What was my favourite part of the 2022 edition of Polar Night and Aurora Photography Workshop that I was co-teaching with Rayann Elzein? All of it. Spending a week at the Northern end of Finland at Aurora Holidays near Utsjoki with an enthusiastic group of photographers was a fantastic experience. We are doing it again for 2023, so make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter or keep an eye on the event page!

The timing of the workshop works well for Northern Lights photography – there are many hours of darkness. The beginning of January is still in the season of the Polar Night in Finnish Lapland. The sun never rises above the horizon, but it does get close. During the daylight hours, there are spectacular soft hues.

The Guided Experiences

Included in the workshop were some guided tours that allowed guests to experience aspects of life in Northern Finland and learn about the cultures and history of the area.

On our first day, we took the group to visit the Reindeer farm of Petri Mattus, a Sámi reindeer herder from the municipality of Inari in Lapland of Finland. The Farm is where Petri’s home was and the base for the reindeer herding work. The reindeer roam free, though, so we took a snowmobile and sled to see if we could find any.

We spent hours listening to Petri tell us about the reindeer and the Sami people, photographing, and enjoying hot coffee or tea by a fire.

A reindeer with antlers stands in front of many other reindeer in a snowy Finnish landscape
A Sámi Reindeer Herder working among a herd of reindeer
A black kettle hanging in a fire in Finland

We took the group for Husky dog sledding at Tana Husky in Norway. We had to add an extra feature to our workshop for 2022 – covid testing! To come back to Finland after Norway, we needed antigen tests. So, we booked the group for tests after the sledding and ensured everyone took a home test in the morning before going on our adventure.

Driving the Husky sleds was very fun but required a bit of work. We didn’t take our cameras, only our phones, but there wasn’t much opportunity to shoot the amazing landscape we were traveling through. The dogs wanted to run, and you had to keep both hands on the sled as the driver. After sledding, our guide, William, answered our questions about the dogs and his racing career after our run.

Our last guided excursion was snowmobiling in the Kaldoaivi Wilderness with Hannu Holmberg, who runs 70 North. We tucked our cameras into our snowsuits during this tour and made a few stops to shoot during the soft light. Hannu even spotted a white ptarmigan, a bird one of our guests had wanted to see while in Finland. I didn’t have my long lens with me, unfortunately.

Barren trees in snow with pink polar night sky Kaldoaivi Wilderness, Finland
People on snow mobiles in Kaldoaivi Wilderness Area
People on snow mobiles in Kaldoaivi Wilderness Area

The funniest part of all these guided tours was all the guides asking me if I would be warm enough and not believing I knew I was doing in the cold. I was actually too warm on all the tours. I will admit my “outfits” for winter adventures would not work for most people, but it works for me.

The Aurora

Aurora Holidays sits right around 70 degrees North. A perfect latitude to see Nothern Lights…if the clouds cooperate. We did get a little bit of aurora every night that it was clear. We could look north across the river to Norway from our cabins to get a good view if the lights were out. Aurora Holidays also has a webcam (streamed live on YouTube) set up so guests can watch for any activity from the comfort of their cabins or at the screen set up in the restaurant.

Our workshop group was treated to a particularly incredible show on the second to last night. There was a prediction for a KP5 event, so Rayann and I ensured everyone was ready with their gear before we went for dinner. After dinner, we took a few shots by the river but were concerned about the clouds rolling in. Everyone got in the van, and Rayann drove us to a good spot with lovely snowy trees and great leading lines on the road. We arrived just in time for the big show to start. There were greens, reds, purples, dancing, and many coronas (the good kind).

Aurora with curved line over a river Utsjoki Finland
Aurora corona with green and purple color making a V shape in Finland
Aurora dancing over snow covered trees Utsjoki FInland

The Landscape

The landscape in Northern Finland is very different from the Canadian Rockies where I live. The terrain is mostly flat but heavily forested. We had a few days of snow, making it hard to shoot or even see the landscape. I took the group on snowshoes up to a lookout over the river and Aurora Holidays. The views would have been impressive on a clear day! But that’s how landscape photography works – you’re at the mercy of the weather, and if you don’t get out, you definitely won’t get anything. Make sure you enjoy the adventure regardless of how many photos you can or cannot end up with.

Our photography outing to Norway was fun for everyone, and we spent hours photographing along a beach. We worked on wide landscapes, detail shots, long exposures, and abstract images.

Silhouette of an eagle sitting on a fish rack on a snowy beach in Norway
A light house in moody light in Norway

The Accommodations

Aurora Holidays is the perfect venue for our workshop! Or even just an aurora viewing holiday. It is a family-run business, and they make sure you are taken care of during your visit. They will do everything they can to help you see the aurora. Of course, with our group, Rayann and I watched numerous weather forecasts, the solar data, and looked for the best opportunities for our group.

The meals were terrific, and they could cater to everyone’s restrictions and preferences. I can’t recommend this place enough, and I hope you’ll join us there in 2023!

Red and Green aurora borealis towering over Aurora Holidays in Finland