Riisitunturi is a national park in the Posio municipality in Finnish Lapland. It is situated in the south of Lapland and sports a sub-Arctic climate, but due to its inland location it can get extremely cold. I spent a few weeks scouting the area in early 2015 and 2016 to prepare for my workshop there, and I have to admit I fell in love with it.

Covering an area of 77 square kilometers, the park is in a mountainous area and lies almost entirely at an altitude of over 300 meters above sea level. It is most known for its twin hills (Riisitunturi means 'Rice Hill' in Finnish), home to a forest of spruce trees, the main (winter) photographic attraction in the area. There are also multiple swamps in the park.

'The one-hour, mildly-strenuous hike to the top
is very rewarding'

In winter, due to heavy precipitation and a very humid climate, the spruce trees are covered in a thick white blanket of frost-snow. When climbing up the trails to the hilltop, the snow gets deeper and the trees shorter and more sparse. And that is exactly the point: while the trees at the bottom are full-sized and usually too big to capture, the hilltop trees are more manageable and beautifully isolated, and retain their white cover even when the lower trees are stripped bare on a windy or warm day. The one-hour, mildly-strenuous hike to the top is very rewarding.

The spruce trees typical to Lapland's forests are tall and close together, making them impossible to isolate and hard to photograph.

Due to the unending variety of both the trees and the weather conditions one can witness on the hilltop, I'd definitely recommend spending multiple days exploring the park. The snow-laden trees assume a myriad of shapes and forms, often imitating worldly scenes incredibly accurately.

A completely different atmosphere on a gloomy day. The snow-laden spruces barely stand out from the similarly-colored background, contributing to the magical feel of the image.

The trees look very different during a clear sunrise compared to a foggy day, changing their appearance once more under a cloudy gloom. And once the sun comes out, it's a whole new ballgame. The colors change – no longer pink and red, but a new element enters the equation and your images can benefit from it.

The star-burst works best when located in small openings - and the snow-laden trees have plenty of those.

I hope you agree the park is amazingly beautiful and photogenic. But what do you need to know and be prepared for in order to shoot there? First of all, be ready for extreme cold. It may not be the case (global warming takes its toll on Lapland, with weather conditions ever more volatile), but early in winter temperatures can sometimes plummet to -30 degrees Centigrade or so.

'Several thermal layers and
a heavy down jacket are essential'

It is indeed very, very cold, so make sure you're well dressed. Several thermal layers and a heavy down jacket are essential. Warm gloves and good thermal boots are also needed if you're to spend several hours shooting the trees.

Secondly, you have to have either snow-shoes or skis. The snow might be packed at the bottom, but the higher up you venture up the hill, the deeper and fluffier it is. Without a way of spreading your weight, you'll simply sink down to your waist, which makes walking utterly impossible.

Yours truly struggling up the hill. If you look carefully, you can see snow stuck throughout the length of my trousers, remnants of sitting (and occasional sinking) in the snow. Image courtesy of Tiina Törmänen.

While I tend to shoot ultra-wide most often, in Riisitunturi I found myself mostly shooting with a 24-70mm lens, for several reasons.

Firstly, the sheer effort of moving. Snow-shoeing is physically demanding, and sometimes good conditions come and you simply don't have the time to move to the right location - a task which would require long minutes. A longer focal length gives you a bit more flexibility and the opportunity to get closer without wasting precious time. Please note that I'm not saying that a 24-70 can replace an ultra wide lens - just that it can sometimes be more practical when time is of the essence and movement is problematic. I do use my 16-35mm in Riisitunturi, more and more as time passes.

'Shooting from farther away gives you the ability to better balance the image'

Secondly, while the spruces on top of the hill are much shorter than the ones below, they are still often higher than a human. This means a lot of perspective issues if you shoot them up close, and potentially having a large part of your image as empty space. Shooting from farther away gives you the ability to better balance the image, and produce more realistic, less contorted shots.

Regarding technique - Riisitunturi has a very special trait which makes shooting with a tripod hard, sometimes impossible. The snow, in some places, is just too darn deep, and tripod legs sink in and can't be stabilized. The simple solution is to shoot hand-held (or use a monopod), which works pretty well most of the time, especially if you have a stabilized lens. It's not the end of the world if you need to use higher ISO and a wider aperture to get the shot. It obviously doesn't work at night or at other low-light scenes, so sometimes you'll have to fight with the tripod.

All in all, Riisitunturi is a wonderful location for winter photography. It's not too hard to access, there are decent accommodation options in the area and you can easily spend a few days exploring it, either alone or with a group. I hope this article gives you the needed motivation and knowledge to do so. Enjoy!


Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on Instagram, Facebook and 500px, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.

If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your guide, you're welcome to take a look at his unique photography workshops around the world:

Land of Ice - Southern Iceland
Winter Paradise - Northern Iceland
Northern Spirits - The Lofoten Islands
Giants of the Andes and Fitz Roy Hiking Annex - Patagonia
Tales of Arctic Nights - Greenland
Saga of the Seas and The Far Reaches Annex - The Faroe Islands
Desert Storm - Namibia

Selected articles by Erez Marom: