We went on the aurora photography tour with Lapland Welcome. The experience was a good one, even though the weather did not cooperate. Anyone who books a tour to see aurora HAS to know that no tour can predict or control the Sun’s particle streams or the Earth’s magnetosphere. So I absolutely do not blame them when the weather turned bad and a light snow fell the entire time during the tour. If there were any aurora up there, the clouds obscured them.
Despite not seeing the aurora, I have to admit the experience was unforgettable. We met downtown at their office where they provided outdoor gear for us. Let me be clear: their gear is very warm and functional! A couple basic under layers is all you need to bring, and perhaps your own cap. They have high quality boots and full-body snow suits to keep you warm and dry.
Then the group (about 30 in all for us) boarded a bus for the 45m-60m trip to the base of the viewing hill. There’s a cabin there for final gear prep and toilets to use (there are none at the summit). After the final preparations, there is a walk.
Fair warning: this is a ~500 meter hike, in the snow, uphill, in the dark to get to the viewing site. I’m in my thirties and of moderate health, so this wasn’t a great challenge for me, however it was taxing. Some older members of the group had to rest and take it slow. Be prepared for this.
At the top we sat on some snowy benches (be water-proof!) and listened to the guides explain some things about the aurora. They helped us know what settings to use for our cameras to best capture photos of aurora, should any appear. The guides are knowledgeable in general camera use, but don’t expect them to know everything about your particular camera. Know your own gear, accept their guidance with it. It’s an aurora photography tour, not an “Introduction to Photography” course. These are some basic settings they advise:
Set camera on manual mode
Exposure to 15s at least, up to 30s could be necessary
Widest possible aperture (lowest F-stop number)
High ISO numbers, e.g. for 1.8 aperture at least ISO 800, but with higher apertures you’ll need anywhere from 3000 - 6000
As my luck goes, my Canon Rebel X with its kit lens didn’t support an aperture and ISO flexibility to meet their recommendations. But there were clouds, so that was moot. I hope my parroting of their recommendation helps you choose your gear, as I did not see any of that information on their website.
Now you’re wondering why I enjoyed the tour despite not seeing any aurora. Well, after 30 minutes or so outside watching for a break in the clouds, they moved us all into the kota (a large teepee structure) where there was a hot fire, food, and drinks. You roast your own sausage over the fire, so it’s a whole experience, kind of communal in a way. One guide told of some traditions and history of the region, and about Finland while we cooked and ate. Everyone seemed to loosen up and find comfort together in the shelter as the snow fell outside. One guide remained outside the whole time to keep a lookout for aurora.
The evening ended with a hike back down the hill, then back on the bus, and about an hour back into Rovaniemi. We began at 20:00 and ended at 02:00. I really appreciated the whole experience, even without aurora. Maybe next time...