Nordic nights and northern lights 2: Kvaløya 26/10/2015

My first day in Tromsø it started to snow – they told me it was the first fall of winter.  Whilst it was still daylight I went hiking to the cable-car station through the birch forest and up above the tree line.  There was no point going on to the summit beyond as everything was white and I was in the cloud anyway.   About 15 cms of snow had fallen so it was a very slippery walk back down.  Occasionally the clouds would break and you could see the harbour below.

Tromsø - 2015-10-26-at-1:18

I had booked an aurora hunt that night.  There are plenty of organisations in Tromsø that will take you out. Snow showers were forecast and it was very windy but breaks in the cloud meant that we might be able to see something.  We went out at seven and returned after one the next morning and in all that time there was a single two minute sighting of the aurora – it was very beautiful though and well worth it.

They took us across to the next island in the archipelago – Kvaløya (whale island) which has spectacular scenery and visited a number of view points.  The best was where it was sheltered from the biting wind.  We’d left the tour bus and scrambled gingerly down to a beach through the ice and fresh snow.  I placed my tripod and camera on a small headland as there was a great composition looking northwards across a bay to the mountains.  I knew I wouldn’t have selfie takers walking backwards into my pictures from there!  As it turned out I had set up looking in just the right direction as the aurora flashed green on the horizon just when the clouds opened up.

I took four pictures in two minutes before the clouds rolled back across the scene and the snow started to fall again.  The full moon bathed the clouds and the mountains white and gave a lovely blue-green tint to the Arctic Ocean.  The exposures were five seconds long so I caught a lot of light and colour – it was breathtakingly beautiful.

The tour took us back across to the mainland looking for more breaks in the clouds.  We ended up high in the mountains but turned back for Tromsø at 1am due to the heavy snow.  Walking back to my hotel just before two I took one last picture – Tromsø cathedral.


Nordic nights and northern lights: Tromsø harbour 29/10/2015

The last night of my brief time in Norway was very clear and cold.  I spent a lot of it on the pier that runs right out into Tromsø harbour.  It was an ideal spot for night photography as it wasn’t too icy (so there was little chance of falling into the frigid ocean!) and it was some distance from the brightest lights.

The full moon is just rising over the brow of the mountain in this picture.  The sailing vessel makes a lovely composition with nice reflections in the water and a black sky.  I took it at 6:45pm – three hours after sunset …

Tromsø harbour 1

Tromsø harbour 1

After an hour or so of taking pictures I was cold and hungry so I went into town for some supper.  By the time I returned to the harbour it was 10pm and the northern lights were rippling and weaving from one horizon to the other.   It was also a lot colder but that was easily ignored.  This second picture is taken at almost the same place as the first.   The moon’s now over my right shoulder lighting the scene.

Tromsø harbour 2

Tromsø harbour 2

I’ve used my Olympus camera’s live composition function for the next picture.  I set it up to take a 1 second exposure every second for 10 minutes – that’s 600 exposures.  The great thing is that you can watch them added live on the camera’s screen. It’s fascinating to see the star trails grow.  The bridge joining the city to the mainland is reflected really nicely in the ocean and there are lots of green flashes of the northern lights as they rippled above the horizon.

Tromsø harbour 3

Tromsø harbour 3

The last picture was taken at 11:15 after a very memorable night but the northern lights were fading and I was cold.  It was time to get back to my warm room and enjoy a hot coffee.

Tromsø harbour 4

Tromsø harbour 4



Revontulet brings the northern lights to Turku

Here is a story I wrote for our children and grand-children. A modern day fairy tale inspired by the magical northern lights I saw in Turku last week and the mythical story of Revontulet. The northern lights are the fox fires of the far north: snows and frost thrown high up by the fox’s fiery tail.

Revontulet brings the northern lights to Turku

This is the story of Revontulet and how he brought the northern lights to Turku.

Revontulet was getting old and he decided to take a great trip.  Why? Well my children he was the best northern lights maker and one day he would be gone. So he made a plan.

He would visit the city of Turku far in the south to borrow the human’s magic spyglass that captures pictures. Then he can show the northern lights to his grand-children and great grand-children. You will see the wondrous show he made if you listen carefully to the end and maybe, just maybe, you will grow up to be as skilful and powerful as Revontulet himself.

It took him many, many days and nights to get to the city of Turku.  He crossed streams and picked his way through marshes and hills before coming to fields and places where he had to dash across roads. He was happiest sliding through whispering forests and drinking from the dark water of the lakes.

His food was orchard apples fallen from the trees with cabbage and roots from the farmers’ gardens. Sometimes a spider and a crunchy worm would come his way or he would take a careless chicken from the farmyard. Then one night from a hilltop he could see the far away glow of the human lights.  Revontulet grinned to himself thinking, well, I need to borrow a spy glass and I need to have some good food but I will give them a show to remember.  Their simple lights are nothing!

So down he went to the city of Turku and along the banks of the river Aura.  No-one saw him he was so quiet.  His magic power made him almost invisible to humans so when he saw them he just went still and stayed silent.

The spyglass shop on Hameengatu was closing but he slid in behind the assistant when she wasn’t looking and, quick as a flash, he took a spyglass.  He made sure he knew just where it came from because he had to take it back later.  He could see an easy entrance through the cat flap in the back door.

He badly needed some food so he strolled across the bridge – no-one was looking for a fox sauntering there so they didn’t see him – and entered into a pub through the back door in the alley.

Revontulet knew it used to be a school. His only human friend – Sara who rescued him from the grip of the frost giants – had told him that she had learned to read there. But now the humans didn’t need to learn old-fashioned things so this one served hot food and filling ales.

Every time a waitress left the kitchen he quickly scooped an item off the dish: steak and fish were his favourites.  He discovered he didn’t like fried onion rings or potato wedges.  The beer glasses were cleared away but they weren’t always quite empty so he managed a few quick drinks of fine strong dark ales.

Soon it was time for the northern lights.  Revontulet was clever though. First, he thought, I’ll throw up some small sparks of frost to light up the sky while I try out the spyglass.  He placed the magic spyglass on the bridge and gently dashed some fine frosts like smoke across the eastern sky behind the old cathedral.  He looked in the glass when he got back and was pleased – aha, he thought, now I can see some green sky, that’s how this glass works.  I will put it on the steep steps on the way up to the observatory above the city for another view.

So he scampered across the bridge and up the winding stairs to the top of the hill.  There were a few humans there with strange looking three-legged creatures that stood quite still. It was dark and they did not see him so he put down his spyglass and did another smooth turn over the city rooftops.  Again his glass had worked. He was so happy he shot away across the heavens and swooshed back.

The humans were exclaiming and pointing at the sudden colours in the sky and didn’t see Revontulet borrow one of the three-legged creatures.  Clever old Revontulet saw that the humans put their spyglasses on the top of the creatures to hold them perfectly still.

He went right to the top of the hill behind everyone else. Then he placed his glass on top of the creature and put a spell on it so it would stand quite still and catch all of his wonderful colours and shapes.

“Now it’s time for the real lights to begin!”

Off he flew: first to the east and then north: higher and higher.  He danced with the stars and he danced for the moon and as he turned he spun and curled his tail, throwing the snow and the frost high into the heavens.  The night sky shimmered and turned blue and green, with violet lights on the curtains and waves, they were like snakes and sea serpents, dragons and lizards. Last of all he burst out in the graceful shape of a swan: like a crown high above the hill.

Revontulet was very, very happy.  He had brought the northern lights to Turku.  After he returned the three legged creature, he trotted down to the spyglass shop and, using his special magic skills, he made lots and lots of wonderful pictures for us to see.

And if, my children, you happen to visit the beautiful city of Turku one night you can follow old Revontulet’s footsteps. Make sure you gaze out to the north above the old cathedral spire. Who knows, you might see his children far away in the sky dancing like the smoke from a fox’s fire.

And that is the end of the story of Revontulet comes to Turku.