Northern lights photography workshop – Utsjoki – January 2020

We just returned from Utsjoki in the far north of Finnish Lapland, where we held a very successful Northern Lights photography workshop. Together with Australian photographer Lisa Michele Burns and local company Aurora Holidays, we guided a group of 7 enthusiastic photographers from all over the world through the wonderful landscapes of Finnish Lapland during the so-called Polar Night.

First things first: northern lights photography workshop

The Aurora (aka the Northern Lights) did not have us wait very long. Luckily I learned the lesson from the previous year’s workshop. This time I started my first presentation immediately with camera settings and tips to photograph the Northern Lights. Just after dinner, we went to the warm and cosy gazebo on the shore of the Teno River, and in no time, the Aurora started dancing in the sky.

northern lights in Utsjoki, Finnish Lapland
Some very strong Northern Lights on our first two nights.
Northern Lights photography workshop participant under the aurora
Aurora Holidays cottage in Utsjoki under the northern lights
northern lights above the Teno River in Utjsoki, Finnish Lapland
Strong display of green aurora borealis above the Teno River in Utjsoki, Finnish Lapland

On our second night, I was at first planning to take the group chasing the Aurora. We would drive towards the village of Karigasniemi. However, after dinner and looking at the weather patterns one more time, it became clear that any gap in the clouds that we would chase would eventually end up above our cottages in Utsjoki. This, plus knowing that there are no real nice places to stop on that road, I decided to make it another gazebo night. And oh how right was I! We would never have had such a clear view to the horizon had we taken the road.

Snowmobiling in Nuorgam

Similarly to the previous year, we hired Hannu from 70North to guide us through the fells of Nuorgam and the Kaldoaivi Wilderness Area. I love this area because so far north. With the (small) altitude of the fells, there is barely any vegetation. This allows me to teach the group about a minimalistic approach to photography. And knowing Lisa’s style of photography, I knew this would also be a good match for her to teach a thing or two to our group.

A lone tree during the northern lights photography workshop in Nuorgam
The vast emptiness of the Kaldoaivi wilderness area in Finnish Lapland
The moon rising above the fells of the Kaldoaivi Wilderness Area.

Spending time with Sami reindeer herder

Anyone who comes with me to Lapland must experience this: a trip to the wilderness to observe the reindeer with a Sami reindeer herder. So of course we drove to Petri Mattus’ house in Menesjärvi, some two hours from Utsjoki, but it was absolutely worth it.

Petri was as welcoming as always. Our workshop participants learnt a great deal about the life of a Sami reindeer herder. That, and also a couple hundred reindeer came all around us.

Reindeer herder Petri Mattus feeding his reindeer
Petri is giving extra food to the reindeer herd.
northern lights photography workshop participants photographing some reindeer
Workshop participant Anna is “going low”. Best way to capture great animal images!
group of participants of the northern lights photography workshop surrounded by reindeer
This looks like a happy group of people, doesn’t it?

Detour through the Norwegian coast

While running a northern lights photography workshop in Utsjoki, we are blessed by a wide variety of landscapes to photograph. The shore of the Arctic Ocean in Norway is just a short drive away from the Aurora Holidays cottages. So off we went to the small village of Nesseby to visit its cute church, harbour and fish drying rack.

Sadly, the weather was not on our side, with wind, snow and low visibility. But a good photographer has to make the best out of any situation. I think we nailed it, right?

The cute church of Nesseby and some of our workshop participants.
The cute church of Nesseby and some of our workshop participants.
Typical Norwegian fish drying rack in Nesseby.
Typical Norwegian fish drying rack in Nesseby.

Huskies!

A trip to the North is not complete without a husky ride. So we also included this in the programme for our guests. I think that they enjoyed it very much! I stayed behind to take a few images of them riding.

Workshop participants riding husky sleds
Sled fun!
Husky in Tana, Norway
A husky eager to run.

Village tour of Utsjoki

Emilia, one of Aurora Holidays’ guides, came to pick us up to give us a guided tour of the Utsjoki village. Did you know that from Utsjoki, you can actually walk into Norway, and stand with one foot in each country?

northern lights photography workshop participants on the Sami bridge in Utjsoki
For once I am on the picture… Thank you Emilia!

Wrapping up our northern lights photography workshop

This wouldn’t be a full story if I didn’t show some additional northern lights photos. After all, we did see the aurora almost every night!

Fox tracks on the snow under the aurora in Utsjoki, Finnish Lapland
Fox tracks on the snow under the Aurora.
northern lights photography workshop participants under very faint northern lights
Our northern lights photography workshop participants under very faint aurora.

We had such a wonderful time in the northernmost part of Finnish Lapland thanks to all our participants. They formed all together a tight and fantastic group. Also, we wouldn’t have been able to have such a succesful northern lights photography workshop without the help of Tiina of Aurora Holidays and the rest of her crew. A special mention to Antti, the chef who cooked for us delicious meals every day! And big thanks too to Lisa for accepting to guide this adventure with me.

We will repeat the adventure of this northern lights photography workshop in January 2021. Will we see you there?

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