In 2015, Finnair and Finland Tourism Board launched a campaign titled ‘Polar Night Magic.’ The concept was to pick five individuals from five different countries, and have them experience everything Finnish winter has to offer. They were to film us, and expected us to share our experiences to fellow countrymen. Needless to say, I was chosen as the representative of my country, South Korea. On December 5th, 2015, I flew to Finland. And from then on I enjoyed 90 days of winter Finland like I could never have imagined. Looking back, there are countless things I loved during my time there. But as a photographer, the most fun I had during the trip was photographing the beauty of this country, which were not just one but aplenty. Here, I’d like to share some of my favorite shots from this once in a life time experience.
Obviously, landscapes were what captivated me from the get-go. Finnish Lapland posseses one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and it shines during winter times. As the name of the campaign, ‘Polar Night Magic’, suggests, winter Finland go through polar nights. Opposite to white nights, these are times where sun do not rise above the horizon. But this doesn’t mean it’s pitch black dark. Far from it. It actually gives day time a look of sunset, for an extended period of time. I really enjoyed photographing during such time. Saariselka, a place known mostly for its ski resorts, truly provided me with mesmerizing views.
I don’t know about you but Finnish sauna was a real treat. I never tried Finnish way of sauna before, but once I had a chance to do it, I was hooked. Me and my teammates did it almost every night, and it wasn’t a problem because everywhere we go, Finnish people usually have a sauna nearby, if it’s not in your hotel room already. But the most enjoyable saunas I did were those done in nature, wooden saunas, in traditional ways. It just felt much healthier. Not only that, you can’t beat being able to go outside the sauna completely naked in nature, and dive into snow. Something you can’t do in modern cities. Finnish people loves to dip into a frozen lake between saunas and we’ve done it too. It sounds crazy and yes it is incredibly cold, but somehow it also feels really good. There is something about winter Finland that I truly miss until this day.
Who are we kidding? Winter. Northern Europe. Finland. Combine these words and you’re thinking- Auroras! And yes that was what I was thinking when it was decided that I was going to Finland for 90 days. I had my first aurora experience in Alaska few years back, but having only a few weeks there didn’t allow me to see them often, as weather wasn’t ideal. But since I was going to stay in Finland for 3 months, I knew chances were high that I’d see those northern lights. In reality though, I didn’t get to seem them as much as I have hoped. Some of the times weather wasn’t just cold enough to show us clear skies. We did get to see them here and there, however, probably about 10 times or so, and they were all extremely enchanting. Every night I waited in my winter parka and my gears ready to go. Most of nights nothing showed up, but when it did, we ran out to the field like crazy men. Temperatures were really low when the lights showed up. -20 Celsius to -40 at one time. It was cold for myself, but also cameras had trouble operating. Navigating those troubles, and also finding a perfect way to capture these fast moving and disappearing auroras were a challenge. But a challenge I’ve fully embraced. I’m glad I could come away with some of the shots I am proud of.
Dogsledding was also a part of the arctic Finnish life. Most tourists come to do a short sledding for a hour or few, but the campaign people got us five days of dogsledding adventure, starting in Hetta. Hetta Huskies were a great dogsledding place, as it was operated by our adventure leader, Pasi. Under his guidance and the team, we led our dogs to almost 200km in five days span. In the beginning I thought dogsledding was something I just stand on a sled and dogs do their job. But once we got onto the road it was clear that was not true. You have to take care of your dogs. Feed them, make their bed at night so they can sleep warmly. Controlling the sled took a lot of effort as well. It wasn’t a cakewalk that’s for sure. But this is also one of the most memorable experience I had in Finland. When you’re smooth sailing with the only sound you hear are dogs running and those cold but crisp winter air passing by your cheeks, it is just peaceful, a beautiful moment. Moments I won’t soon forget.
There are a lot of national parks in Finland that will blow you away. However, my personal favorite is Riisitunturi National Park. No doubt. I’m sure it’s beautiful in summer time as well, but its winter sceneries were something else. The trees were frozen and looked like scultures. It made the whole scene look like a page out of fairy tales. I had a great fun photographing the area, and when aurora showed up, it was truly a great setting to be at. Type of place I’d love to go and stay for a week, just hoping to see some more auroras at night.
We also had sometime to photograph bird of winter Lapland. The eagles were our prime target, but to be honest, I liked seeing these little Blue Tits more. I am just a kind of guy who loves colorful things. One bird I truly wanted to see was an owl, but I never had a chance. Maybe next time.
It sounds strange to hear ocean freezes. But it does. Baltic Sea by the Finnish shore freezes during winter months and they turned it into a tourist attraction. Getting on Sampo, an icebreaker, was a treat. Riding bikes on the frozen sea was also a unique experience.
I’m not an athletic person by any means. But Polar Night Magic team were sent to experience everything Finnish winter had to offer, and they did mean everything. We learnt to ski, and also did ice climbing. I was never good at any type of ski, but Telemark ski was a fun way of skiing. Not that I was good at it. Also ice climbing was a real challenge, and while I only managed to get to the top twice, it’s something I’d remember for a long time. Who knew you can do all these things in nordic winter, when everything’s supposed to shut down?
So the adventure started on December 5th, and ended on March 3rd. It’s almost been a year now. Sometimes I look back at these photographs and think, wow did I really do that? I guess I feel that way because what I was able to experience in Finnish lapland were really something special. I don’t think it will happen again in my life. I’m glad I could have made the best of it while I was there. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to return to Finland. If I can have it my way, again in winter time. I know it’s freezing cold, and things are inconvenient. But I also know it is the best time to get captivating photographs. Winter Finland is a subject that you will fall in love with. I know I have. You know what those Finnish Tourism Board say. I wish I was in Finland. And if you haven’t been there yet, you should wish you were too.