Northern Lights in the Lapland sky, by a Japanese photographer
Photo by: Hisayoshi Kadowaki

Photographer of the Month: Hisayoshi Kadowaki

We are featuring a new guest photographer every month, with their top 3 photo picks and professional tips for filming in Lapland. Our photographer of January 2018 is Hisayoshi Kadowaki, a professional Japanese photographer on a quest for auroras.

I live in Tokyo these days. But in 1980, I stayed in Lapland in the heart of winter for about five months. I was here to see and photograph the reindeer corralling. Lapland was like terra incognita back then. It was not well-known to the Japanese people at that time, and I had no information about the intense cold (-20°C) I faced. At that time, there were no tourists from other countries. These days, however, tourists come to Lapland during winter, and the land is well-known to the Japanese. We know it as the land of the Northern Lights and Santa Claus. The Japanese especially love the auroras.

During my time in Lapland, I saw the Northern Lights and discovered my life’s work.Digital cameras did not exist yet, and no one was photographing the Northern Lights. I was a pioneer of aurora photography in Japan.

It was quite difficult to photograph the Northern Lights with a film camera. I set exposure by intuition. I had a lot of trouble capturing the auroras. My only ISO was 400. There was an electrostatic blue line in the film. That came from the extreme cold, which prevented the shutter from closing as well as other problems.

After my first trip to Lapland, I reported on Lapland for the Japanese science magazine Newton. I also reported on Lapland for Japanese TV, and Finland Aurora Journey was broadcast in 1989.

My first photo exhibition was called Aurora: Quest for the Northern Lights (in Lapland). The exhibition began in Tokyo and traveled the eight major cities in Japan from 1990-1991. I also published a book of the same name in 1990.

I have since published 5 more books and 2 CD-ROMs. I’ve also held many more photo exhibitions in Japan. I’ve lectured on the Northern Lights and Lapland in Japan. I also began traveling to every country that experiences the Northern Lights, including Spitbergen Island (Svalbard archipelago, Norway). My time in these places has produced many Northern Lights photos.

The picture below was shot on film in Inari in 1989:

auroras caught on film camera


1. The horizon light

The sun nears the horizon during the day but sets again without ever showing its face. The few hours of faint light produced tints the frozen trees, lakes, rivers and silvery –white ground. God has given the bitter cold and dark far north a wonderful gift –the northern lights.

Tip: It’s a little difficult to get a good photograph of the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland. The topography of Lapland is gentle. There are no high mountains or fjords, but there are forests and lakes and hills. Combine the forest and the sky together and take a photo.

The sky is the important thing. The polar night sky in particular is very beautiful.

sunset in Lapland, by a Japanese photographer

2. Fantastic night

A beautiful night when the moon appears clearly
The Northern Lights come down from the sky
The Northern Lights have fascinated people to no end
They embody a mystery that has earned them the name
“The art of light,” or perhaps the work of God
The power of the light that covers the entire sky sometimes terrifies me
For a brief moment it changes color, brightens,
Dims-at times shines intensely –and then fleetingly disappears
No two appearances are alike
They have no typical pattern, like people, they are multifarious
Under the Northern Lights, I become like an ant, a minuscule being  

Tip: Aurora photography is similar to animal photography.  It’s possible that you will miss auroras if you wait until you see them to set up your camera. It’s better to set up the equipment before well in advance. 

Auroras over a snowy cabin

3. Snow is a message from the sky

Snow angels come down with a message from the sky
Snow angels dancing lightly and lightly
The friend of the snow angels falls later and later
The forest bears the snow angels’ dress, and the ground turns white
Snow angels change an illuminated horizon into a monotone scene

Tip: Snow crystals are very beautiful, but very small. A snow crystal is typically between 0.5mm and 2mm. It is very diffucult to capture snow crystals; you should use a macro lens when trying.

Snowflakes caught with a macro lens
Japanese northern lights photographer Hisayoshi Kadowaki

Name: Hisayoshi Kadowaki
Age: 66
Based: Japan (Tokyo), Lapland (Kittilä, Inari)
Occupation: Photographer & Phototherapist, Member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society
Fun Fact: I know and have seen the magic of Lapland. Lapland is like my second home now, and I come back every year.