2024 Milky Way Photographer of the Year winners announced

2024 Milky Way Photographer of the Year winners

The photo tour operator Capture the Atlas has announced the winners for the seventh iteration of its Milky Way astrophotography competition.

This year, the competition received 5000 entries and recognized 25 photographers working in 15 countries, from the deserts of Jordan and Oman to the landscapes of Patagonia, Australia, and other locales. Photographers captured our galaxy amid glaciers, volcanos, deserts and cities, juxtaposing the hazy band of distant stars against life on Earth.

Contest organizers say they try to recognize the “photographer whose vision, planning, and creativity bring the image to life.” Since cameras can pick up things in the night sky that our eyes can’t always see, planning is key to capturing the Milky Way.

You can see the winning photos right here. Let us know what you think in the comments.

And if you’re feeling inspired, mark your calendars for ‘Milky Way season,’ which runs from February to October in the northern hemisphere and January to November in the southern hemisphere. Granted that is most of the year, but good to know for anyone thinking Winter holiday breaks were a good time to trek out. During these periods, aim to be somewhere away from light pollution and with clear skies. Higher elevations also help.

Lighting lake

Captured by Tom Rae at Aoraki, Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand.

Sky: 28mm | 17 frames at 30s | F2.5 | ISO 3200; Foreground: 28mm | 18 frames at 30s | F1.8 | ISO 6400; Including focus-stacked

Description: “The Milky Way emerges from New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, on a winter night—a shot I’ve longed to capture, knowing it would encapsulate the mountains and sky elements perfectly. In rare alpine weather conditions, I embarked on a journey up the glacial valley one night. Upon reaching the lake, the scene that unfolded made me feel like I had landed on another planet. This night, among many spent documenting this incredible part of the world, stands out for me.

It embodies the dedication, sleepless nights, and the fulfillment of completing my vision. The image features icebergs in the cyan-blue glacial lake, red airglow painting the sky, and the glow of billions of stars in the Milky Way—a glimpse into the vastness beyond.”

Starry Hoodoo wonderland

Captured by Stephanie Thi in Kanab, Utah, USA.

Sky: 24-105mm | 10 frames at 150s | F4 | ISO 1600; Foreground: 24-105mm | 10 frames at 6s | F5.6 | ISO 800; Including focus-stacked

Description: “This photograph represents the camaraderie within the night photography community. During the Nightscaper Photo Conference in Kanab, Utah, I had the opportunity to meet fellow photographers, many for the first time, and reconnect with others from afar. In this group, I found my people—those passionate about photography, star therapy, astronomy, and the beauty of dark skies.

Many of these individuals have become friends. Additionally, this trip marked my first encounter with hoodoos. Visiting the Toadstool Hoodoos with a group, I focused on enjoying the experience and fellowship rather than solely capturing the perfect shot.

However, I returned the following night to capture a blue hour foreground shot, aiming to replicate the scene from the previous night. Sharing this photograph and being recognized among such talented photographers is a privilege.”

A clear welcome

Captured by Francesco Dall’Olmo in Laguna de los Tres, Patagonia, Argentina.

Sky: 12mm | 6 frames at 25s | F2.8 | ISO 5000; Foreground: 12mm | 6 frames at 30s | F4 | ISO 5000

Description: “This was the first photo I took in Patagonia. Contrary to expectations of cold, rain, and wind, our initial encounter with these landscapes was unusual: nearly three days of clear skies. Reaching the lagoon around 7 a.m., I immediately captured shots of the sky. Shortly afterward, I photographed the foreground, where twilight had already set in. This clear welcome gifted me with a rare photo of Fitz Roy framed by the Milky Way arch.”

Blooming bottle tree

Captured by Rositsa Dimitrova in Socotra island, Yemen.

Sky: 14mm | 20s | F2 | ISO 2000; Foreground: 14mm | 6s | F13 | ISO 800

Description: “Visiting Socotra was a dream come true – it had been at the top of my bucket list for a couple of years. The night sky in Socotra is categorized as Bortle 1 on the dark sky scale – the darkest you can possibly get. But it wasn’t just the dark skies – it was the alien-looking foregrounds that truly took my breath away. The gorgeous bottle trees of Socotra are especially beautiful in full bloom. They only bloom for a few weeks in February and March, and it’s a mesmerizing sight you want to experience again and again.

I was actually 11 weeks pregnant with my second child when I visited – I must admit that camping and shooting all night were not the most fatigue-friendly activities, but all the challenges were absolutely worth it. I’m now dreaming of taking my two daughters to Socotra one day – for an experience they will never, ever forget.”

Bluff hut

Captured by Rachel Roberts in Mungo River Valley, West Coast, New Zealand.

Sky: 35mm | 48 frames at 8s | F2.8 | ISO 10000; Foreground: 35mm | 38 frames at 60s | F2.8 | ISO 3200

Description: “Sometimes, the best images come completely unplanned, which is precisely what happened on this trip to Bluff Hut, nestled in the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island.

Only accessible by a challenging hike or helicopter flight, I had no intention of ending up here, as I had a different shoot planned at another hut. However, with weather closing in at my intended location and no backup plan, I trusted the chopper pilot to choose the best spot for clear skies that evening. Thankfully, he didn’t disappoint, and I was able to capture the Milky Way arching majestically over the hut from one of the darkest places on the planet.”

Mother juniper

Captured by Benjamin Barakat in Jebel Shams, Oman.

Sky: 12-24mm | 5 frames at 120s | F2.8 | ISO 400; Foreground: 12-24mm | 120s | F3.2 | ISO 400

Description: “The wisdom of the juniper reveals itself in its aged roots, twisted and sculpted over millennia, enduring the ravages of time and countless obstacles. Amidst the ever-changing tides of time, one constant remains: its profound connection with the night sky and the Milky Way. Their paths intertwine and converge, culminating in a perfect alignment. In that fated instance, I found myself beneath the juniper’s boughs, gazing up at the cosmic dance above, capturing its essence in the stillness of the night.”

Starlight therapy

Captured by Kavan Chay in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand.

Sky (RGB): 40mm | 30 frames at 30s | F1.6 | ISO 2000; Sky (Rho region): 40mm | 17 frames at 30s | F1.4 | ISO 3200; Sky (Gum nebula): 40mm | 13 frames at 20s | F1.6 | ISO 2000; Foreground: 40mm | 16 frames at 30s | F6.3 | ISO 2000

Description: “The Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park has always brought joy and interesting stories, regardless of when I visit. This occasion was no exception – my mental health was low due to some rough times, and I lacked the motivation to attempt this climb. However, I knew it was essential to kick-start my recovery.

The ascent was a struggle with 20-25kg of gear, but I managed a respectable time and enjoyed some daylight views. The night under the stars was breathtaking. Perfect nights like this make you appreciate the opportunity to witness it all. As the sun rose, tents lit up and people stirred. A resident kea decided 5am was a good time to harass a few people, which is when I captured the foreground panorama.”

Desert bloom

Captured by Marcin Zajac in Goblin Valley State Park, Utah.

Sky: 15-30mm | 4 min | F2.8 | ISO 400; Foreground: 15-30mm | focus stacked at 1s | F11 | ISO 200

Description: “Wildflowers blooming in front of a group of hoodoos called the Three Sisters in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. The park, located in a remote corner of the Colorado Plateau and away from major urban centers, yields one of the darkest skies in the country.”

Caradhras – Milky Way arch above Vrsic pass

Captured by Matej Mlakar in Vrsic Pass, Slovenia.

Sky (RGB): 20mm | 12 frames at 90s | F2 | ISO 1000; Sky (Ha): 20mm | 12 frames at 120s | F1.4 | ISO 6400; Foreground: 20mm | 12 frames at 90s (+30sec and +15sec for the light of a house in bottom left) | F2 | ISO 1000

Description: “Vršič Pass is a high mountain pass across the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia. It is the highest pass in Slovenia, as well as the highest in the Eastern Julian Alps. It connects Upper Carniola with the Trenta Valley in the Slovene Littoral. One of those peaks is Prednje robičje (1941m), where this image was taken from. On Sunday afternoon, my friend Nino Frelih and I were still quite undecided about where to go.

I knew I wanted to capture probably the last winter Milky Way arch of the season above snow-covered peaks, and this location was a sort of last-minute idea while we were driving towards Vršič Pass. Sometimes it pays off to be a bit more spontaneous.”

The celestial symphony above a high desert lagoon

Captured by Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn in Atacama Desert, Chile.

15mm | 25s | F2.8 | ISO 6400

Description: “One night, we embarked on an eerie 40-minute trek in the dark along a salt trail to photograph the Milky Way and one of several lagoons in the high elevations of the Atacama Desert. At 15,000 feet, it was easy to get out of breath while walking across this rugged terrain with camera gear.

Originally planned for daylight hours, we postponed the hike due to fierce winds. During the day, the lagoons typically appear bright blue with the sun shining high in the sky. To replicate this effect at night, we used a flashlight to cast a beam across the tranquil waters during a long exposure, resulting in a surreal and mesmerizing scene.”

Lions den

Captured by Lorenzo Ranieri in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Sky: 35mm | multiple frames at 30s | F2 | ISO 6400; Foreground: 14mm | multiple frames at 25s | F2.2 | ISO 8000; Including focus-stacked

Description: “This image was captured during an adventurous night on the plateau of the Atacama Desert, a potentially dangerous area due to its designation as a mountain lion reserve.

After a whole afternoon of searching for compositions, I stumbled upon this remarkable mass of rocks adorned with tufts of grass, now burnt by the harsh environment.

The area was littered with bones of small animals and footprints of a significant size, indicating the presence of wildlife not typically associated with peaceful sheep. Spending the night there was admittedly a bit nerve-wracking, but the opportunity to photograph such beauty made it worthwhile. The Milky Way’s arch, in all its splendor, rises above the pristine landscape, creating a truly mesmerizing scene.”

Atmospheric fireworks

Captured by Julien Looten in Dordogne, France.

28mm | 40 frames at 13s | F1.6 | ISO 1600

Description: “Last winter, I ventured to the foot of a medieval castle in France to capture the Milky Way’s “winter” arc. Alongside the stunning celestial vault, an exceptional airglow illuminated the sky, resembling multicolored clouds. This natural phenomenon occurs due to a chemical reaction in the upper atmosphere, emitting faint light known as chemiluminescence.

The panoramic view spans 180°, showcasing the entire Milky Way arc. From left to right: Sirius and the constellation of Orion, Mars, the Pleiades, the California Nebula, Cassiopeia, the double cluster of Perseus, and the Andromeda galaxy. Capturing this image required a large panorama of 40 exposures, totaling nearly an hour of exposure time using my Canon 6D Astrodon and Sigma 28mm f/1.4 lens.”

Lupine dreams

Captured by Brandt Ryder in Eastern Sierra, California.

Sky: 24mm | 3 frames at 120s | F2 | ISO 800; Foreground: 24mm | 5 focus stacked frames at 1/160 | F8 | ISO 3200

Description: “Super blooms can be a once-in-a-lifetime event. An atmospheric river in the winter of 2023 had caused record amounts of moisture to fall in the Eastern Sierra mountains and the foothills surrounding this area. The result was one of the best wildflower or super blooms on record for the state.

In May of 2023, I spent a couple of days around the iconic town of Lone Pine, California, where the lupines in the foothills were just coming into peak bloom and the skies are notoriously dark. I knew I wanted to create an image that transported the viewer into a sea of purple flowers framed by the snow-covered Sierra and the Milky Way rising above.

Although this spot was special, it was the incredible panoply of color in the night sky that I captured on this night that really elevates this image. Every time I look back at this image, I can still smell those flowers, and I’m immediately transported to this special place and time spent with special people.”

The vanity of life

Captured by Mihail Minkov in Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan.

Sky: 17-28mm | 180s | F2.8 | ISO 640; Foreground: 17-28mm | 1/8 | F8 | ISO 640

Description: “The concept behind this shot is to highlight the stark contrast between the vastness of the cosmos and the minuscule nature of humanity. The composition intentionally draws the viewer’s focus to a small figure, underscoring our insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe, while the majestic Milky Way core dominates the background.

Whenever I venture out to capture the night sky, I’m filled with a sense of humility and gratitude for my existence. It’s as if my problems diminish in comparison, and I’m reminded of the immense love I have for my family and the beauty of life itself, making everything else seem trivial.”

Road to Winter Paradise

Captured by Andrea Curzi in Passo Giau, Italy.

Sky: 24mm | 10 frames at 180s | F4 | ISO 840; Foreground: 24mm | 10 frames at 60s | F4 | ISO 1600; Various frames of car trails and highlight recovery

Description: “We’re at Passo Giau on the night of December 15th. Temperatures are around -8 degrees Celsius with strong winds (resulting in a lower perceived temperature). This was an overview I had long dreamed of capturing, meticulously planned from home to the field. Luck was on my side as heavy snowfall the day before left untouched terrain, allowing for pristine snow patterns sculpted by the wind.

With approximately 300° of field of view, the final image resulted from a panoramic view comprising 10 rows each for the base and the sky. For the base, I employed multi-exposure techniques in various parts of the panorama to recover highlights, along with a series of shots for the trails. Describing the sky is challenging; experiencing the cold beneath a canopy of stars is an indescribable sensation, one that must be felt firsthand.”

Milky Way at morning glory pool

Captured by Jerry Zhang in Yellowstone National Park, USA.

Sky: 20mm | 30 frames at 15s | F1.8 | ISO 5000; Foreground: 20mm | 30s | F1.8 | ISO 2500

Description: “Morning Glory is a renowned hot spring within Yellowstone National Park, shaped by hydrothermal features that foster vibrant habitats for microscopic organisms. Originally azure blue like the famous Grand Prismatic Spring, human interference and pollution have turned its waters a striking green. Unlike other springs, Morning Glory remains calm, enabling the reflection of starlight at night.

In this photo, the pool mirrors Scorpius, notably Antares, against a clear dark sky and brilliant Milky Way. The high elevation and minimal light pollution enhance the celestial spectacle. On a warm summer night, I finished this photo with one hand, and with the other hand tightly gripping bear spray! But despite the fear of wildlife, it was a very enjoyable night spent alone with the stars all around.”

Mungo dreamtime

Captured by John Rutter in Mungo National Park, NSW, Australia.

Sky: 24mm | 10 frames at 60s | F1.8 | ISO 800; Foreground: 24mm | multiple frames at 1s | F4 | ISO 4000

Description: “This Mars-like landscape is the shores of Ancient Lake Mungo, housing the oldest human remains outside Africa—a significant site for all humankind. Its remote location grants it a Bortle 1 sky, allowing you to stand where the first Australians once did and gaze at the same sky they beheld 100,000 years ago. The beauty of the arid, wind-carved landscape and the untouched sky is only eclipsed by the rich history of this area.”

Rainbow Valley

Captured by Baillie Farley in Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory – Australia.

Sky: 40mm | 70 frames at 60s | F1.4 | ISO 640; Foreground: 40mm | 24 frames at 120s | F2.8 | ISO 2500

Description: “My recent journey to the Central Australian Outback was an incredible experience, exposing me to the harsh vastness of the outback and some of the darkest southern night skies in the world. This image captures the breathtaking scene at Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, where the southern Milky Way gracefully spans above a remarkable formation of colorful sandstone rocks. This area exudes a unique charm, with its vibrant hues and stunning geological formations creating a mesmerizing landscape.”

Multicolored up and down!

Captured by Cari Letelier in Rainbow Valley, Atacama desert, Chile.

14mm | 65 frames at 25s | F1.8 | ISO 6400

Description: “Let me introduce you to Rainbow Valley, reminiscent of Mordor in some areas, nestled nearly 3200 meters above sea level in the Atacama Desert within the Domeyko mountain range.

Under a Bortle 1 night sky, late October offers a breathtakingly wide view of the sky vault, with zodiacal light and gegenschein joined by intense airglow. The valley boasts a unique geological makeup: a base of ochre-red clay, a strip of chalky white salt, and a topping of moss-colored volcanic tuff, showcasing a rich mineral heritage.

That night, silence prevailed, allowing us to see our shadows illuminated solely by the stars’ brightness. To capture this scene, I created a 360°x90° panorama with 65 frames using an astromodified camera and a panoramic head.”

Sand path

Captured by Hugo Valle in White Desert, Egypt.

Sky: 15-35mm | 240s | F3.5 | ISO 800; Foreground: 15-35mm | 3 frames at 1/60 | F8 | ISO 200

Description: “When I saw photos of the White Desert of Egypt, I immediately knew I had to go there. It took two years until I finally made the trip. The days are hot and the nights slightly cooler, passing quickly in this captivating landscape. The night skies are among the best I have ever seen, and the whimsical rock formations, sculpted by wind and sand, make choosing subjects to photograph challenging.

For this particular photograph, I strolled around the area where we would spend the night in the afternoon, selecting a few subjects. The best part of this night, and the ones I spent in the White Desert, was the tranquility of being the only photographer in the area. It was just me, my girlfriend, the guides, and the stars, accompanied only by a small bonfire.”


Captured by Alexander Forst in Graubuenden, Switzerland.

Sky: 35mm | 24 frames at 30s | F1.8 | ISO 1600; Foreground: 35mm | 9 frames at 1/10 | F4 | ISO 640; Reflection: 35mm | 3 frames at 8s | F1.8 | ISO 6400

Description: “This lake is one of Switzerland’s most beautiful, renowned for its striking blue color, perfect for Milky Way photography from late July. My original plan was a split shoot with an underwater housing and model Marina, but the housing broke on the first try. Fortunately, the lake offered other beautiful compositions. Situated at 2000m altitude, it gets very cold after sunset; we had forgotten our jackets in the car 1.5 hours away.

To keep warm, we walked around the lake while waiting for the Milky Way. Clouds came and went, threatening to obscure the stars, but luck was on our side. I had a clear view of the Milky Way for just 30 minutes before it vanished behind clouds again. I created two versions of this photo: a landscape version and one with Marina, available on my Instagram.”

The kingdom of Perun

Captured by Tervel Kutsev in the Pirin Mountain, Bulgaria.

Sky: 20mm | 14 frames at 90s | F2.8 | ISO 800; Foreground: 20mm | 7 frames at 180s | F2.8 | ISO 2000

Description: “For its small area, Bulgaria is a country with a very diverse landscape. We have a total of 39 mountains, and one of my favorites is Pirin because of the rocky peaks that look like they were designed by man. Vihren (2914 m), the marble peak in the center of the panorama, is the highest in Pirin. Its beauty made me fall in love with mountaineering, and quite naturally, it became a favorite spot for astrophotography.

The Pirin Mountain is named after one of the most powerful gods in Slavic mythology – Perun – the god of thunder, and Vihren is considered his throne. It is an unforgettable feeling to stand under the beautiful night sky, admiring the kingdom of Perun.”

The tajinaste

Captured by Maximilian Höfling in Mirador El Tabonal Negro, Tenerife, Spain.

Sky: 50mm | 90s | F4 | ISO 800; Foreground: 35mm | 120s | F4 | ISO 400

Description: “My astro adventure on Tenerife was unforgettable. The Canary Islands, particularly Tenerife, offer ideal conditions for astrophotography. In the Teide National Park, situated at an altitude of around 2000 meters, clear skies are almost guaranteed, with lower clouds shielding city lights, minimizing light pollution.

My primary goal in astrophotography is to unveil the hidden beauty of the night sky beyond the visible stars. I’m especially passionate about showcasing our galaxy, the Milky Way, in all its glory. I believe this picture achieves that goal impressively, capturing the mesmerizing brilliance of the Milky Way against the pristine backdrop of Tenerife’s night sky.”

Blue lagoon under the stairs

Captured by Yuri Beletsky in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Sky: 35mm | multiple frames at 30s | F2 | ISO 6400; Foreground: 14mm | multiple frames at 25s | F2.2 | ISO 8000; Including focus-stacked

Description: “I captured this view at one of the remote sites of the Atacama Desert in Chile. The Galactic Center was already shining high in the sky, with the Zodiacal light beautifully complementing it on the right. The blue color was as real as the stars in the sky, adding a touch of magic to the scene. It was an absolutely incredible experience!

In that moment, all I could do was capture the beauty unfolding before me. It served as a reminder of the wonderful sights that exist in the world and the endless beauty that can be found when we simply look up at the night sky. It was a moment that made me feel deeply connected to the world around me and the universe beyond.”

Tombolo Milky Way

Captured by Marc Rassel at Lake Superior, Minnesota, USA.

Sky: 50mm | 18 frames at 120s | F1.8 | ISO 800; Foreground: 50mm | 18 frames at 120s | F1.8 | ISO 800

Description: “I’ve visited this spot many times, and each visit is unique. That’s the allure of Lake Superior’s shore—it constantly changes with the weather and seasons, never growing old. However, this variability poses a challenge; clear skies for extended periods are rare. Yet, everything aligned on a new moon night.

After a 4.5-hour drive north, battling the confusion of daylight savings time, I arrived just in time for the core to rise. With my gear set up, I raced against time to capture all the panels before dawn. The short darkness window in March posed another challenge.

Despite this, I managed to complete the sky frames and most of the foregrounds. The final edit required blending the foreground seamlessly as twilight approached. The result captures the beauty and serenity of Lake Superior’s shores perfectly.”