Rovaniemi Finland is the famous capital of the Lapland region in the northern part of the country. With less than 70.000 inhabitants, the city welcomes more than 500,000 annual visitors because of its famous Santa Claus Village. Rovaniemi is much more than stockings, elves and reindeer though!
It is a popular destination for tourists and photography enthusiasts who want to experience and capture the Aurora Borealis phenomenon – stunning northern lights! This article will cover topics such as can you see the northern lights in Finland, can you predict the likelihood of seeing the Aurora Borealis, and can you take amazing pictures of the phenomenon just using your phone? The answer is Yes to all of the above! Read through our guide to get ready for Aurora hunting in Rovaniemi!
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What are the Northern Lights?
Most commonly seen in pale green and pink, the aurora displays can appear in many colours. The lights take on various forms from more condensed to scattered cloud-like shapes through arcs, streamers and even shooting rays! The bright, swirling lights of the Aurora Borealis are collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere! The glimpses appear when electrically loaded particles released from the sun collide with oxygen and nitrogen gas molecules.
Normally, the charged electric particles blown from the sun towards the earth, are deflected by the planet’s magnetic field. However, since the magnetic field is weaker at the poles, some particles manage to enter the earth’s atmosphere and that’s when the collision with the gasses happens. The type of gas particles that are colliding influences the colour variation of the Aurora.
The yellowish-green lights are produced by molecules of oxygen located almost 100 kilometres above the ground, however oxygen molecules from higher altitudes (over 300 kilometres above the Earth surface) produce rare, all-red flashes. The purple hues in the sky are produced by nitrogen molecules.
When is the best time to see northern lights in Finland?
When planning your Aurora hunting, you are probably wondering when is the best time of year to see northern lights. Clear, autumn nights are the best time for your Aurora chase! It is a common myth that the weather needs to be really cold, snowy and windy for the Northern Lights to come out.
The aurora activity is cyclic though and it varies from year to year, so sometimes it is not a question of what time of the year you should go Aurora hunting, but rather what year to plan your trip to the Arctic Circle. Researchers discovered that it peaks roughly every eleven years; the most recent peak was in 2013.
For the best views of the northern lights, the night must be clear and free from light pollution, which is why it is most common to go somewhere out of the urban areas to avoid the city lights that might interfere with the hues of the aurora. Usually, the best time of night to watch the northern lights is the local midnight.
Midnight is a special time during the Arctic summers too! The middle of the night is exactly when the phenomenon of “Midnight Sun” occurs (meaning that you can see the sun in the sky at midnight). At the North Pole, the midnight sun can be seen continuously for six months at a time. The further south we go, the less time the midnight sun is visible for, but in the Arctic Circle, you can still experience it for months.
The reality of seeing the Northern Lights in Rovaniemi
The altitude of the place you are planning to observe the Aurora from determines the chances for spotting the phenomenon. It has been calculated that around Rovaniemi, on clear nights, the chances of seeing the Northern Lights are 40 per cent.
Luckily for all Aurora Borealis hunters, there are now services that help predicting the likelihood of seeing the phenomenon. Check the Rovaniemi Northern Lights Forecast online; the website updates all the time and shows with accountable accuracy, how the Northern Lights in your selected area (make sure you look at the Northern Lights Finland forecast) will behave up to one hour in advance. On the website, the aurora forecast shows up to three days in advance, but of course, those are less accurate than same-day or hour-to-hour predictions.
The aurora forecast is based on solar-wind measurements obtained from NASA and data downloaded from a range of worldwide-located magnetometers. You can also look for APPs for your phone through which you will be able to update yourself on the aurora forecast, and some APPs can even be programmed to send you alerts when the likelihood rises!
Where to stay in Rovaniemi to see northern lights
One of the top ways to see the Northern Lights in Finland, and a unique experience in itself, is staying in glass igloos! In and around Rovaniemi you will find several locations where you can lie in wait for the Northern Lights in your own, comfortable (and very cosy) glass-roofed lodge. Do not worry, the huts are not built of snow; they are premium accommodation options and the roof is made of thermal glass, so the room will not cool down during the night.
Be mindful that urban lights would interrupt your Aurora Borealis experience, so the arctic glass igloos from where you have the best chances to observe the phenomenon are located outside the city. You will find Arctic Glass Igloos and The Arctic Snow Hotel by the Lappish lake Lehtojärvi, about half an hour from Rovaniemi. There are also glass igloos that you can lodge at, inside of the Santa Claus Village. These are great to experience the Lappish nature, however, they may not be ideal for viewing the Northern Lights.
How to set up your camera to photograph the Northern Lights
How to take your most stunning Northern Lights photo will to a large extent depend on the auroras you see. Depending on how bright the auroras are and how fast they are moving, you might need to adjust your camera’s ISO (light sensitivity) accordingly. The higher you set the ISO, the more light you can capture, but remember that with a high ISO, the photos also get grainier.
One important thing before you start photographing is to make sure your camera will have the right focus in the dark, as your pictures need to be sharp at the far horizon. You can prepare this during the day by selecting manual mode on your lens and set the focus to “infinity” (look for the (∞) symbol on your camera). We recommend you make a little mark (with a marker or a piece of tape) on your lens to remember where the focus was. This will allow you to find the right position for your lens in the night.
Remember to set your camera’s aperture as wide as possible, and adjust the camera’s exposure too. If the lights move slowly, you will need a longer exposure (up to 20 or 25 seconds), but if they swirl fast, 5 – 10 seconds might be enough. One more tip is to experiment with the white balance of your camera. Check your camera’s automatic white balance; some cameras shoot nice Aurora images with white balance set to ”daylight”, but we also encourage you to experiment and adjust on your own in your camera’s “custom” mode.
Before you go on your Aurora hunting journey, make sure to take with you a tripod for your camera and extra batteries! In cold weather, batteries lose power faster, and you will probably have to experiment a lot before your ideal picture comes. We bet you do not want your camera to die in the middle of the experience!
Best Northern Lights tours in Rovaniemi
The Aurora Borealis phenomenon is one of the main tourist attractions in the Lappish region, and nowadays tourist agencies in Rovaniemi and online offer various Northern Light Tours for visitors.
If you are passionate about photography but do not yet feel you have the skill to snap some beautiful shorts of the swirling Northern Lights, we recommend you join a curated Northern Lights Photo Tour. Your excursion will be led by a professional photographer who will give you tips and instructions on how to get the most impressive pictures from your Lapland tour. Upon the pick-up from your hotel or lodge in Rovaniemi, you will be taken to a more secluded location with no light pollution. You will check into a spacious teepee where the guide will not only tell you about the technical side of photographing the Auroras but also share with you local myths and legends that surround the phenomenon.
Less convenient for taking pictures, but an unforgettable experience is the Aurora Ice Floating Tour. For this one, your guides will pick you up in the evening and drive you to one of the many lakes in the Lappish wilderness. You will receive a special dry suit that will keep you warm throughout the night. Once the suit is on and you have gotten familiar with the safety instructions, you simply lay back in the almost-freezing water and let your body drift around, enjoying the beautiful sights above. This tour is a unique experience, and might be worth trying even if the Rovaniemi Northern Lights Forecast is not favourable. You will still be able to see the incredible, starry sky, amazing memories guaranteed!
If you like water but are not up for floating on your own in a Lappish lake, chasing the Northern Lights while on a riverboat cruise might be just the right option for you! The cruises usually start on the Kemijoki River (Finland’s longest river). To experience the auroras book an evening cruise or simply look for a curated Northern Lights riverboat cruise!
Most Northern Lights tours include snacks and hot beverages, it is very important to bring the body back to its normal temperature after your outdoors Aurora hunting!
Apps to use on your phone
Here you are, under the starry sky in the Finnish Lapland, lucky to have caught the Aurora Borealis, and you’ll want to make sure you can take photos of this amazing phenomenon. You can snap some amazing pictures with than your phone, although the quality won’t be as good as a proper camera, it’s still a memory you can capture!
Before you embark on your Aurora hunting tour, you would want to download some helpful apps for your device. We recommend Slow Shutter (available for both Android and iOS) which is a great tool for long exposure photography. The app gives you some of the most essential features of a DSLR camera. It allows your phone to access several shooting modes, among others the low light mode that will prove useful in low light conditions of the Arctic night.
This capture mode is special as it allows your camera to accumulate the light photons hitting the sensor of your camera, and more light will be accumulated with longer shutter speed. When you have taken your photo, you can further adjust the results using the App’s exposure tuning tool.
“Northern Lights Photo Taker” app is also a great tool! Do you remember all the steps we mentioned above that you need to do to adjust your camera to the optimal shooting mode to capture the Auroras? The Northern Lights Photo Taker app automatically does all that for you.
Depending on the brightness of the auroras that you are lucky to catch, you can adjust the brightness level in the app. The app also has a “custom” mode, so if for any reason some of the pre-programmed settings do not work for the lights that you are experiencing, you can always further adjust the shooting modes to get the most impressive pictures on your phone.
Recommended Northern Lights tours in Rovaniemi
- Rovaniemi Northern Lights Photography Small-Group Tour
- Northern Lights Photography Tour from Rovaniemi
- Northern Lights Hunt from Rovaniemi with Folk Tales and Snacks over Campfire
- Aurora Borealis Picnic in Rovaniemi
- Northern Lights Snowmobile Safari from Rovaniemi with Campfire Picnic
- Private Northern Lights 4-hour Hunting
- Northern Lights Hunting By Minivan, Small Group Adventure
- Night of Reindeer and Northern Lights
- Private Aurora Tour (1-4) by Aurora Experts- Rovaniemi
- Rovaniemi AURORA PASS: 3-5 Days Unlimited Northern Lights chasing Pass
- Aurora Hunt on the Snowtrain
- Snowmobile Photography Trip to the Aurora