These were the most incredible photos of the Milky Way for 2021

The winners of the Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021 competition have been revealed and the photos are absolutely stunning.

Every year, travel photography blog Capture the Atlas publishes the winners as a collection of the best 25 photos of the Milky Way.

The competition is about collating the best and most inspiring photos of the Milky Way from around the world.

This year’s list includes images from 12 different countries by 25 photographers of 14 different nationalities. Countries include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Greece.

The top 25 are based on the quality of the image, the story behind the shot, and the overall inspiration that the photograph can provide.

Here are 10 of the incredible photos of the Milky Way from this year’s collection. As well as the story behind each one:

Mt. Taranaki Milky Way – Larryn Rae

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021 - “Mt. Taranaki Milky Way” – Larryn Rae
Mt. Taranaki Milky Way – Larryn Rae

Fanthams Peak, Mt. Taranaki – New Zealand

“This is one of the most challenging shots I have ever captured, as it required climbing for 4 hours in 70km/h winds to reach the ice summit of Fanthams Peak – a volcano on the side of Mt Taranaki. At an elevation of 2000 m and -15ºC outside with gusty wind blasts, I had to choose settings that would get me the capture rather than what I may have considered more ideal settings.

I am so stoked to have captured what I did under perfect clear skies, as it was both a true test of both mountaineering and endurance carrying all my gear to this location, but one I will look back on with pride and success.”

Riaño – Pablo Ruiz

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021:  Riaño – Pablo Ruiz
Riaño – Pablo Ruiz

In Riaño, Spain

“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.”

Chamber of light – Spencer Welling

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: Chamber of light – Spencer Welling
Chamber of light – Spencer Welling

Utah, USA

“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-coloured opening of the cavern.”

Dragon’s Lair – Daniel Thomas Gum

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: Dragon’s Lair – Daniel Thomas Gum
Dragon’s Lair – Daniel Thomas Gum

Mungo, NSW – Australia

“This is my favourite nightscape image to date. Mungo is a 12-hour drive away from my home in Sydney, but those Bortle 1 skies are the best I’ve ever witnessed and photographed at night. I had perfect conditions for three straight nights, with really good seeing throughout.

The moment I came upon this scene, I knew exactly what I wanted to the name the image. It was otherworldly – think Game of Thrones – and it lined up perfectly for how I wanted to capture it. Large, jagged walls framed a winding path leading to a centered spire to the west. There was only ever going to be one way to do it justice and that was as a multi- layered Milky Way panorama.

I planned this image using PhotoPills during the day, but in post-processing, I decided to use the blue-hour blend for the foreground with a tracked sky for the cleanest possible image.”

Temple of the sun – Bryony Richards

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: Temple of the sun – Bryony Richards
Temple of the sun – Bryony Richards

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah – USA

“The Milky Way core rises before dawn under the southern skies of Capitol Reef National Park’s “Temple of the Sun.” This area of the Colorado Plateau Desert, known for its domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, natural bridges, and slot canyons, includes the Temples of the Sun and Moon.

These Jurassic-aged sandstone monoliths, which formed as sandy mud on a tidal flat, tower above the otherwise flat desert floor. It seems like more than a coincidence that the Temples line-up perfectly with the Milky Way, their vibrant orange colours seemingly reflecting the colour of the stars above.”

The watchman – Brandt Ryder

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: The watchman – Brandt Ryder
The watchman – Brandt Ryder

Zion National Park, Utah – USA

“Utah’s dark skies are a mecca for astrophotographers from around the world. Zion National Park is one of the premier locations and, for as long as I can remember, nightscapes from this park have captured my imagination. When I finally travelled to Zion, I knew I wanted to capture something unique, something different from the traditional shot, but one that still featured the iconic and austere “Watchman.”

I had seen some photos from a closer angle and after some exploring, I came across this twisted skeleton of an old juniper framing “The Watchman.” As a photographer, I am always looking for interesting foreground subjects. Foregrounds that have features that can in some way recapitulate or accentuate the background are rare but always the most compelling. When I noticed how the angles of the tree matched the peak near perfectly, I knew I had found something special. This composition is a blue-hour blend with the sky taken at night and the foreground taken before the sun came above the horizon.”

Heavens above – John Rutter

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: Heavens above – John Rutter
Heavens above – John Rutter

Hunter Valley, NSW – Australia

“This old church sits peacefully in a paddock in the Hunter Valley of NSW, Australia.

That night, the forecast was for terrible weather, so I had written the night off and went home. To my amazement, the skies cleared and it was a race to get back to the location and start shooting. As the fog started rolling in towards the end of the capture, a perfectly timed car drove past to illuminate the scene and the fog.

My passion is bringing the full Milky Way arch into people’s homes via large panoramas. I would encourage everyone to head out to a dark sky and experience it. Camera or not, it is a truly amazing sight to stand under the full arch of the Milky Way.”

Nyctophilia – José Luis Cantabrana

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: TNyctophilia – José Luis Cantabrana
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.”

Our Lady of the Snows – Uroš Fink

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: Our Lady of the Snows – Uroš Fink
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 centre of the panorama, the protagonist is the chapel ‘Our Lady of the Snows.'”

The Forgotten side of Kangaroo Island – Blntpencil

Milky Way Photographer of the Year 2021: The Forgotten side of Kanagaroo Island – Blntpencil
The Forgotten side of Kangaroo Island – Blntpencil

Baudin Beach, Kangaroo Island, Australia

“This image was captured at Baudin Beach on Kangaroo Island. This part of the island was luckily not affected by the devastating bushfires in 2020. It is a capture of the rising Galactic Center floating above the ocean and represents the way of life on the island ‘where people live at one with nature.'”

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