We spent six nights in Sweden, two in Stockholm and the rest split between Jukkasjärvi (near Kiruna) and Abisko. I am not into extreme cold weather – but I thought I’d give it one more shot to see the Northern Lights, this time in Sweden. I tried Tromso but it was not so successful – the lights were faint and brief. One more I thought and probably no more after this. Really – the cold is too much for me. So I was really, really hoping that Lady Luck will be on my side…
Scandinavian Photo Adventure - Jukkasjärvi
I chose Jukkasjärvi as our first stop in the North, mainly because of the IceHotel (stayed there for one night). So it was kind of a two-in-one thing – check out the IceHotel and do a Northern Lights tour from there/Kiruna).
We booked a Photography Tour with Scandinavian Photo Adventure. Since we were staying at the IceHotel – we booked the tour via the hotel website.
Our guide was Ylva, she’s part of a local Sami family. She actually co-owns the tour company if I’m not mistaken. I was travelling with my daughter who’s close to 13 – and we each got a camera and tripod – which was really great. Before we started the journey Ylva was teaching us how to use the SLR – and even how to use the tripod in the thick snow. She explained the settings for the aurora basically all the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ etc. Not too complicated – just basic stuff. It was useful because I only know how to use my iPhone camera.
It was a bit cloudy that evening so she drove quite a fair bit to get clear skies. I really appreciated that.
I would recommend this tour for those who do not own a good camera – because to buy one just for a short trip may not be worth it. Plus going around with a sturdy tripod in your backpack may not be great – it takes up a lot of space! Also Ylva and the other guides too I heard, really tries searching for the lights, if it happens that it’s bit cloudy around the area. So you know they are dedicated to try and get you that amazing experience. Ylva also checked and rechecked our settings – we were a small group so you get a lot of attention – which is nice.
Towards the end of the picture taking and all, Ylva gave us some hot drinks to warm us up over a small fire, before the drive back.
Lights Over Lapland - Abisko
We stayed at the Mountain Lodge in Abisko – booked a photography tour with Lights Over Lapland. Our guide was Oliver – he is from the UK but he has been doing this job for a while now. So he knows all the best spots to take the best photos all around Abisko and the national park area. You don’t have to travel so far in Abisko – a short drive will take you the best spots. So that was a plus staying in the village.
Just like the previous tour, we were provided with a camera and tripod and were given a brief of what is the best settings, how to mount your camera etc. I have to admit as I was super cold – Oliver helped me setup the tripod and camera. My fingers were in pain from the cold if that makes sense. My daughter and I shared a camera – I think they have a policy on minimum age limit to handle the equipment. We were also provided with warm overalls and snow boots (much needed!).
I went with Lights Over Lapland on two nights. On the first night, Oliver brought us on a short trail to a Sami camp site. He was there in the morning to clear the snow from the path getting things ready for the evening tour. After all of us were settled with our tripods and just waiting for Lady Aurora, he went into one of the tents there and started a small fire so that people can take breaks and warm themselves whenever they needed to.
On the second night, we went down a short trail to Lake Torneträsk. Yes – my tripod was just a metre or so away from the cold water. It was amazing!
Oliver also heated up some lingonberry juice which I thought was really nice! I think my daughter thought it was weird drinking HOT juice. Definitely not her thing.
If you are in Abisko – and you want to see the Northern Lights – go with this tour group. Oliver especially is simply amazing. He takes care of all your needs – you just have to worry about clicking the camera.
Visit Abisko Aurora Chase Tour - Abisko
I would have booked with Lights Over Lapland again but they were full on our last night. So got ourselves booked with Visit Abisko.
I don’t own an SLR – and it so happened, that the night when I went with Visit Abisko – the Northern Lights was at its best. Yeap lucky me. So really, if you want to join this kind of tour – and you want to get that perfect picture, make sure you have a good camera and tripod.
I couldn’t remember the guide name – (yes, bad). Anyway he picked us up on time. We used our own jackets and snow boots I rented from the hotel, as unlike the Abisko Photography tour – you will not be going through any trails etc. The way these tours work is that the guide will stop at the best spot accessible by the minibus, where there are clear skies and you can see some activities. You get out of the minivan, setup your tripod and camera – take a few shots and enjoy the view – if the lights show up that it. We went to two spots – the later spot was actually quite close to our hotel where the lights are stronger.
We were given hot lingonberry juice some time in between (it seems its a standard thing here since the berries are unique to the Northern Scandinavian region. It’s also good for you). It was probably our shortest Aurora chase ever – because the activities were strong that night. When the lights started to fade a bit, we headed back to the hotel.
Personally, I would have liked to stay a bit longer to see if the lights came back. It felt a bit rushed. But I guess he had a bus full of freezing people, to think about.
The good thing about this kind of tour is that there is little walking, you just go around with the bus to a few spots. And if you have a good camera, and tripod it works great.
The disadvantages – of course if you just have a point and shoot (like me)- the pictures will not be super great. Still works if the Northern Lights are strong. But not super great. Also one thing I liked about the photography tours that we joined especially in Abisko was that we stayed out for a bit and we had plenty of time to take whatever shots we wanted. But they’re both very different tours – so not really comparing like with like here.
So - should you join a tour?
It’s quite important to highlight that photography tours are are not cheap but if you consider the costs of getting a good expensive camera vs just going with a guide who will give you a camera with all the right settings, then it’s worth it. Well at least to me.
If you don’t want to spend the money and don’t really care about photography and all – then I would still recommend you to join an aurora chase tour or something like the one from Visit Abisko. Although I have to say that if you are staying at Abisko for a few nights, sometimes you do get lucky – you can see the lights just outside your hotel. But not everyone of us is that lucky!
Click below for more stories on our Arctic Adventure:-