1. Lapland in Autumn

    Each year, for the last 6 years, I have taken groups to Finnish and Norwegian Lapland. It’s a time of the year that I particularly enjoy with trees and understory bursting into autumnal colour. And, with the prospect of witnessing the northern lights, it makes for a very enjoyable tour with anticipation aplenty! My plan this year was upon conclusion of the trip, rather than go home with everyone else, I was to stay on a further 9 days and explore Norway’s second largest island, Senja. I have long wanted to go here and upon hearing how quiet it is and how relatively unexplored (photographically, anyway) compared to its more famous neighbour, Lofoten, it made the place all the more appealing. This post will be devoted, however, to the week-long Lapland in Autumn tour I held with Senja being ‘dealt with’ within the next week or two.

    Our week in Lapland, weather-wise, was mixed. This is to be expected and we had one ‘wash-out’ day which, as it happened, went in our favour. It was towards the end of the trip and with everyone having taken lots of photographs it gave us all the opportunity to look through one another’s images and for me to cast my eye and appraise a number from each. The night previous was a very late return and everyone was still buzzing with excitement having seen a most incredible display of the aurora borealis.

    Here’s a selection taken from those seven days.

    The group’s first impression of Finnish Lapland

    As with any place, once you’ve been there often you are more selective. Lapland in autumn is a wonderful place for those seeking out details, of which there are many strewn upon the forest floor.

    I took one zoom lens with me, the others were all primes. As you will have read in the previous post I use primes far more than I do zooms. I like how they ‘restrict’ what you can photograph (fewer decisions to make), their wide maximum aperture and their close-focusing capabilities. They are significantly lighter and In general, much sharper too.

     I took the following which are all Nikkors – of varying ages – except for the 14mm which is produced by Samyang.

    • 14mm f/2.8
    • 20mm f/2.8
    • 28mm f/2.8
    • 50mm f/1.4
    • 70-200mm f/2.8
    • 1.4x tele-converter
    • Canon 500D supplementary close-up lens

    Of all these, it was the 50mm that I used more than any other.

    On separate days the group were taken to two of my favourite locations where at each we spent close on an entire day. With few vistas, the forest itself provided more than enough subject matter. I guarantee you will learn more about composition in such an environment than you ever will shooting sweeping views. Images don’t at first leap out and it takes a while to get your eye in. My way of working has always been to concentrate on small areas for a long period as opposed to walking from one spot to the next.

     

    We stay at 2 locations, 3 nights apiece to give the group a real flavour of the region. The first is situated in the lowlands of Lapland where tall spruces dominate while at the second, being that we are at a higher altitude, the landscape is more rocky with stunted, twisted birch being the  only species. To me, the latter is true Lapland.

    The first 4 nights were cloudy, not just in the immediate vicinity of where we were staying but the entire region. There’s not an awful lot you can do when it’s thick cloud for hundreds of kilometers around! However, on our fourth night and with clear skies forecast to the west, we drove an hour into Norway. No sooner had we parked up at a sufficiently ‘dark’ place and with the merest hint of twilight in the sky, one of nature’s greatest spectacles began.

    For the most part I would employ the services of the 14mm but would, on occasion, use the 70-200mm.

    The spectacle lasted a full 2 hours and I have to say, hand on heart, it was one of the finest I have ever witnessed.

    It’s always nice when they last more than just a few minutes. The first 20 minutes or so is always a frantic affair with any group. Wonky horizons, incorrect exposures, slightly out of focus….. But, with time to spare, one can relax, think more about the shot and more importantly, stand away from the camera and enjoy it with your own eyes.

    As I said at the beginning, we did have a wet day (it was continuous, actually) and this was spent looking over our own images and peeking at each others. The following day (our last full), on the other hand, was much brighter and so we took the group to a canyon with amazing views of Norway’s towering peaks.

     And later in the day to an ancient Norwegian birch forest. I absolutely love it here! Too rocky and in places too boggy for man to ‘interfere’ with. With visible footprints of elk one can imagine that this is how its always been.

    As with the other locations, I’ve been here many times before and so simply took the time to wander and record the colourful vegetation and lichen-encrusted birch with my mobile phone camera.

    We stayed close-by until darkness fell and under partially clear skies while cooking sausages and marshmallows over an open fire, we were treated to one last display.

    And, if that wasn’t enough, as we drove back to our cabins in Finland, an elk posed for our mobile-phone cameras! A delightful way to finish the tour.

    A huge thanks to the group for making the tour what it was and an absolute pleasure to lead. There is a ‘pull’ to this region that I am sure everyone felt at one time or another while on this trip. Finns speak of the “Lapland fever” because of the many that have lost their heart to this land.

    If some of these images appealed to you and you’d like to learn more about photographing the northern lights, then you might be interested in my ebook: Ruska – Revontulet. Autumn in Finnish Lapland

    Ebook details and purchase

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  2. New ebook

    Ruska – Revontulet: Autumn in Finnish Lapland
    (How to Photograph the Northern Lights)

    I’ve just published a new ebook which can be purchased through my website. Although this will be my second, this is my first on a specific region and it is something I have wanted to do for quite some time. Infact, the title came long before the book! Some of you will already be aware of my numerous visits to Finnish Lapland through the tours that I run and my own personal adventures and so I thought it would be a nice idea to produce a Monograph containing my very best photographs from this stunning part of the world.

    untitled-1

    Comprising of 70 high resolution images and concluding with a detailed How to Photograph the Northern Lights section, this ebook contains invaluable tips and advice accumulated from innumerable hours of photographing the aurora borealis. For all those planning to venture to the far north (or south) in search of one of nature’s greatest spectacles or simply those who wish to have a clearer understanding of capturing our own night sky, this is sure to help you along your way.

    layout-6Adobe Acrobat PDF document.
    70 high resolution images (50 MB)
    63 pages. £4.99 + VAT

    Purchase here

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  3. Lapland in Autumn

    Yet another Northern Lights and Autumn Colours of Lapland photo-tour and what a lucky group we were too! The vibrant colours of birch, aspen and rowan were all around and contrasted beautifully with the cloudless blue sky we experienced for much of the trip. In fact, you could argue it was too sunny at times! However, clear skies in the evening mean only one thing at that time of the year and that far north – aurora borealis!

    We began in the region of Muonio, in Finnish Lapland, miles from anywhere. A stargazers paradise! No light pollution and crystal clear skies make this the ideal place for astro photography and for group member, Jill, to keep us all informed of the various constellations. Beats an app any day!

    Soon after our meal on the first evening we were off to a favourite location of mine, a lake just 15 minutes away that presents many compositional opportunities. We weren’t to be disappointed with an almost constant display for several hours. It’s was great for everyone to witness this extraordinary phenomenon on the first night. It puts everyone at ease (especially me!) and everyone can relax safe in the knowledge that they have not only seen the northern lights but bagged some really good images too.

    Our following days were filled with visiting pristine forests, lakes, rapids, fjord and a lengthy walk up a fell to obtain the most incredible view.

    I have to say I have been very fortunate over the years with everyone on my tours getting on so well with one another and this group was no exception. From the moment we landed, joshes and jibs and just all round good humour. Oh yes, and a little photography talk too. Thank you all so very much for making the trip so enjoyable for myself and Dirk. It hardly felt like work at all!

    finland_autumn_002finland_autumn_003For all northern lights images I used a 14mm f/2.8 lens on a Nikon D750. Although the aperture remained constant at f/2.8 the ISO and shutter speed fluctuated depending on the brightness of the aurora.
    finland_autumn_004finland_autumn_005Each year, without fail, I take the group to one my favourite places as in a relatively small area there is so much to photograph from incredibly tame Siberian jays to a waterfall and stream. The experience was made all the more special with reindeer soup for lunch, served around an open fire.

    Siberian jay

    Siberian jay

    finland_autumn_008finland_autumn_007finland_autumn_009finland_autumn_010Clear skies were yet again forecast and since we were to have a long night ahead and with our cabin just a stone’s throw from a huge lake, the group relaxed and photographed through to dusk.
    4finland_autumn_011finland_autumn_012As sunset turned to dusk – and so it began.

    Group members photographing the lights. It was so bright it cast a shadow on the track.

    Group members photographing the lights. It was so bright it cast a shadow on the track.

    finland_autumn_014

    And just in case you didn’t catch the timelapse in a previous post, here it is again. Do switch on your speakers or put headphones on.

    The following evening I decided to keep it local and a fishing hut provided an interesting subject to place against the northern lights.
    finland_autumn_015 I always take a powerful LED torch for such occasions and we had lots of fun illuminating it from different angles.

    Silver birch and waterfall

    Silver birch and waterfall

    Bilberry

    Lingonberry

    There is just the one long (optional) walk that I ask of everyone to the summit (or at least halfway) of a fell that gives amazing views over Finland, Norway and Sweden. To me, this is real Lapland – scattered rocks and boulders with dwarf birch clinging to the surface.
    finland_autumn_019Our last day began cloudy and with that I took the group to a very nearby location that lends itself perfectly to thee conditions culminating in a vantage point which, once again, afforded incredible views.
    finland_autumn_020

    Five upright images stitched using PtGui. Although Lightroom 6 produces a RAW file I do find it rather slow when, especially, all I want is a low res jpeg image. For this reason (and also that PtGui affords more control) I prefer this software since it takes but a couple of minutes.

    Five upright images stitched using PtGui. Although Lightroom 6 produces a RAW file I do find it rather slow when, especially, all I want is a low res jpeg image. For this reason (and also that PtGui affords more control) I prefer this software since it takes but a couple of minutes.

    I was to stay on a further week to do some personal photography and to seek out new locations for future trips and so once we had taken everyone to Tromso airport, myself and guide headed back to Muonio, 4 hours away. The following morning I caught a bus to Kittila airport where I picked up my car. The weather (and forecast for the following few days at least) was such a contrast to what we had experienced over the previous seven with a drop of close on 10 degrees with cloud and rain. I was a little despondent at first as I had envisaged spending long nights in remote locations on my own photographing the northern lights and capturing sweeping vistas from nearby fells bathed in warm afternoon sunlight. But, you make the best of the conditions and what I wouldn’t have been able to photograph under a clear, blue sky, I now could with the soft, overcast light, which presented itself.
    Under heavy skies and, especially after rain (during in this case) , northern bilberry leaves seem to glow.
    finland_autumn_023For much of the time, however, it rained – hard! And, although I am most definitely not a fair weather photographer, there comes a time when you just have to succumb to the conditions and seek refuge.

    Photographed from within the car though the window. I intentionally shot it in this way and left Levels well alone in order to retain the soft, pastel colours of the scene.

    Photographed from within the car though the window. I intentionally shot it in this way and left Levels well alone in order to retain the soft, pastel colours of the scene.

    Occasionally, in order to portray the scene more akin to what I was experiencing at the time, I’ll incorporate ICM (Intentional Camera Movement). By doing so the image can take on a pastel, almost watercolour appearance. The conditions in which I captured the image, below, were very similar to those above. I parked up beside a lake and, noticing the headland with a few scattered birch trees, took a number of ‘static’ images. To me, they said little and were nothing more than a mere record. Through movement of the camera during exposure and at a slight angle I believe, ironically, I have captured the scene far more accurately than those I took before when I first arrived.

    Solitary pine

    Solitary pine

    finland_autumn_036finland_autumn_037a

    One of numerous tip-offs I received was a of a location around 30 minutes from where I was staying which turned out to be an exceptional place to spend a few hours – nay, many! The weather was absolutely perfect. Still and overcast. Just the kind of conditions I adore for this kind of work when autumn’s slowly coming to a close and when many leaves have fallen and are scattered on the surrounding vegetation except for bright red rowan leaves still clinging to their sagging branches. For the 4 hours or so I spent there I saw not another person (not that unusual for this region). The silence broken only by the sound of the stream.
    finland_autumn_027 finland_autumn_028

    Rowan leaf and raindrops

    Rowan leaf and raindrops

    The colours were vibrant. So much so that when it came to processing them for this blog I would have to reduce the saturation on many. That said, for the most part I will increase or decrease the saturation of individual colours to give a truer representation of the scene. More importantly, how I want it to appear to, perhaps, give emphasis to a particular object (or objects) within the frame.
    finland_autumn_034

    Bilberry and rock

    Bilberry and rock

    There is something very special about photographing a location such as that below, confident that very few have witnessed it let alone photographed it. Off the beaten track requiring a walk through a very boggy mire, it’s not a place you notice as you drive by. I came upon it a few days previous (through scouring a map) and could see the potential at sunset. Days had been gloomy but the weather broke just long enough for me to capture the scene before, once again, the heavens opened. finland_autumn_038

    finland_autumn_039

    Pines and lake at dusk

    Pines and lake at dusk

    Another location I was made aware of was of some old fishing cabins which, again, were a relatively short distance from my cabin but hidden enough away that you wouldn’t notice them otherwise. Situated (of course!) on the shore of a lake many of these cabins date back several hundred years. Indeed, the original cabins which once stood there date back to the 16th century but, alas, these were burnt down during the war between Sweden and Russia. Today, they are owned and used as they always were by local people.

    finland_autumn_042finland_autumn_041The setting was wonderful and I settled in for the long haul realising that I was going to be there for quite some time especially since heavy rain and strong winds were forecast for the following day. Aside from the setting the cabins themselves oozed character. Wooden hooks hung from the cabin’s exterior as were all manner of traditional fishing apparatus.
    finland_autumn_044finland_autumn_045

    With not a soul to be seen and not a sound to be heard I wanted to soak it all up. I was due to leave in two days and I would miss the solitude and above all else – the silence.

    finland_autumn_046   finland_autumn_047finland_autumn_048

    After an hour or so one of the owners of the huts turned up. A man named Tapio. He expressed an interest in my photography (a tripod does that) and in his broken English he told me a little about the history of his cabin (which dates back to the 19th century) and invited me in. What an honour I thought. Small and very cosy he tells me he comes here as often as he can. Why wouldn’t you? This is just about as perfect a retreat as you can imagine!

    finland_autumn_050finland_autumn_049He explained that stormy weather was on its way and he needed to collect his nets before tomorrow. He left his cabin open and said that I was more than welcome to photograph the inside of the door which was covered in graffiti etched into the wood by its previous owners.
    finland_autumn_043finland_autumn_051Half an hour later I could see that he was making his way back to shore. I really wanted to get a portrait of him and when he returned he happily obliged. My past years of freelancing for the press would stand me in good stead. It taught me to be quick and to direct the sitter. I need not have worried here. Some folk are just easy to capture. I simply asked him to sit on the edge of his bed and look out of the window and he naturally fell into a pose. I took just half a dozen frames and once I had finished he remained seated, turned and spoke to me. “I used to invite my wife but now I don’t. I prefer to be alone. A man needs time on his own to think sometimes”.
    finland_autumn_052

    I took his email address and promised to send the image to him as well as look up the species of fish (sikka) he catches which he couldn’t remember the name of in English. It turned out to be whitefish. He’d caught 40 last week. It was to be my last day of photography but those few hours spent wandering around the cabins and meeting this warm, friendly gentleman was to be among the most memorable.

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