed before, such as the Iguazu falls in this year’s edition.
Scroll down to see 9 images from the 2021 Milky Way Photographer of the Year compilation.
Chamber of Light – Spencer Welling
The deserts of the Southwest are abound with places to capture the night sky. With all that the Southwest has to offer, it’s easy to overlook some of the more obscure hidden gems hovering under the radar. This is one such location, which is situated below a remote set of cliffs in Grand Staircase-Escalante. Due to its remoteness, this natural stone chamber provides some of the clearest, most pristine views of the Milky Way framed by the copper-colored opening of the cavern.
Our Lady of the Snows – Uroš Fink
Velika Planina, Slovenia
I had been planning this panorama for quite some time, and as soon as I had the opportunity, I didn’t hesitate and went for it. I hiked with my friend in the snow for around 3 hours, with 60kg (130 lbs.) of camera gear. Thankfully we had a sled, so we could pull the gear behind us. We spent the whole night outdoors under the starry sky at –10 degrees with a strong north wind, so I could barely feel my fingers on my hands. A great desire to photograph this beauty kept us upright all night, and in the end, we were rewarded with wonderful images. It was one of the most memorable nights I’ve spent capturing our galaxy. Velika Planina is a big pasture karstified mountain plateau in the Kamniško-Savinjske Alps, in the northeast of Kamnik, Slovenia. It has an average elevation of 1,500 meters above sea level (Bortle sky 4). This area is also known for the wooden shepherds’ huts. In the center of the panorama, the protagonist is the chapel "Our Lady of the Snows.”
When All the Stars Align – Kelly Teich
Mammoth Lakes, California, USA
Some of the darkest skies in California are along Hwy 395 on the eastern side of the Sierras. This particular location, near Mammoth Lakes, is a unique spot where the vertical alignment of the Milky Way’s Galactic Core sits perfectly over a mountain peak and a creek with natural hot springs flowing into it. You really couldn’t ask for a better foreground to work with! This image was taken in July, so I had to wait until a little past midnight for the proper alignment to begin shooting. Rather than going fully wide angle at 16mm, I zoomed in a little to 24mm, so the Milky Way took up more of the frame and I could capture only the most interesting area of the foreground. The sky was shot first using a star tracker. Then, I turned off the tracker and shot the foreground using the same camera settings. A simple post-processing blend of the two (sky and foreground) completed the image.
Rising from the Dust – Lorenzo Ranieri Tenti
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
This photograph was taken in Teide Volcano National Park on the island of Tenerife and shows our beautiful Galaxy over an incredible volcanic landscape – a real night-photographer’s wonderland! From my adventure in Tenerife, this image is the one that best represents my experience, both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ side. As you can see in the photo, the landscape is shaped by incredible volcanic structures that rise toward the sky as huge towers that perfectly frame the mighty Milky Way. Then, our home Galaxy, the Milky Way, seems to rise from a thick blanket of dust that scatters all the light from the faraway towns, creating a warm glow over the horizon. This glow is caused by the Calima, a warm wind that comes from Africa, especially from the region of the Sahara Desert. This warm wind is always loaded with the sand of the desert and it has a big impact on night sky visibility, obscuring the sky and the beautiful Milky Way. In the end, all the good and bad things came together perfectly in this image, giving me the chance to show you this incredible panorama and to come back home with a beautiful memory.
Steinsee – Benjamin Barakat
Susten Pass, Switzerland
This small Alpine lake is located in the Swiss Alps on a mountain pass. Most of the year, it’s closed due to snow but once it had cleared, I had to make my way there and capture the Milky Way. Ideally, it would have been better to shoot this location earlier in the year, as the Milky Way set quickly behind the mountain at that time. The sky here was a Bortle class 3 and I was also able to capture the beautiful green airglow. It’s a stunning location for hiking and photography and I highly recommend passing by if you’re in the region!
Riaño – Pablo Ruiz
I captured this image last winter in the Riaño Mountain Reservoir in Spain. The biggest difficulty that night was mainly the cold; it was over –10 degrees. The moisture in the reservoir was freezing the lens and it was difficult to shoot for a long period of time. I planned the photograph using PhotoPills and, when the weather forecast was promising, I decided to try for it. The composition of the winter Milky Way over the mountains and the reservoir created magical scenery.
Nyctophilia – José Luis Cantabrana
Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia
This incredible location has always amazed me, even before I had any interest in photography. This set of rocks, carved by the incessant churning of the sea and the powerful wind that whips the south coast of Victoria is, without a doubt, the most emblematic landscape of Australia. After an amazing sunset followed by an ethereal moonset, I was standing there, contemplating the spot I had always dreamt of under a magical starry sky. However, not everything was pink that night… I had brought a new piece of equipment with me, a star tracker, and as soon I started to set it up, I knew it was going to be a tricky night. After numerous failed attempts to align it towards the south celestial pole, I was ready to give up, but I decided to take a shot and “see what happens” while the galactic core was rising up. Surprisingly, it worked out nicely, and a door opened for me, to a new magical world full of stars.
Paradise Beach – Alyn Wallace
Lycian Way, Turkey
I spent the pandemic in a remote valley on the southwest coast of Turkey trying to avoid the chaos of restrictions and lockdowns and be surrounded by beautiful nature instead. Sadly, the valley I was residing in has very steep walls and only a clear view west, but, as the Milky Way core rises in the southeast at this time of year, I had to hike up over the mountains to get a good view. The path to get to this location is part of the Lycian Way, a popular multi-day hiking trail along the incredibly beautiful coastline of Turkey. The view overlooks a beach known as Cennet, which, translated from Turkish, means “paradise”, a name I completely agree with! Sitting on the mountainside enjoying this view of the Milky Way arching across the mountains whilst listening to the sound of the waves breaking gently below and the owls twitting through the valleys was just the kind of peace and solitude I needed.
ADK Magic – Daniel Stein
Adirondack Mountains, New York, USA
The East Coast is less commonly known for Milky Way photography due to its condensed population and, as a result, intense light pollution. However, there are still a few dark skies remaining… Tucked away in upstate NY, the Adirondacks region consists of 6 million acres of land designated as “Forever Wild.” It is home to some of the last known darkest skies on the East Coast. I feel like I am home when I am hiking in the Adirondacks. This shot, then, captures the magic which I feel fills my heart when I am there. Not only does it consist of a lake which seems to take the formation of a heart itself, but it also shows just how much the East Coast has to offer: beautiful woodlands combined with still water and rolling hills. My heart is in these mountains, and I am so thankful to be able to explore them. With that in mind, these mountains are constantly being swarmed with light pollution. The yellow glow on the horizon is light pollution from within the region as well as way off in the distance. My goal is to attempt to use my photography to raise awareness about the issue and restore the night. Remember: if you plan to visit the region, please read up on all current regulations, and leave no trace on site.