A trio of New Zealand photographers have shone in an annual competition, recognising the best photographers of aurora and astral phenomenon on the planet.
The Northern Lights Photographer of the Year is in its sixth iteration and, despite the name, has recognised some images of Aurora Australis as clear winners.
In a bumper year for space weather the “solar maximum” and conditions leading to spectacular displays in unexpected places.
Competition organiser and Capture the Atlas editor, Dan Zafra said that the events in 2023 had led to “Northern Lights displays at lower latitudes and from original places where the Aurora hasn’t been photographed before.”
This year’s 25 shortlisted came from places as far from the poles as Italy.
Not that the Northern lights or Aurora Borealis can be seen from New Zealand. In the Southern Hemisphere solar winds in the Earth’s electromagnetic field produce an equally stunning and complimentary effect to the northern polar lights called the Southern Lights.
Giant Magellanic Clouds over the Otago Peninsula and a reflective composition on a Queenstown high country lake featured as highlights of the annual long list.
Kiwi photographer Paul Wilson said he was “over the moon” to have his image featured by the Capture the Atlas website.
His photo Enchant was taken from the rock stacks over Camp Saddle in the Craigieburn Ranges. The photography guide climbed for hours carrying heavy photography equipment in freezing temperatures.
Wilson said he climbed to 1600m to photograph the stars carrying “a 30kg backpack containing photography gear, a tent, and other essentials.”
He was rewarded with an unexpected aurora.
Richard Zheng was one of the other New Zealanders who shone in the competition. He took a specialised astrophotography camera for his image captured over Highcliffe in the Otago Harbour. His well-timed image captured both the Colloidal Nebula and the Carina Nebula above the aurora.
Lastly a moody self portrait of Queenstown resident Jordan McInally took home an nomination, taken over Moke Lake.
“I was pretty lucky this night to have a few friends message me a heads up that a big Aurora Australis was forecast,” said McInally. He spent five hours waiting for the image, titled Lost Who I want to Be.
When is best to see the Southern Lights?
Capture The Atlas which judges the competition also has top tips for aurora chasers.
While there is a best season for hunting displays - with the aurora season running from September to April in the Northern Hemisphere and from March to September in the Southern Hemisphere - Earth is currently experiencing a high point in the solar cycle.
Astronomer and director of Tūhura, Otago Museum Dr Ian Griffin says that we could be in for more spectacular displays in the year ahead.
“There’s something called the solar cycle coming into effect at the moment,” said Dr Griffin.
“The number of sunspots increases and decreases in a fairly regular 11-year pattern. We are presently heading towards the next ‘solar maximum’ which will probably occur either next year or the year after.”