Milky Way is such an inspiring subject for everyone who enjoys shooting the night sky. Travel photography blog Capture the Atlas has published their annual selection of the best 25 Milky Way images. And oh boy, are they inspiring! We bring you some of them below, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy them just like I did.
Capture the Atlas explains that you can photograph the Milky Way throughout the year. However, its core, the Galactic Center, is only visible during the so-called “Milky Way season”. It ranges from late March to early October, but the peak with more hours of visibility takes place in June. This is why Capture the Atlas always publishes this selection of photos in in June.
There are several criteria for selecting the best shots of the year. Capture the Atlas chooses them by quality and the story behind the image, as well as overall the inspiration that the photo can draw. As you can imagine, it’s very challenging to photograph the Milky Way. You need proper timing, lots of patience, but you also need to find the location that’s dark enough so that it’s visible at all. However, I think that all that paid off for this year’s winners of Capture the Atlas’ photo of the year. The photos are incredible.
This year’s top images were taken all over our beautiful planet: Namibia, New Zealand, Chile, Spain, United States, Australia, Antarctica, and so on. Photographers of 14 different nationalities submitted their photos, and Capture the Atlas selected the top 25. We bring you 18 of them along with some backstory. Make sure to check out Capture the Atlas for the entire selection, as well as more inspiration, photography tips and guides.
Sam Sciluna: A Night at the Caves
“I wanted to capture the core of the Milky Way over the entrance to ‘Ta Marija’ cave for years. I tried it several times previously, but I was unable to capture an image I was happy with. Last July, I headed back with a friend of mine to try to get a better shot, and finally make this dream a reality.
The location is fairly remote, requiring a 45-minute hike across a huge boulder field. We got to the location about an hour before sunset, explored the area, and looked for all the possible compositions. We shot through sunset and blue hour, and then cooked some dinner as we waited for the Milky Way to be in the perfect spot. We spent several hours shooting the Milky Way that night, trying different compositions, and even some panos.
My favorite image was this composition, shot with a Samyang 14mm lens. The sky is a 4-minute tracked exposure at F4 and ISO 800, whilst the foreground is an 8-minute exposure at F2.8 and ISO 800 to reduce noise.”
Dr. Nicholas Roemmelt: Winter Milky Way
“This climbing route is located on the south face of the Marmolada, the “Queen of the Dolomites.“ When I saw this glacial gate, it instantly reminded me of a gigantic shark, and I wanted to take this image as a tribute to Hansjörg Auer, one the best climbers of our time, who unfortunately passed away in an avalanche while climbing the Canadian Mountain Howse Peak (together with David Lama and Jess Roskelley) last year.
Our really short pitch in the ice of the glacier was of course not as difficult at all, but I couldn’t help but think of climbing that compact and overhanging ice shield under the winter Milky Way.
Although the Milky Way during the winter and early spring is often ignored in Astro-landscape photography, I really love the bright stars (some of the brightest of the night sky), colorful constellations, and fainter elements of this part of our galaxy when the galactic core is beneath the horizon.”
Michael Goh: Nightmare
“Dumbleyung Lake is a salt lake located in western Australia. The lake is surrounded by hundreds of trees that have died due to the salt levels, and, on a calm night, all the stars reflect off the water.
For this image, the dead trees gave me the idea of capturing them clawing up at the sky – the fish-eye panorama turned out better than expected, as the trees almost looked like tentacles. The location is very dark, so with no moonlight available, I used my self-portrait style with the figure holding the light (now a bit clichéd) to create more depth in the image as a solitary figure standing amongst the dead trees.
I’m a wholly self-taught photographer and I’ve been photographing the Milky Way since 2012. I just transitioned to being a full-time photographer a few years ago. Astrophotography appeals a lot to me due to the limitlessness of the night sky. This genre also pushes you to continually improve and requires you to make the most of your gear and your technique, with the positive thing of being accessible with entry-level gear as well.”
Mehmet Ergün – Milky Way over Parque Nacional del Teide
“This photo was taken on one of my favorite islands: Tenerife. This is an island with unlimited possibilities, where you can enjoy nature in all its glory. In particular, the night sky over Tenerife is renowned worldwide for its excellent conditions for stargazing and astrophotography.
In Teide National Park, every corner is different and beautiful, I just love it!
Nikon D850 Astro (CentralDS)
Samyang 24mm f1.4
Fornax Lightrack II”
Ryan Smith – Heavenly Throne
“I was thrilled when I received a call from Canon who wanted to send me the EOS Ra to test out in the field. Intrigued at the offer, I knew I had to go somewhere great to put the Ra to the test. There’s nowhere better than the desert of the Southwest so off I went!
The EOS Ra is a mirrorless astrophotography camera that has a built-in infrared-cutting filter (positioned immediately in front of the CMOS imaging sensor), which permits approximately 4x as much transmission of hydrogen-alpha rays vs. standard digital cameras. This modification allows much higher transmission of deep red infrared rays emitted by nebulae, without requiring any other specialized optics or accessories.
I really enjoyed testing this out, shooting the dark skies of the Southwest, and I’m very excited to continue to see what Astro images I can take with this camera this year.”
Jorgelina Alvarez: Gran Firmamento
“This was a very special night full of emotions that I tried to capture in this photograph. Planets like Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, always attract my attention. The galactic center was about to hide, among thousands of other stars in composition with the snowy Antarctic landscape.
I have had the great opportunity of photographing the stars in the middle of nowhere, and it feels truly unique. With my images, I try to convey that feeling so everyone can experience those special moments.”
Julio Castro: Good Night Utah
“After visiting this location in 2017, it became my personal obsession to take a photo there, mainly because I couldn’t take any night shots since the place was very remote.
In May, I decided to go back and try to take the photo I had in mind. After a very cloudy night, just before dawn, the sky opened up, and a spectacular starry sky gave me the opportunity to take this picture with the arch of the Milky Way above the “wave” of rock that seems to surround the two hills, creating an almost perfect circle and allowing me to get the photo I had dreamed of.”
Ramón Morcillo: Enchanted Monastery
“The idea of shooting an old monastery under the Milky Way in the Spanish mountains was just hanging around my head for months.
I was fascinated by the idea of planning this image; having the Milky Way arch above the ancient and lonely bell tower. The monastery was an Augustinian convent founded in 1504 and called the “Monastery of Our Lady of the Crag”. A few hundred miles drive followed by a long walk and a challenging climb and bushwhack ended in this beautiful and magical place.
The icing on the cake was to subtly illuminate the upper part of the bell tower and place myself in one of the windows to create this panorama composed of 14 sky/ground photographs and get a very special result.”
Miles Morgan: Elemental
“I took this image with my friend Ryan Dyar during our trip to Hawaii.
During our adventure, we were typically up around 2:30 am, and playing all day and well past sunset out on the lava flows. On this particular evening, after shooting the sunset, we checked Stargazer and saw that around 3-4 am, many of the planetary elements would be aligning around the plume at the Halema’uma’u crater.
Once we were ready for shooting, a cloud deck had rolled over the entire summit of Kilauea, and blanketed the caldera just above the base of the plume, revealing zero sky. We quickly retreated back to the truck to ward off the surprising cold, and figured we might as well just hang out until sunrise in hopes that the sun would come up through a small gap on the horizon. The only thing left to do was sleep.
When I woke up in the middle of the night, a casual glance outside and…WHAM! STARS. Trillions of them. Crystal clear skies. “LET’S ROLL,” I hollered, and off we went to shoot the galaxy. This is mainly one image, but the base of the plume and the moon were slightly blown out, so a second darker exposure was blended into those two areas. The meteor was just luck.”
Roksolyana Hilevych: Early Summer Night’s Dream
“I took this shot in Castelluccio di Norcia, a very famous area in Italy for the blooming of lentil vetch flowers in July.
My attention was attracted by these wildflowers that grow near the lentil vetch fields. I spent this wonderful night under a sea of stars, in a very clean area with little light pollution.
For this shot, I used a star tracker to get more details out of the Milky Way; each exposure took 4 minutes at f/2.8, ISO 800, 16mm. For the foreground, I used the focus stacking technique to capture the flowers at f/8, 1/4s, ISO 800.”
Pablo Ruiz García: Double Arch
“This spectacular arch-shaped rock formation is located in “La Hermida” gorge, in the Picos de Europa mountain range in Spain.
This arch is located over a large and almost vertical limestone wall shaped by the Deva River. A few weeks ago, while I was looking for new locations, a friend from the area told me about this place. I decided to go and check it out, and after a difficult climb, I could get to the place. It certainly surprised me with the incredible views and the size of the arch. I was able to plan and prepare this photo for the following day when conditions would be better.
We spent the night in this location to take an almost 360º panoramic view composed of 3 vertical rows: 2 rows for the ground and one for the sky.
At first, my initial idea was to capture the galactic center inside the arch, but finally, I decided to shoot the two arches overlapped at this time of the year (late spring) when the Milky Way is still not too high in the sky.”
Melanie Fritz: Desert Tracks
“The Atacama region is renowned for having one of the darkest skies in the world thanks to its low light pollution and zero humidity, which create the perfect conditions for observing all the details of the night skies.
This photograph represents the unique textures of the Atacama that have been shaped by the extreme dryness since it is one of the driest places on earth. This magical place is full of landscapes that make you feel like being on another planet, with its rock formations and colorful lagoon oasis in the middle of the desert.
This photograph is composed of 2 shots, one for the foreground and one for the sky.”
Peter Zelinka: Desert Nights
“When I’m traveling through California, I always make sure to stop by the Alabama Hills. This is one of the most iconic locations in the western USA, with its incredible snow-capped Sierra Mountains, unique rock formations, and dusty roads.
In June 2019, I spent a few nights camping in the desert beneath the stars. Once the Milky Way was shining brightly overhead, I wandered through the brush and found this unique arch.
My first goal was to capture a clean, detailed foreground. Therefore, I used my Nikon D750 and 14-24mm lens with an f/4 aperture, ISO 800, and a 4-minute exposure. These settings allowed the camera to capture enough light for a clean image. Once I completed the foreground exposure, I set up my star tracker nearby. I used the same settings, but this time with the star tracker turned on. I now had sharp stars, but a blurry foreground. Once I got back to the computer, I was able to blend both exposures together for a beautiful final image.”
Stefan Liebermann: Deadvlei
“The trees in Deadvlei have been dead for over 500 years. Located in Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia, these saplings grew after local rivers flooded because of severe rainfalls, but died after the sand dunes shifted to section off the river.
High above and far in the distance, the band of our Milky Way galaxy forms an arch over a large stalk in this night panorama image. The soil of white clay appears to glow, reflected by the starlight. Rising on the left and, under the Milky Way’s arch, is a band of zodiacal light — sunlight reflected by dust orbiting in the inner solar system. On the right, just above one of Earth’s larger sand dunes, an astute eye can find the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way galaxy.”
Josh Beames: Bioluminescence
“After noticing some sightings along the coast of bioluminescence, my partner and I made our way down to the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road in Australia.
As we arrived, we were greeted with an absolutely incredible display of glowing waves breaking around this rugged beach – something undocumented at this location until now! This sure was a rare sight to see here, and I was so stoked to have been able to capture this event!”
Giulio Cobianchi: Base Camp
“I love shooting the Milky Way throughout all 12 months of the year. I must admit that during the winter season, it fascinates me even more, probably because the Milky Way has cooler colors that combine perfectly with the snow, and also because shooting under these conditions is much more challenging.
Photography for me is an adventure, especially in night sessions with snow and stars. In my shots, I always try to convey the emotion and adrenaline that I experience in that moment.
This was an incredible night where I looked for something original. I planned everything during the organization of the workshop, and the weather was the only factor that we couldn’t control.
The temperatures were not extreme, about – 7 Cº, but we were all excited to set up the base camp, take photos, and sleep, waiting for new adventures…dreaming is wonderful!”
Marco Carotenuto – Alone _ Together in the Stardust
“Describing this place in words or pictures is not easy because there are many emotions you can feel spending a night in the heart of the desert.
Staying in the middle of nowhere hundreds of miles away from civilization and with no electricity, cellular network, or water, certainly puts you to the test. Shooting with your group, you can feel the emotion of sharing moments of humanity, even with those who you don’t know, being present, and forgetting about the daily routine.
When you find yourself walking up and down the sand dunes at night with the deafening silence that surrounds you making you feel at one with nature, you really forget who you are and don’t care about anything else.”
Debbie Heyer: Alien Eggs
“The Badlands of New Mexico are otherworldly and mysterious. They resemble an alien planet. If you don’t believe in aliens, you will after seeing this place. This is not an easy terrain to navigate, and it is very easy to get lost. Luckily, my friends knew the area well, and we could enjoy this photographer’s paradise of endless compositions that blew my mind!
This was shot in October 2019 on a two-week photo tour with friends through the Southwest. It was the best way to end the Milky Way season.
The night sky is my favorite thing to shoot. I love the calm and quiet and being one with the universe.”