- Photographing Finland with Elaine Li
Originally from Hong Kong, Elaine Li is an experienced travel photographer and Instagram sensation based in sunny Sydney. She is immensely passionate about travel and exposing herself to new cultures around the world—always with her camera in hand.
Here Elaine shares her favourite photography locations in Helsinki and Lapland. From snow-white fields to ethereal pine forests, Finland sure has a lot to offer.
They say travelling has an educational aspect, and that it provides a greater sense of understanding. I couldn’t agree entirely with this view. I tend to be drawn towards big cities for my travels. My visual diary is filled with snapshots of destinations like Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore, London, New York and Chicago. However, Finland is one of the world’s great nature-driven destinations that I always really wanted to visit, so I was ecstatic when I finally made it there.
Here are few of my favourite photography locations in Finland:
Our time in Finland started in Kittilä, where—like most other tourists—we experienced the complete Baltic adventure package. This is a great place to see and photograph quintessential elements of Finnish culture, from husky rides and snowmobile tours to spectacular nights beneath the Northern Lights.
Picture yourself and the huskies, moving quietly through snow-covered landscapes, leaving all the stress and troubles of the world behind you. The only sounds you hear are husky paws gently padding away at the fresh layer of snow from the previous night. A truly special experience.
• Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park
After mounds of online research, we decided to rent a car. We were so glad that we did as it turned out to be the best decision we made on the trip. We spent most of our time driving around national parks like Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, photographing wild reindeer and foxes, and embracing the views of satin white blankets draped over the dense Finnish forests.
Photography wise, it’s easiest if your partner or friend drives, while you sit tightly at the back with your camera and try to capture images. Driving through white snow-covered forest is absolutely enchanting—the views drawing you into a world of fantasy.
• Ylläs, Lapland
When we weren’t driving our rental we were mostly perched on another mode of transport that was a better fit for exploring the snowy Arctic Circle. Snowmobiles are a great way of exploring and photographing this mystical white wonderland.
For first-timers in Finland, I would highly suggest going with a guide as they’ll be able to spot and point things you may otherwise miss.
We took the ‘Chasing Northern Lights’ snowmobile tour and another that took us to the top of the Ylläs fell ski slope, which is home to the longest ski runs in Finland. The views from the top are spectacular and you can even see neighbouring Sweden on the horizon.
We made a quick pit-stop at a cabin during our Northern Lights snowmobile tour. We didn’t have much luck chasing auroras, but the hut itself was a mesmerising capture. I love how the warm tangerine tones from the fire in the hut contrasted with the deep blues of the sky outside. It was actually pitch black out, so I had to dial up my ISO to capture more light.
During our snowmobile tour, our guide pointed out a herd of reindeer in the distance, and I knew I just had to capture them. I only had a 24-105 lens, so it actually took me at least 5 minutes to walk through thick snow to get closer to them. Thankfully a few stayed behind as I was walking closer, so I was able to capture them.
During our snowmobile safari called King of Ylläs, we climbed to the tallest mountain in town and holed up in a cosy cabin with hot coffee and biscuits. The wind was so strong that it covered the entire cabin—it sure had an apocalyptic feel to it!
We got really lucky on the last stretch of highway as we were heading towards the airport to fly home. We caught sight of a hint of green in the sky. As we pulled the car over, the emerald waves intensified, slowly and smoothly dancing against the velvet night sky. The ethereal sight of an aurora literally took our breath away and all we could do was stare (and take photos).
Be sure to plan your trip by the length of day—and note that Polar Nights begin and end at different times, depending on your location. While it sounds dark, and slightly depressing, experiencing the sun rising and then setting within a matter of minutes makes you feel like you’re on a different planet! Polar Nights aren’t necessarily nights of complete darkness. They’re more like a few hours of beautiful twilight hues, and you only get to see the sun for half an hour.
After four days in the Arctic circle, we visited Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. Characterized by its minimalism and clean lines, Helsinki is a city driven by contemporary design.
You’ll notice the Finns’ love of good design throughout the city, but one of my favourite places to photograph this soothing aesthetic was at the museums. Particularly at the Finnish National Gallery Kiasma, which was designed by architect Steven Holl. I used a wide angle 16-35mm lens to get more of the interior in the frame. This soothing architecture brings a sense of zen and peace to the structure, and to the individuals within it.
• Santa’s Place
We were in Helsinki just in time to see the city come alive with Christmas celebrations. Finland is considered the home of Santa Claus, which means the festive season is the most magical time of year to visit. The city bursts to life with colourful Christmas decorations, while restaurants serve seasonal specialties. If you’re lucky, you might even catch Santa and Rudolf making their rounds around the city.
In terms of my recommended camera gear, I think it’s definitely a good idea to pack a wide angle lens such as the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM for shooting the aurora at night. For the husky rides I would recommend using a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM zoom lens, and a bigger EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom lens for more compressed natural landscapes.
• Your usual camera gear and the lenses recommended above.
• Spare batteries and a heat pack. Cold weather kills batteries, so I kept heat packs in my backpack to keep my spare batteries warm.
• A tripod for night shooting and capturing the Northern Lights.
• A sealable plastic bag big enough for your gear. When you move from an extremely cold to a warm environment, there is a risk of moisture condensation building up inside your camera and lens. Be sure to put your gear inside a sealed plastic bag before heading into a warm cabin, that way the moisture won’t get into the bag or you precious camera.
• Download aurora apps before your trip to help you find them.
We visited Finland in December, when daylight hours are really short and golden hour is even shorter. It was a new experience for us to see the sun rising setting all within a matter of minutes. Generally speaking, December to March is the best time to go if you want to photography lots of snow and winter activities.
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