Polar night photography workshop in Utsjoki – January 2019

Early in January 2019, we held our first joint photography workshop together with the wonderful people of Aurora Holidays in Utsjoki, in the very far north of Finnish Lapland. We spent 6 days / 6 nights together with our 5 guests from Luxembourg, Germany and the USA. What a great time we had, with strong northern lights, exceptional daytime light and beautiful encounters with reindeer and huskies. After you read this, I hope that you get excited and book our 2020 workshop at the same place!

Northern lights right away

We arrived to the cottages in the late afternoon and gave everyone a chance to unpack and relax before I gave a presentation about the northern lights: what they are, why do they appear, and of course, how to take pictures of the aurora. I had not finished my presentation yet that one of the guides of Aurora Holidays came to us to announce that the sky had cleared and northern lights were already visible!

Powerful northern lights with purple fringe above a lit gazebo
The first display of northern lights that we saw…. Just after we arrived and gathered our group in Utsjoki.

This photo above is looking south, just to say how powerful the aurora was that night. You can spot the illumination of the camera screens of our workshop participants near the lit gazebo.

While we were taking our first images, our host Tiina was cooking some wild salmon on the fire in the gazebo. Luckily, the northern lights faded for a little while, so the salmon did not overcook.

Lit gazebo under the northern lights in Finnish Lapland
The gazebo in which we would have our first meal, right under the northern lights

No need to chase anything that night with such a display at this perfect location. So after many more hours, we went to bed with happy stomachs and great photos.

Snowmobiling through the barren fells of Nuorgam

For our first daytime adventure, Tiina and I had chosen a trip to the fells of Nuorgam, the northernmost locality in the European Union, some 50 milometers north-east of Utsjoki. Our guide Hannu from 70 North taught us how to drive the snowmobiles, and off we went. We started in the dark, we came back in the dark, but the light in between was spectacular. Some of the best polar night light that I have ever seen! You see, the sun remains under the horizon the entire time, but still brightens up the sky. It is like a sunset (or sunrise) that lasts for 2 or 3 hours.

Group of photographers and snowmobiles on the fells near Nuorgam, with very pink clouds in the background
Our photography workshop guests and their snowmobiles on top of a fell near Nuorgam. Those colours were exceptional!
Woman with snowmobile helmet in a snowy landscape
Workshop participant Maggie walking back to the group… What you don’t see on this picture is how strong and cold the wind was up there on the fell!

Visiting the reindeer herder

On the next day, we took a trip back to Inari and down to Menesjärvi, where we would meet Sami reindeer herder Petri Mattus to spend some time with him and his reindeer in the forest. Luck was with us again, with a clear and crisp winter weather, which would lead again to some wonderful images.

Group of photographers sitting and listening to the reindeer herder's stories in Finnish Lapland
Our group and all our guides listening to Petri’s stories about his job as a reindeer herder. Best office in the world!

We were literally in the wilderness, not in an enclosure with a few reindeer to pet. The real wilderness. With so many reindeer walking around us, the photo opportunities were endless.

Close-up of a reindeer in a snowy background
Close-up of a reindeer. They are so close to you, that you don’t necessarily need a very long lens (although it helps with such portraits).

We also explored Norway

With the Arctic Ocean a short 1.5 hour drive from Utsjoki, this is an opportunity that we cannot miss! We drove to Nesseby, on the shore of the Varanger Fjord (Finnmark), the easternmost fjord in Norway. This is probably not as impressive as the Lofoten islands, but nonetheless a beautiful fjord with breathtaking views all along its shore. In Nesseby, we were welcomed again by spectacular colours in the sky. The polar night delivered in the most intense way!

Man standing on the shore of the fjord, with the mountains and bright pink sky in the background
Workshop participant Pol on the shore of the Varanger fjord in Norway. This light again!
Fish drying rack under bright pink sky reflecting in a tidal pool in Nesseby, Norway
The Norwegian coast – a fish rack – a gorgeous sky – a mirror like tidal pool. Norway delivered again!

And although this was not the main goal of our workshop, we did also get some decent opportunities for (small) wildlife, with a dozen purple sandpipers feeding in the tidal pool from the image above.

Purple sandpiper in Nesseby
Purple sandpiper in Nesseby

We saw huskies too

After a day in an epic snow storm that we had to spend in Utsjoki, we went back to Tana Bru in Norway to visit Tana Husky. Mira, our guide of the day, explained to our guests how to drive, and off they went into the wilderness! I managed to capture a few images of them riding.

Husky sled in snow in Finnmark, Norway
Guide Mira driving and workshop participant Maria enjoying the ride.
Workshop participants posing together in front of the Tana Husky building
Our workshop group, Mira the musher and our guides. I love the logo of Tana Husky!

More northern lights

We named this photography workshop “Polar Night and Northern Lights”, and I have to say that they both delivered! We had aurora in the sky 4 of the 6 nights that we spent in Utsjoki. On our very last night, the northern lights came out to dance for us one last time. Everyone went to bed after our finale dinner at Restaurant Deatnu. The weather was terrible with heavy snow falling, but the forecast indicated that it could clear after midnight.

Even though I had to wake up at 4:30 AM for a 5 AM departure to the airport, I did stay up and watched the situation. And I was right! It became completely clear, revealing some very beautiful aurora!

Panorama of aurora borealis above the Teno river in Finnish Lapland
Panorama of the aurora on our last night.

I sent a wake-up message to our workshop participants, and was happy to see that 3 out of 5 came out despite our early wake-up just a couple of hours later!

Join us next year!

What a week we had! I want to take this opportunity to thank all our 5 guests, Maria, Maggie & Helge, Eilo & Pol as well as the amazing crew of Aurora Holidays with Tiina, Emilia and Maria.

We are planning a similar adventure in January 2020. Join us there!

And don’t forget to check out my portfolio galleries for more winter photos of Lapland and northern lights images if you need more convincing to come along to Utsjoki.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Maggie Hoffmann

    Thanks Rayann for this nice summery of our common week.
    It was amazing, exciting and very instructive!!
    We learned a lot about Northern Lights and how to photograph!! You never got tired helping us, even late at night.
    And yes!… it was really cold but absolutely beautiful! Definitely a place to visit for Polarnights, Aurora Borealis, Snowmobile adventures and Huskie sledding.

    1. Rayann Elzein

      Thank you so much for your kind words Maggie! I had an amazing time myself, so it helps to not get tired! :-) I look forward to seeing everybody’s photos now! Take care :)

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