Traveling to Finnish Lapland in winter. And this winter is long, approximately seven months long. Average temperatures are between -9 and -17 °C in February. That means occasionally they will drop well below -20°C. And daylight is available for roughly 5-6 hours per day.
So, why go there for vacation, right?
But the answer is rather easy: The northern lights! For me definitely one of the things from my photography bucket list.
The destination was Levi, located approximately 170 km north of the Arctic Circle. It is also the largest ski resort in Finland, but that was not what I was there for. The image above shows one of the many winter wonderland scenes that I was able to capture and to be honest: I was a bit overwhelmed by the seemingly untouched winter everywhere. And I had to resist the urge to shoot everything all the time. The plan was to ride a snowmobile, do a husky tour see some reindeer, maybe try ice karting and of course to see the Aurora Borealis – as far as that can be “planned”.
One of the first things I noticed in Lapland was the mailboxes. The image above may give you an idea why they are something a hobby photographer might notice. They are lined-up at the entrance of a settlement and do look a bit out of place with the ice and snow around. The first couple of days I stayed in a nice cabin just a few minutes out of Levi with plenty of mailboxes everywhere. For the main attraction of the trip – Aurora Borealis – I had to do some more planning.
The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the polar regions of the Earth. It is caused by the interaction of charged particles from the Sun with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.
The image above on the left shows a screenshot of the app AuroraAlerts which I used as an aurora borealis forecast. It notifies you when northern lights may be visible. And they usually were.
The KP index shown, also known as the planetary K index, is a measure of the disturbance in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar activity. This index is used as a predictor of the visibility of the Aurora Borealis. The scale ranges from 0 to 9, with 0 indicating very little geomagnetic activity and 9 indicating extremely high activity. The higher the KP index, the more likely it is that the Aurora Borealis will be visible at lower latitudes.
The image on the right is just a proof screenshot from PhotoPills to show you that the “golden hour” lasts roughly 6 hours in Lapland. On my first day in Lapland I noticed how I hurried right after sunrise to catch the golden light. Only after a few days I noticed that this glorious light will not change basically for the whole day. Good conditions for photographers.
Right after installing the Aurora app on the first day it notified me that conditions were good. So I decided to drive north out of the town to see for myself. And there they were!
When the aurora starts to glow you forget everything for a moment, even the cold temperatures. The image above was not shot on the first night, but a few days later near lake Munäjarvi in the north of Levi. It is a small lake close to Levi right in the middle of the woods.
For the last part of the trip I was lucky enough to have gotten a reservation for the Northern Lights Village in Levi. This place basically consists of individual cabins in the middle of the woods and they are fantastic way to experience the starry sky and of course the Northern Lights. Everything from the comfort of a warm bed.
On my last day, literally on the way to the airport, I got the chance to visit a reindeer farm. I like reindeers because the antlers always look funny to me, a little bit wrong. But that also makes them so charming. The image below gives you an idea. You can find more photos from Lappland and some useful links below.
- Official Website of Levi, Finland
- Eanan Husky & Reindeer Tours, Levi
- AuroraAlerts App
- PhotoPills App
- Ice Karting in Levi
- Northern Lights Village near Levi, Finland