By Laura Grier
As an adventurer and travel photographer, I have always considered myself an explorer of light. I will go anywhere and do anything to get the shot. I don’t just travel in search of photos; sometimes a photo finds me and sparks an epic quest to go to an amazing place. This was how my adventure began to trek to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Northern Finland to capture the Northern Lights, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis.
One day I came across a photo online of a thermal-heated igloo hotel. The photo looked so surreal to me that I couldn’t believe a place like this existed. Imagine sleeping in your warm hotel room that has a glass igloo ceiling where you can see the Northern Lights from your bed! I took one look at that photo and I knew that I had to go, so I started researching how to get there.
The Northern Lights are particles from the sun hitting our magnetic field that protects our Earth from radiation and causing a disturbance. These electrons and protons flow along the Earth’s magnetic field lines, like the vibrations of guitar strings, and collect in the polar regions where they interact with oxygen and nitrogen to produce the magical red, green and purple dancing light show in the night sky. This is why you have to travel north of the Arctic Circle to be able to have a better chance of seeing them.
Right now, the sun’s surface temperature is at its highest, called the solar maximum, which is when the lights are at their most intense. When the sun’s surface cools, there will be fewer particles to ride the solar wind toward Earth. So, the occurrence of the Northern Lights will become rarer and a lot less vivid. In other words, if you put off seeing them this winter, you will have to wait 11 years for another chance to set your eyes upon them!
When my friends and I arrived, armed with our cameras, hand and toe warmers, many layers of thermal underwear, brightly colored ski suits, and passports, we knew we were well on our way to experiencing the trip of a lifetime. Everything in Kakslauttanen was covered underneath a thick blanket of snow. The land was pristine, white and frozen over.
Northern Finland is considered Aurora-hunting country. It is the best place in Scandinavia to see the lights due to its northern location. Part of the challenge for hunters is to find the darkest locations possible so they can see the brightest skies. For us, that meant taking off in the middle of the night on snowmobiles in search of the Northern Lights.
Within minutes of jumping on our snowmobiles through howling winds, we parked at the top of a hill and the sky started glowing green in one spot as if on cue. Then it grew and started spreading like veins across the sky in neon green, disappearing and reappearing in different places. It was a challenge to photograph, because by the time you got your frozen hands and camera set the way you wanted on your tripod, they had moved and started becoming more vibrant in another area.
They danced and moved in front of our eyes and looked like someone was blowing bright green sand around. Then they started dripping a hot pink color, like fireworks after they burst and start falling and disappearing to the ground. It is impossible to describe in words the powerful emotions I was feeling. It was spiritual, even though I knew the science behind what was causing it. I was in a state of awe and disbelief that something so beautiful and bewildering could be created in nature.
We were incredibly lucky to see the lights four nights in a row. No one wanted to go to sleep for fear of missing a moment of this dramatic display.
Serendipity, Zenfolio, and How We are All Connected
On the night of March 17, an even more magical moment happened. We woke up at 3 a.m., because it felt like someone was shining a flashlight in our faces. What we woke up to see was the entire sky dancing and swirling in the most intense green I have ever seen. We held hands and couldn’t believe what we were seeing was real. I grabbed my camera and held my breath with it resting on my chest, and took this photo through our igloo ceiling.
It was my life’s dream coming true and such an emotional moment for me. I felt like it was my own personal green display for St. Patrick’s Day, and I wanted to share it with my friends back home immediately.
I was able to download and edit the above image and get internet in the main lodge, so I trudged through the snow from my igloo to the lodge in the middle of the night and posted that photo on my Facebook page. I got this response from a friend:
Hi Laura! It’s been awhile, but I love following your journeys. I have what might be a strange question for you. This morning my uncle passed away, and he was the ringleader of our Irish/Norwegian clan. It is a devastating loss to our family and when the time came, you posted the below image. For us crazy people who believe in timing/fate, it was exactly what I needed in that moment as the ongoing story is that my uncle would wait for St Patty’s Day to say farewell. Well, he did and shortly after you posted. I shared the image with my family, and told them he had quite the send-off last night. They were all speechless. Now I’m wondering if there might be any way I could purchase a print or two of this image? It would really mean a lot, and with your permission I’d love to include it in his memorial slideshow. Thanks again for entertaining the idea, and I look forward to hearing back from you! I hope your travels are treating you well! xo
Hi Molly! I am so sorry for your loss! I think that the best method would be for me to create a gallery on my Zenfolio website of the Northern Lights where you could order prints from.
Omg yes that would be fantastic! Thank you for understanding and for making the effort!
So here I am in the Arctic wilderness far from civilization having a celestial moment that I have waited my whole life to have, and I was able to share it with people back at home. I even touched a family and was able to give them solace during a time of grief. It blows my mind that out in the wilderness of Lapland using my phone I was able to share that image, upload it to my Zenfolio website, list it for sale with different print choices, and have it arrive across the world in a couple of days to make it for the funeral of a man who always knew he would pass away in spectacular fashion on St. Patrick’s Day! Zenfolio is amazing—and it’s another reason that I love what I do.
It just was the finishing touch that made the journey even more awesome. I feel so lucky that the heavens and conditions aligned for us to witness the most beautiful phenomenon that exists on Earth and that Zenfolio allowed me to touch other people’s hearts even from the most remote place on the planet.