Arctic Adventure Workshop - Yellowknife and Point Lake 2013

Aurora borealis, Autumn Colours and Barren lands Caribou - A Nature photographer's Paradise


by Dr. Robert Berdan
October 14, 2013


Sunset over small lake along the Ingraham trail by Robert Bedan ©


Sunset on one of the small lakes adjacent to the Ingraham Trail


September 2013 I enjoyed leading my 4th workshop in the Arctic with Peterson's Point lake lodge. Early autumn is clearly the best time to visit for anyone interested in nature and aurora photography. I usually drive up to Yellowknife from Calgary, a two day journey of 1800 km and I start my trip around the end of August so I can spend a few days hiking in Prelude Territorial Park and photogaphing the Aurora on my own before the workshop begins. Yellowknife is arguably the best place in the world to view and photograph the Aurora. More then 18,000 japanese visit Yellowknife this year just to see and photograph the Aurora. The Aurora happens almost every clear night, but isn't visible for much of the summer because it does not get dark enough until about mid August. The best time to view the aurora is on clear nights around the new moon. Of course you can view the Aurora in winter if you don't mind the snow and cold temperatures


Pink glow on pond with lilly pads along the Ingraham trail near Yellowknife by Robert Berdan ©


Branches and lilly pads on a small pond at sunset alongside the Ingraham trail.


Ingraham trail next to Madeline lake by Robert Berdan ©


The Ingraham trail is a road that extends outside of Yellowknife through rolling hills and small lakes for about 70km. In winter it forms part of the ice truckers road and leads to various diamond mines. There are several parks and campgrounds along the roadway and you will occassionally see cross foxes.


Bullrushes and fireweed along the Ingraham trail by Robert Berdan ©


Fireweed turns bright red and lines the Ingraham trail in September.


Sunset over boreal forest along the Ingraham trail by Robert Berdan ©


Shortly after sunset the boreal forest becomes a silhoutte against the changing colours in the sky.


Tent on beach in Prelude Territorial Park by Robert Berdan ©


As night fall comes I set up my tent with a light inside and I built a small Inukshuk to be used as props. The aurora is just beginning in this photograph taken around 10:00 pm on the beach at Prelude Terrirotial park, one of my favorite locations for photographing the Aurora.


Photographers on beach at Prelude Terrotorial park by Robert Berdan ©


Our photo group gathers on the beach at Prelude Territorial park to photograph the Aurora borealis over the water .


Aurora over Prelude lake from lookout trail - lightening in the distance by Robert Berdan ©


Aurora over Prelude lake from the lookout trail - note the oncoming storm in the distance - I was able to capture

a lightening strike which is easier to see in an enlargment of this photo. Image taken with a Nikon Fisheye lens (10.5 mm f/2.8) on Nikon D800 camera body. Exposure time 6 seconds ISO 800. The red light is from a radio tower.

Aurora and car lights Prelude Territorial park by Robert Berdan ©


While photographing the Aurora a car drove into the parking lot and lit the foreground. When the aurora is very active it can display purple and sometimes red light.


Red Inukshuk in front of Aurora Prelude Terrotorial park by Robert Berdan ©


Autumn is the best time to view the Aurora in Yellowknife for several reasons 1) the lakes are still unfrozen and reflect the light making the spectacle even more spectacular 2) in September it starts getting cooler in the evening so bitting insects such as mosquitoes and blackflies leave you alone 3) temperatures outside are mild around 10-20° C during the day and although they drop at night they usually don't require winter clothing 4) During the day autumn colours make the landscape more interesting to photograph. and 5) The aurora is usually most active around the Autumn and Spring equinoxes (Sept 21 and March 21) because that is when the earth and sun's magentic field lines are aligned. For more information about the aurora see my other articles on this web site.



Country Cabin Yellowknife by Robert Berdan ©


Country cabin where my wife and I stayed this year for a few days before the workshop began - the cabin is conveniently located next to Prelude Territorial Park.


During the past few years when I visited Yellowknife I pitched my tent and stayed in Prelude Terrotorial Park under the supervision of Bruce Davidson. The campground features beautiful hiking trails, a beach, showers, and dock with boat rentals. In the park there are several lookouts from which you can photograph the Aurora as well as the beach which features a wide open sky facing north. Foxes are numerous in the park and if you are lucky will even pose for you (see my article on fox photography). This year, however, I decided to stay in Country Cabins owned by Dave & Pauline. The offer two cabins, next to the Prelude Territorial Park. The cabins are heated, include a fridge, stove, shower, satellite TV all for a reasonable price. In the future I hope to stay there again - check out their web site link below.


Arctic Adventure Photography Workshop

This year we made a few improvements to the Arctic adventure program including a boat trip of Yellowknife Bay where we landed on a small island for a fish fry and had a chance to photograph the city and boat houses up close from the water.

We also visited Aurora village which hosts thousands of Japanese tourists each year. In the village we were greeted by a host who showed us the amenities available. We were assigned a warm tent with stove, hot soup and tables to spread out our gear. Aurora village offers viewing decks and other facilities most of which I did not have time to explore as I was so busy photographing the Aurora. The tents also make for interesting props in the photos and it was exciting to be surrounded by hundreds of other Aurora enthusiasts. I believe we will be making a visit to Aurora village a yearly thing from now on.


Photographers and guides in front of Air Tindi plane on Point Lake Peterson's Pint lake lodge by Robert Berdan ©


Photographers, guides, and cook in front of Air Tindi Float Plane at Point Lake - Peterson's Point Lake Lodge. From Left to Right: Robert Berdan photo-guide, Jacobus vvan Straaten, Adrienne Schipperus, Liviu Vancea, Daphne Savoy, Chuck Rockwell- guide, Amanda Peterson, George Kimmel, Margaret Peterson, Dawn Santee, Chad Peterson, Betty Blois (cook), and Betsy Hughes-Formella. Missing Bruce Weber - guide.


One of the places we hike to is Cameron falls, a short but beautiful hike that ends at a large waterfall surrounded by smaller tributaries. Along the trail we encountered 6 Spruce grouse that posed for us.



Spruce grouse are common along trails and along the Ingraham road - their droppings are found everywhere on the rocks.



Small creek that empties into the bottom of Cameron Falls,


Lichen by Robert Berdan ©


Along the trails there are also ample opportunities to photograph moss and various lichens that line the rocks.

Aurora Village outside of Yellowknife



Tents and wood pile at Aurora village. We had very bright green aurora the evening we visited.


Another tent with the Aurora coming out of the east.




Aurora Village 3D Spherical movie above - to VIEW 3D Interactive movie FULL SCREEN CLICK HERE




Aurora village tents reflect off the lake with the aurora and star trails in the background



View inside one of the teepees at Aurora Village - if you visit Yellowknife, Aurora village is a must see attraction - you can make arrangements from most of the hotels in town. Cost is $120\person per night.



This year we had 5 guests, all of them had Ph.D.s or MD titles which made for some interesting convertations and all were passionate about photography and wildlife. Photographing the Aurora requires a tripod on a wide angle lens and there are a few tricks to know to achieve good images (see my prevous articles on Aurora photography), but all of this can be learned on the first night out. This year is supposed to be Aurora Max, the peak of the 11 year sunspot cycle though Aurora max has still not been reached. When it does, the sun's magenetic field flips over and the number of sunspots starts to decrease and the cycle starts over. The Aurora borealis occurs most frequently between the latitude of 57 and 65 °N in a region called the Aurora oval. While the Aurora can occassionally be viewed at other latitudes, the auroral oval is the best place to view and photograph it. Of all the things I have photographed in Nature the aurora borealis is the most beautiful and amazing thing I have had an opporunity to observe. On a good night the light can be so bright as to cast shadows and colours though predominantly green can include red and purple. The aurora can also move or dance across the sky as rays slide along magnetic field lines. Cree Natives called it "The Dance of the Spirits" and though I have not yet heard its music, scientists have recently recorded sounds from the Aurora, an observation that many people have reported for years. My wife a part time musician upon seeing my photos was inspired to write a song about the Aurora which she recently recorded (see text below and click on the link to listen to the Song called "Fire in the Sky Tonight". This year my wife joined me so she could see first hand the beauty of the Aurora Borealis.



Aurora Goddess of the Dawn - Prelude Territorial Park photographed from the beach




by Donna Berdan
© September 22, 2012

Goddess of the Dawn
Usher in the sun every morning
Of the sun and moon,
Mother of the winds you are immortal

But you have a mortal lover

Is that you looking for your lover?

I wonder if you’re dancing for your lover?




The sky is on Fire tonight
The dance of the spirits ignite
And paint the sky like a masterpiece
I wonder just what it could mean
A palette of scarlet and green
Moving to music we cannot hear
A rhapsody not meant for our ears
The sky is on fire tonight

Young boy,
Native of this land
Missing his father’s guiding hand
He lives on
In the sky above
Like everyone you loved who left before you
His mother tells him as she dries his eyes
In the sky you can see him dancing
Look on high and you can see the spirits dancing





Each generation after another
We never cease to wonder
Just what it could mean
Always gazed upon with awe
B y those who sought her out and saw
The beautiful Aurora
High in the sky like a queen


A father a long time ago
Grieves for his son who died in battleL
looks up to see the shield of the Valkyries
And he knew his son would be in paradise
after all did he not pay the price?
For a moment he could see his son dancing
He could see his son was smiling and dancing




Flash MP3 Player


click here to listen to the music track MP3 file - The fire in the Sky Tonight mp3






As the aurora dances above my wife (Donna) works on her music while sitting on a Prelude park picnic table.


Donna Berdan under the Aurora by Robert Berdan ©


Donna exhults under the Aurora at Prelude lake


Peterson's Point Lake Lodge - 4 Days on the tundra

After two exciting days in Yellowknife we take a small group of photographers 250 km further north to a remote lodge on Point lake owned the the Peterson's. The lodge features comfortable heated cabins, gourmet food, surrounded by beautfiul tundra landscape which is at its finest in Autumn. The lodge is located along the Caribou's migration route south and also offers world class fishing. Caribou can often be seen from the lodge as well as the occasional wolf or grizzly bear that often leave their tracks nearby. In short it is a nature photographer's paradise. This year the colours on the tundra were the best I had ever seen with brilliant red and yellow colours (see below). On our first hike out on the tundra we found a small group of caribou drinking from a lake inlet and even though they were several hundred yards away we managed to get a few photos.



On our first hike we spotted this Caribou group in the water near Caribou Bay - our task was to get closer



Two Caribou bulls on the tundra (300 mm + 1.7X teleconverter). Yes the tundra really is this colourful in Autumn.



Chuck one of the guides carries a rifle in case we need protection from a grizzly bear while the photographers focus on several caribou nearby. Chuck Rockwell guide and protector on the tundra.



One way to approach a Caribou is to walk single file straight at them - in this instance it worked



Adrienne and Betsy -tough it out on the tundra in strong wind and drizzle and manage to capture some more photos of caribou.




A group of bulls was lying along the lakeside - we spooked them when we drove by in our small boat.



Bruce Weber another one of our guides takes a break on the tundra and poses for next years calendar :-)



Jacob and Daphne photograph a pair of Caribou Bulls that run past us.




Rock on the side of Point lake are covered in colour plants such as dwarf birch and willow.




Two bull caribou feeding on the tundra - caribou feed on lichen, leaves and sedges.


Liviu Vancea on the tundra with 400 mm lens photographing Caribou by Robert Berdan ©


Liviu Vancea balances his 400 mm Telephoto lens on a rock to help steady it while photographing some caribou.




Beach in front of Peterson's Point Lake Lodge at sunris. Jacob sets up his tripod to capture the early morning
light. Note the Caribou antlers in the sand on the left side of the picture. The beach often features fresh wolf, caribou and grizzly bear tracks. If the water wasn't so cold it would be an ideal place to bring your bathing suit.




Sunrise on Point Lake from the beach in front of the Lodge.



Caribou antlers in Point Lake




Dinner time in the main building featured gourmet meals and offer time to socialize and compare notes




Chad feeds Joey the Raven - Joey was a frequent visitor and hung around the cabins looking for handouts



Cliffs along Caribou Bay are covered in colourful plants.



Bull Caribou


Adrienne and Betsy photographing the Aurora over point lake, NWT by Robert Berdan ©


Liviu and Betsy photographing the Aurora over Point lake from in front of our cabins



Cabin at Peterson's Point lake lodge, In this photo I used a red flash light to paint the cabin I was staying in.




Aurora over Point Lake Northwest Territories - view from my cabin at Peterson's Point Lake lodge looking east


Above is just a sample of images from our recent trip, I will post additional 3D spherical movies of the Aurora, lodge and various hiking trails as soon as I can. If you are interested in joining us next September the workshop will run from Sept 3-10, 2014, Cost will be $5400.00 though there will be a discount for those that sign up early. Feel free to contact me for questions regarding photography on this trip. For booking and reservations please contact Margaret Peterson at Phone/Fax: (867) 920-4654 E-mail: