Brightest stars: The year's best shots of the Milky way
Travel photography blog
Capture the Atlas has published the latest edition of its annual Milky Way Photographer of the Year, a collection featuring the year's best 25 photos of the Milky Way. The compilation is always published in late May during the peak of the Milky Way season, with the aim of inspiring and sharing the beauty of our galaxy.
This year’s list includes images that were taken around the world, in 12 countries by 25 photographers of 14 different nationalities. Two Australian photographers were also recognised this year - an image from Lake Bonney in Southern Australia captured by Will Godward and a shot from Nambung National Park in Western Australia captured by Trevor Dobson.
“Nookampa Reflections” – Will Godward. Lake Bonney, South Australia. The Milky Way Galaxy stretching over the famous Lake Bonney, South Australia. Also known by its aboriginal name of Nookampa. I’ve been wanting to capture the Milky Way Arch setting over Lake Bonney for a long time and have finally been able to cross off that bucket list shot. The perfect night and conditions made this possible. I did the wise thing and pre-scouted the location during the day. This made it so much easier to head back to the same spot after midnight. Lake Bonney is home to some of the darkest skies in the world. This image has amazing reflections of the stars in the still waters and I love how the Milky Way can be seen. The dead trees of the past create so much depth in the image. Foreground: ISO 3200, f/2.0, 30 sec. Sky: 14mm, ISO 3200, f/3.2, 60 sec (30 image panorama, Tracked).
The quality of the image, the story behind the shot, and the overall inspiration that the photograph can provide are the main factors for selecting the images every year.
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.
“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. Foreground: ISO 4000, f/2.8, 30 sec. (44 images) Sky: ISO 4000, f/2.8, 30 sec. (80 images tracked).
Besides the timing, the other requirement for seeing the Milky Way is a dark sky that is far away from light pollution. It’s always recommended to get away from light-polluted areas like cities and to visit preferably areas at higher elevations.
Dan Zafra, editor of Capture the Atlas, curates the photos throughout the year. He tells
AP he looks not only for images taken by recognised photographers, but also for new talents and for new locations where the Milky Way hasn’t been photographed before, such as the Tibet and Xinjiang images in this year’s edition.
You can see a selection of the winning images below, and the full list, along with extended capture information, on the
Capture the Atlas website.
“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. Tracked Hα+RGB Pano. For nebula’s details, I used an Astronomik H-alpha 12nm filter.
“House of Lavender” – Benjamin Barakat. Valensole, France. 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! Foreground: ISO 1600, f/5.6, 15 sec. (Captured in the twilight). Sky: ISO 1600, f/2.0, 30 sec. (4 images).
“Starlit Needle” – Spencer Welling. Utah, USA. 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. Foreground: ISO 1600, f/8, 20 sec. (nautical twilight, 40 minutes after sunset) Sky: ISO 800, f/2.8, 240 sec. (12 tracked subs).
“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. Foreground (blue hour), single exposure: 14 mm, 1.3sec, f/4.5, ISO 100. Sky: 18 mm, 3x 180 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000.
“Framing Atacama’s hidden nightscapes” – Cari Letelier. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. As landscape astrophotographers, we dream about finding breathtaking sights under the night skies and projecting our own shadow on a moonless night with the light of the stars, the Milky Way, or the airglow. We keep planning with maps and weather data to try and encounter that coveted scenario, which is sometimes so difficult to find. Occasionally, though, those perfect compositions just appear in front of you. 14mm, 10000 ISO, f/1.8, 30 sec. (8-photo panorama)
“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. Foreground: 50mm ISO 800, f/1.4, 1 min. Sky: 50mm, ISO 6400, f/2.8, 15 sec. (7 images stacked in one shot in Starry Landscape Stacker (noise reduction), 40 shots 50% overlap blended in PS).
“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. Foreground: 20mm, ISO 10000, f/3.5, 13 sec. (179 photos to reduce noise) Sky: 20mm, ISO 500-5000, f/3.5, 13 sec. (4 HDR photos).
“Perseid meteor shower on Mangart saddle” – Uroš Fink. Julian Alps, Slovenia. I love nature and being somewhere outside under a starry sky in serene silence. That’s when I feel free, but, at the same time, so small. What always excites me about photographing the night sky is that you never know what to expect; surprises are happening all over the sky. You just need to be in the right place at the right time. In the end, the experience never disappoints me in any way. This was one of my most anticipated locations in 2021 that my friend and I planned for 6 months in advance. Of course, that brought us great results. The weather was great at first, but as the night progressed, high clouds appeared, which, unfortunately, obscured what was happening in the sky. However, I caught a few meteors, which brightened up the night. Foreground: ISO 1250, f/2, 90 sec. (2 rows, 16 panels, lower row different focus for focus stacking) Sky: ISO 61250, f/2.5, 40 sec (3 rows, 16 panels).
“Solitude” – Nick Faulkner. Castle Hill, New Zealand. The epitome of an astrophotographer in New Zealand is racing off in the dead of night, mid-winter, after hearing about some snowfall in a close alpine area. Layering up, grabbing your gear, grabbing a coffee and heading off into the mountains. After driving the back roads and going through many country towns, which have about 10 houses and a pub, and passing thousands of sheep, you arrive at a beautiful, dark, Bortle 1 sky at Castle Hill, which is situated in the heart of North Canterbury, New Zealand. This Alpine region is one of my favourite places to photograph the stars, as it is to so many other passionate dark sky enthusiasts. The formations of hundreds of giant weathered limestone tors that erupt from mother earth, make for incredible subjects to capture. Foreground: ISO 2000, f2.8, 110 secs (16x vertical shots). Sky: ISO 2000, f2.8, 110 secs (16x vertical shots).
“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 incredible 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! ISO 12800, f/2.8, 20 sec. (Panorama of 40 images).
“Galactic Kiwi” – Evan McKay. Mount Taranaki, New Zealand. Mount Taranaki under the arch of the setting Milky Way. 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. Foreground: ISO 1600-3200, f/1.4-1.8, 60-120 sec. (exposure varied based on changing light) Sky: 11mm, ISO 3200, f/1.8, 8 sec.
"Ice Age" - Alvin Wu, Tibet, China. 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. Foreground: ISO 800, f/2.8, 60 sec. (Silhouette shot separately) Sky: ISO 800, f/1.4, 60 sec. (Shot with an equatorial mount)
“Lightning the Milky way” – Jinyi He. Xinjiang, China. This photo was taken 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. 14mm, ISO 5000, f/1.8, 20 sec. (Panorama of 4 stitched images)