Northern Lights, Aurora Polaris, Aurora Borealis, The Lights. The Northern Lights go by many names but every Arctic travelers cross their fingers and pray that they will see this spectacular phenomenon dance across the sky. Seeing the lights comes down to location and luck. Mostly luck. I have been incredibly lucky to see the northern lights several times in Iceland, South Dakota, Alaska, over the Atlantic Ocean, and now in Sweden. A Swedish Lapland Northern Lights tours is one of the best ways to see the lights. I got to see the Northern Lights in Sweden while on Scandinavian Photoadventures’s Northern Light Phototour.
Best Time of Year to See Northern Lights
Scandinavian Photoadventures operates out of Kiruna, Sweden. Kiruna is the largest and most easily accessible city in northern Sweden. The lights are typically seen from September to the end of March. The absolute best time is November to about February in Kiruna. The skies tend to be clearer during this time.
Check out my 5-day Itinerary for Kiruna, Sweden.
Why take a northern lights tour?
One might say, that I can walk out of my hotel and see the northern lights. This might be true in the hotels in Jukkajarvi but Kiruna has too much light pollution for amazing light shows to be seen.
If you are like me and choose not to rent a car in Kiruna, then you are stuck with public transport or a guided tour. This isn’t a bad thing. I would much prefer not to wreck another rental car by sliding on the snow.
The Meeting Spot
I was originally going to be picked up at SPiS Hotel & Hostel but due to a fortunate cancelation at the ICEHOTEL, I now had a room at the ICEHOTEL and was picked up there instead. Scandinavian Photoadventures offers complimentary pick-up from all Kiruna and Jukkajarvi area hotels, hostels, and AirBnB. Make sure to let them know what hotel you are staying at and be ready to go at the designated meeting time.
What to Wear
Be prepared for the cold. This tour involves standing outside in the Arctic cold for at least an hour. Nothing ruins the beauty of the northern lights more than being freezing cold. Dress in layers. I would get a nice pair of thermal undergarments and warm socks.
If staying at a hotel that offers snowsuits, snow boots, and gloves, go ahead and borrow their equipment before the tour.
Scandinavian Photoadventures does have snowsuits, snow boots and gloves for guests to use but they have a limited selection as they are a small guiding operation. I wore my winter boots, snow pants, and thick winter jacket. I could have done with better gloves but otherwise, I did fine spending almost two hours photographing the northern lights.
Photo Experience Required
NONE. Photographing northern lights is similar to photographing stars. Your cell phone camera isn’t going to do the lights justice. To photograph the Aurora Borealis, a tripod and a higher quality camera is needed. Let’s face it, not everyone has a DSLR camera.
This tour is more than just a tour to see the northern lights. It is a tour to photograph the northern lights. The guide will help teach you how to take northern lights photos
- Canon DSLR Camera
- Lens for the DSLR
- Camera Backpack
The only thing you need to provide is an SD card (at least 8GB). If you don’t have an SD card, they have them available for purchase.
I meet my tour guide at the meeting point at the ICEHOTEL at 7:00 PM. There were three other people picked up at the ICEHOTEL and then we stopped in Kiruna to pick-up one other person. Our final stop was at the Ripian Hotel where we geared up for the tour.
The guide handed out the camera bags and explained the basics of how to photograph the northern lights. We also made sure to get all the camera setting done while we were nice and warm.
I was really skeptical that we would see the northern lights. It has been cloudy and snowy my entire 5 days. As we walked out of Ripian, I looked up and just knew that our odds where about nil on seeing the lights. If you can’t see stars then you can’t see the northern lights.
Our guide was optimistic as we piled into the van and drove off into the wilderness of Swedish Lapland. Every so often, our guide would stop and check his messages. He was in constant contact with one of the other guides.
The other guides had left with a tour earlier in the evening and had managed to locate the northern lights. We followed in their footsteps. After about an hour and half of driving, we found the other group and to my shock, the northern lights.
We grabbed our gear and set-up on a small hill to watch and photograph the Aurora Borealis. The guide when over a few final tips and off we went to take some photographs. The guide regularly checked on us to ensure that we were getting some epic photographs of the northern lights.
He had plenty of setting recommendations and helped to adjusted camera setting so we didn’t have to remove our gloves.
We spent about two hours photographing the northern lights. I have to say that Kiruna, Sweden provided the best northern lights show I have ever seen.
We arrived back at the ICEHOTEL about 1 am.
**Prices valid as of January 6, 2018**
Cost of Northern Light Phototour is SEK 1,490.00 (about USD 183). This is a little on the pricey side for northern lights tours I have seen around the work but this isn’t a typical northern lights tour. It more akin to a northern photography class. Although I own my own DSLR and tripod, I still enjoyed the lessons and did learn a few tricks.
For this price, you get transportation, a camera, and a guide. Plus Scandinavian Photoadventures doesn’t have a set time limit for their tours. They are willing to travel a fair amount to ensure the guest see the lights and have plenty of time to enjoy the show. They really only start to end the tour as guests start getting cold and ready to leave.