Just over 3 weeks ago I returned from leading (along with our guide and photographer, Antti Pietikainen) a 7 day tour to Finnish and Norwegian Lapland to photograph the autumn colours and, with finger’s crossed, the northern lights. As per usual with a trip of this nature, our days were dictated by the weather and we were fortunate to have some prolonged spells of sunshine. On occasion, we had some very dramatic lighting (especially in Norway) and on our first night the most stupendous display of northern lights!
The group were a joy to lead. Always willing to try new things (photographically and culturally!), happy to go with the flow and, from what I have seen of their images already, have come away with some wonderful pictures as well as, I hope, some great memories. Here’s a flavour of what we got up to.
Upon arrival and with a clear night forecast, we headed out in search of the lights. Within a very short period we were greeted with this. The orange glow is’nt light pollution as it’s, practically, non-existent here.
We then headed to a lake which gave us opportunities of shooing them reflected. This was the most dynamic part of the show and lasted for a further 2 hours! Curtains of green and violet moving across a star laden sky had us in awe – as you can imagine!
Naturally, the first 15 minutes were rather chaotic with everyone hurriedly setting up tripods and attempting to compose an image in near darkness. After a while, however, safe in the knowledge that they had “bagged” a few decent shots, everyone slowed down, made more thoughtful compositions and found time to just stand and watch what was happening before us.
It started to cloud over but Antti had this covered! A quick look at the satellite forecast on his tablet and a phone-call to a colleague and moments later we were bouncing along a forest track. Within 10 minutes we were under clear skies on the edge of a lake. This is why you have a local guide!
Northern lights, Muonio, Finnish Lapland.
Very pleased that a few weeks ago this image won the Telegraph’s Travel – The Big Picture photography competition.
Photographing the northern lights is not an exact science as it depends on many factors – widest aperture of your lens, light pollution and brightness of the northern lights. In short, however, you want the widest, fastest lens you can lay your hands on, set the iso to 800, focus on infinity and set the shutter speed to 30 seconds. Review the image and adjust accordingly. There are lots of other things you can do to increase your chances of returning with some memorable images and I may well write a separate post on this in the foreseeable.
All my images were taken using a Nikon D600, 20mm f2.8, iso 800-3200 and shutter speeds ranging from 15 to 30 seconds. Needless to say, a tripod was used in conjunction with mirror lock-up and remote release.
After such a long day of travelling and photography into the early hours, a more leisurely late-morning excursion was called for. As Antti cooked salmon burgers and made coffee and tea over an open fire, the group spread out around the lake and waterfall shooting scenes and close-ups. The red leaves of northern bilberry set the landscape ablaze and no matter how many times I return at this time of the year, I can never resist aiming my lens at them!
On a warm blue-sky afternoon we visited the nearby Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. We drove high up to the visitor centre and hotel and so we didn’t have far to walk to be up on fells where, after a short while, we came across some very obliging reindeer.
For the first 3 days we were based in Muonio which lies 300km north of the Arctic Circle and just a couple of kilometers from the Swedish border. It claims to have the cleanest air in Europe and has the longest snow season in Finland. I have to say, it’s a lovely place. Surrounded by wilderness and life seems (on the face of it) to be at a very relaxed pace. I don’t think such a phrase as ‘traffic jam’ even exists in this part of the world!
An extract taken from outdoors.fi on the national park which will give you more of an idea of the region we stayed in.
The scenery in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is dominated by fells surrounded by forests and mires in their natural state. Because the area’s nature is clean and beautiful and the terrain varying, the park is a wonderful place to hike, ski and enjoy the outdoors. The silhouette of the fells can be seen practically at all times and the marked trails lead visitors to the National Park’s most beautiful look-out spots. The picturesque beauty of the Pallastunturi Fells has made the area one of the Finnish national landscapes.
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is Finland’s third largest National Park. The area of this park has doubled now that Pallas-Ounastunturi National Park and Ylläs-Aakenus Nature Reserve have been combined to create Pallas-Yllästunturi. The most southern fell of the chain is Yllästunturi Fell. It is outside of the park’s boundaries and used as a tourist ski resort hill. The highest fell in this chain is Taivaskero, which is 807 metres high. In the north the view is of the gently sloping upland-like Ounastunturi Fells.
Geologically Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is located between Northern Finland, Forest Lapland and Fell Lapland, making it a very varied and interesting habitat. In the park’s forests and on its fells there is a mix of northern and southern species. It is also the area in which visitors can see the transition area where peoples livelihood changes from farming to reindeer husbandry.
Colours of Lapland in autumn
Enjoying a cup of Chaga!
On the 4th day we headed further north to our final destination, Kilpisjarvi (north-western-most part of Finland), a journey of, around, 3 1/2 hours. On the way we stopped for an hour at some rapids which everyone enjoyed and made the most of.
Hoping for a decent sunrise, the following morning we headed to a Lakeland setting. We did have a brief showing of colour in the morning sky but, sadly, not the sunrise we had hoped for. Always best to try as you just never know!
That afternoon we made our way to Skibotn in Norway which has a very nice, small, traditional harbour. We explored the length of the fjord and, as we did so, enjoyed the most dramatic light for the next couple of hours.
As darkness fell, Antti drove us a short distance through a forest to a clearing where he would make a fire and where, for the next couple of hours, we would hope to see the northern lights. The night sky wasn’t terribly clear and, to the north, there were breaks but, alas, tonight was not to be our night. Anyway, it was great to be outdoors keeping warm by the fire, just soaking up nature.
With a cloudy day forecast, Antti and I decided it would be best to head back to the same forest as the previous night and shoot autumn colour as opposed to landscapes. This ancient Norwegian forest was just beautiful! Everywhere you looked was yellow with splashes of red from the bilberry and mountain ash and mushrooms clinging to, what seemed, every birch trunk. We spent over 4 hours, here, but I could have stayed all day – indeed, all week!
Mike and Roger clearly enjoying themselves!
These mushrooms (I believe they are Birch bolete – I may be wrong!) were very common. I was happy to find these two and a break in the trees, enabling me to produce a contextual image.
We were due to leave for Tromso airport the next morning (a drive of 3 1/2 to 4 hours) so after a fair-well tipple in one of the cabins we said our goodnights. However, the northern lights were still on our minds and, with skies clearing, were we to be given a parting gift? Having been spoilt on our first day, some had decided to go to bed while a few others, myself included, thought we would give it one last try. It was a stunning night with the moon reflecting on the water. Not a ripple. With our cabins situated next to a lake, we stood waiting on the jetty. After half an hour, or so, we were blessed with one last display.
Our trip concluded with a cable car ride to the top of Mount Storsteinen which, at a height of 421m/1382ft, gave us stunning views of Tromso.
If by reading this you are tempted to join me and Antti on such a tour, then please register your interest for 2016. Yes, next year’s trip is fully booked and we are, already, over-subscribed for 2015!
Testimonials from our guests from this year’s tour.
“We could not have imagined that within hours of arriving at our hotel on
the first day we would be treated to a spectacular display of the Northern
Lights- a treasured memory for life. We have the photos to look back on with
There were many subjects to photograph- sunsets, sunrise, blazing birch
forests, colourful vegetation, mountain scenes, cloud-scapes etc. The photos
will take us back to glorious Finland and Norway.
Antii and Robert were great to be with – Antii with his local knowledge was
so willing and helpful and Robert was so generous with his advice and
constructive comments helping us to get the best from our photography. The
rest of the group were very friendly and we had many laughs along the way.
It was helpful, too, to see how others tackled their shots. Our accommodation and food was first class.
What we learnt from the trip has taken us to a new level in our photography.
Many thanks to Robert and Antii.”
Selwyn and Lesley
“After a just a few hours of arrival in Muonio we were treated to a stunning and beautiful Northern Lights display. Perfect timing and that was just the start! The following days proved just as fulfilling with stunning scenery and autumnal colours screaming to be photographed in all directions. Rob and Antti guided and advised us every day to ensure that we made the most out our the tour.
It did not go unnoticed that Rob makes a point to try to spend time with everyone at each location, gently advising on alternate views, photographic techniques or just to confirm that we are on the right way. I also appreciated that he made time to provide feedback on everyone’s images (including some of his own) when we reviewed them afterwards on a computer screen. It always interesting to see how others interpret a scene.
I would like pass my thanks to Rob and Antti for an excellent and rewarding trip. I would also like to express my thanks to the other members of the group who made this trip so enjoyable.
All in all, I can recommend to anyone thinking of joining a photographic tour to not look any further than Robert Canis’ website. You will not be disappointed.”
“I would like to thank Robert Canis for organising a trip to Lapland where we were fortunate to see a magnificent display of the northern lights and close up pictures of a family of reindeer. Robert and our guide Antti organised first class accommodation with excellent food and including barbecues. This is a trip I would thoroughly recommend.”
“The week was everything that I thought it would be – and more. The Northern Lights show we experienced on the first night was spectacular!! Never heard so many adults go “ooh” and “aah” for such a long time. On its own, that justified the trip for me. The autumn colours were fantastic and seemed to be just everywhere I looked. Photo opportunities.
Your help and guidance in matters photographical was appreciated and helpful. I felt both encouraged and motivated to try things differently and to experiment with some of my own ideas.
The accommodation was superb. The Harriniva Hotel was everything that the internet pictures showed. The staff were super friendly. I did not think it could be bettered – but I was wrong! The chalets at Tundrea had me totally amazed! I have never experienced such delightful accommodation in my life. The specification was so comprehensive – from the sauna to the fully equipped kitchen. I only wish that my own home was so well thought out. Both venues will be high on my list to stay at should I return to Finland.
Our guide, Antti, was extremely knowledgeable. He just could not seem to do enough to make our trip enjoyable. His culinary skills and coffee making over the various campfires were deeply appreciated by us all.
To sum up, everything was great. I would have no hesitation in recommending this trip to anyone. The company was really good.”
, lapland in autumn
, northern lights