Chasing the Magic Lights

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Chasing the Magic Lights

Northern lights are just a dream. Viewing the lights during the peak season Finland was on the top of my list mostly – there are direct flights from my hometown to Helsinki, closeness to the Arctic Circle, and state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure. After my amazing trip to the Arctic Circle, I would like to share 4 afterthoughts and 8 photo-taking tips with you.

Useful Websites:

Check out the weather of the Scandinavia –

Aurora Forecast –

Northern Lights 101: All you need to know about Northern Lights

Northern lights are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the atmosphere. To view the bright dancing lights in the Arctic Circle during the peak season, Finland was on the top of my list mostly because of direct flights that took me from my hometown to Helsinki, closeness to the Arctic Circle, and state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure.

Under negative degrees doesn’t mean giving up fashion, right?

Right, the sparsely populated Lapland offered excellent communication network and it’s clean and warm everywhere. In Nellim (a village in Lapland – Google map it J), I still have mobile 3G coverage to keep up with the rest of the world! #GREAT #3G (But of course, maybe the same case for the rest of Europe, US and Canada??) More, I could buy a pre-paid sim card for a few Euros and enjoy unlimited 3G network (However, when I was there in 2014 – they have pre-paid sim card, but no nano-sim – which means not available for iPhone 5…)

The driver who picked me up to the resort told me though – hospitals were so far away, the locals were joking about most Lapland babies were now born in cars, since ladies couldn’t make it to the hospital; and if you, unfortunately, break an arm, be patient, a helicopter will bring you to the nearest hospital in the state’s capital- Rovaniemi, a couple hundred miles away.

To catch the Nothern Lights, some said 2013 was the peak year and the strength would deteriorate; turned out 2014 still, and now somehow 2015 still (but the last year of the 13-year cycle?); some recommended Norway, Iceland, Alaska, Canada, Finland; some said December was not the best time, some said February, some said March. Well, true, there could be a MOST ACTIVE year of sun particles collisions (according to the scientist), there could be the BEST location (according to the closeness to the Arctic circle?), there could be the best period of time (typically December to March) – but the luck still depends on YOU. I heard that some of my friends visited the Iceland fourth time to finally see the Northern lights; it could be bad weather, it could be bad timing… Northern light is a natural phenomenon, sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t; when it comes, it could be of your least expected time or least expected occasion. Just be prepared and enjoy the trip.

Actually, there were still a lot of things to see and do in Lapland, Finland during the wintertime. Most visitors (like me) usually fly off from the Capital, Helsinki, to different cities in Lapland and stay for a few days to catch the Northern Lights. Local tour companies or resorts usually have a similar list with all sorts of daytime activities, (such as reindeer visits, Sami cultural tour, Husky experience, Snowmobile, Horse sled ride, Snowshoeing, etc) and the most important events at night – Northern Lights hunting.

I have done some research on different cities and resorts, somehow I ended up choosing the resort in Nellim; because it is packaged (room, meals, 4 days of daily activities), the price is reasonable, and the flight time suits me. It could be a little bit cheaper if you book everything separately; however, trust me, it won’t worth the hassle, the total cost for the same activities would end up similar – no matter you book a package, or separately. Besides, you could contact the resort and customize your daily activities, usually, the hotel staff would be happy to cope with your requests.

I didn’t make a bad choice after all. For the 5 days, I had a great time in the secluded resort, had fun in the daily activities, and knew some new people. The facilities were clean and the food was yummy. (Besides, just sign up for the Sauna room and relax after a day of activities)

I enjoyed the amazing view of the frozen lake with the Husky safari, I wore a special snowshoe and hike in the wild, we had fun chopping woods and made a fire for a nice barbecue party, I tried driving the snowmobiles and snow sleds, and I learned cross-country skiing. ~

I only saw a giant explosion of Northern lights the first night I arrived at the resort and I didn’t even grab a camera with me. (I did some research on how to take photos with your camera, but the outcome was not that good – I did not use a DSLR (Professional Camera)…) Then it was snowing and cloudy at night.

As much as the Northern Lights are amazing, it could be frustrating that you just couldn’t capture it; interesting though, some people say a good camera could capture the lights that you couldn’t see with the naked eye. I am no professional photographer and it was a nightmare for me to set up the camera in freezing whilst amazed by the breathtaking natural phenomenon.
I met some nice Taiwanese (who can speak perfect English) in the resort and they asked me out one night and we waited around until 3 am on the lake but in vain. However, we had a nice time and nice talk, sometimes “anticipation of happiness can sometimes be as gratifying as its consummation”…? – Gaynor Arnold


  1. Cloudy days are not your friend – it blocks your views even there were Northern Lights behind it.
  2. As I heard, some Japanese group tour is super-organized. They traveled in groups in the large coach bus and the group would take them to somewhere high for a better chance to see the lights. I wondered if there any group tour like that for non-Japanese?
  3. It was weird because in Lapland the daytime was incredible – plus you probably need more time to dress and wrap yourself up (well, yeah, it’s cold, but I really think it’s not THAT cold), time flies even faster… so don’t stretch yourself out with too many activities, just take it slow and enjoy the time during the day, and then go out to see the Northern Lights at night.
  4. I bought an intervalometer for the trip, which I could just set a fixed time interval and take pictures of the sky in case there are dancing lights. Originally I booked a room with the view of the lake so I could set the camera in my room and take photos all night. It was later I decided to change hotels so finally, I had no chance of using it L… Maybe some other time I could use this tool?

Tip for taking photos of Northern Lights:

To take beautiful photos of the Northern Lights – you need a great camera and tools (I never see people can do it with their iPhones). Anyway, just Google it, you probably would see a lot of information about photography, and below are some specifications, and dos and don’ts:

  1. Your tripod: wrap it up to keep it warm (for prolonged exposure to the cold, your tripod might be frozen and you will have to let it go), you may need a heavier tripod (although my light one worked just fine, it’s not as windy out at night), and choose a taller one so you don’t have to look back up from the screen for every photo you take
  2. Lens: 24-24mm F2.8 (Recommended)
  3. Function settings: turn off “Noise Reduction” Function – so you could still take pictures of the stars
  4. Manual mode: ISO (Super High) – 6400 / 12800 >> and then fine-tune to 2000 – 3200
  5. Shutter Speed: ~20 sec >> 5 – 8 sec
  6. DO NOT TAKE YOUR CAMERA IN AND OUT – THE LENS WILL BE FOGGED!!! Just leave it outside the house!!
  7. TRY TO WARM UP THE BATTERY, and it will last longer all night
  8. Don’t use flash
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23 thoughts on “Chasing the Magic Lights

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  3. Thanks for the tips on photographing the Northern Lights – I was so disappointed when I traveled to Lapland that I didn’t see them, but it just gives me an excuse for a return journey 🙂

  4. Oh wow, the last picture is gorgeous! The Northern Lights are definitely on my bucket list, although I don’t know where I’d like to see them from – some of my friends went to Tromso, which seemed like another great option, but I’d love to see Finland too. Sounds like you had a fantastic time, too!

  5. Seeing the northern lights is on my bucket list but one tough decision would be what country to go to to see them. It’s too bad you barely saw them and weren’t able to photograph them, but it looks like you still had great experiences in Lapland. And I’m sure you had great memories of seeing the lights your first night.

  6. Looks like quite a lot detailed preparation is required to sight the Northern Lights. Photography too seems to be a tricky affair. Thanks for the helpful tips.

    1. Thanks Indrani for stopping by. But if you don’t want to worry a lot taking pictures, it’s very nice just to enjoy it on-site with your eyes 🙂

  7. Very insightful post about the northern Lights and such useful tips on how to take beautiful photos of them! Definitely bookmarking this, thank you for sharing this with us.

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