There is an old saying that goes: “amateur photographers talk about gear, professional photographers talk about composition, but great photographers talk about light.” I don’t consider myself a great photographer, but today I want to talk about light.
There is a reason why Northern countries are increasingly popular with photographers (think Iceland, but also Norway, Canada and Alaska, for instance). When you cross the Arctic Circle, the light becomes truly magical. The sun never rises very high in the sky and that creates a special quality of light, with the famous golden hour and blue hour lasting for an incredibly long time, basically throughout the whole day.
The further up North you go, the longer Polar Nights and midnight sun become. Already in the city of Saint Petersburg (about 60 degrees North) , even if the sun actually sets behind the horizon every day of the year, there is a period from mid-May to mid-July when twilight may last all night, which is called the white nights.
Russia is actually the perfect destination to discover the magic of the Great North on a budget! The easiest to reach destination North of the Arctic Circle also happens to be the largest city in the world, North of the Arctic Circle: Murmansk. From both Moscow and Saint Petersburg there are various flights every day (and a round-trip ticket is in the neighborhood of 120 Euros – 150 US Dollars), or you can experience the unique Artika train about which I wrote in a previous post. Another important advantage of Murmansk is that, in spite of it’s location 2 degrees North of the Arctic Circle, the climate is not as punishing as in other places located at the same latitude, thanks to the beneficial effect of the Gulf Stream.
Murmansk in itself is a very interesting destination (here you can find a few of my blog posts about what to see), but photographers will especially love the fact that just a few minutes outside the city the urban environment disappears completely and it is replaced by pristine nature. The landscape is very varied, ranging from hills and coniferous forests (especially to the West) to a more barren “Arctic looking” scenery to the East.
Human presence in the region is incredibly scarce, with only about 7% of the population living outside the major towns. Most villages are connected to one another by a single road, which in winter becomes an ice road. Driving on the snow is actually easier, and way more comfortable that on the broken down unpaved surface in the summer time.
When it snows (not a rare occurrence at this latitude!) it might actually be difficult to see where the road is, as the fresh snow covers up the previous tire tracks. To help drivers in these situation at fixed distances on both sides of the road there are red posts. Driving, therefore, might seem like a very, very slow ski slalom, where you have to pass between poles.
Traffic is almost non-existent and the speed you have to keep when driving on snow is very low. That means that you can stop you car almost everywhere (make sure it is well visible from afar and the road large enough for other vehicles – should any arrive – to pass you with ease) and take a picture (or a hundred!) of the nature and the incredibly beautiful skies!
The Great Russian North is always fascinating, but the best seasons to visit it are, by far, summer and winter. Spring and fall can be rainy (even if sometimes it snows in Murmansk even in June!) and the whole landscape becomes very muddy and predominantly brown. On the other hand, winter requires very warm clothing, but it rewards you with a veritable Winter Wonderland. You might want to avoid the period of the Polar Nights, as (as the name implies) there is actually very little light throughout the day. From the end of January to the whole of March and, to same extent, even April, you get beautiful soft light for various hours every day and a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights at night. For nature lovers and those who like hiking and outdoor activities, summer is the perfect season, with lush greenery and never ending days.
Would you like to organize a photo tour of Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula Or a trip to some other off-the-beaten-track place in Russia and discover just how much the largest country on Earth has to offer? Then do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable tailor-made experience for you!