Aurora Borealis, Fairbanks, Alaska

Northern Lights, World Ice Art Championships & Sled Dog Racing

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They are nature’s light show. The northern lights rank at the very top of the night sky’s most awe-inspiring phenomena that can easily be observed with the naked eye. The month of March, just as Alaska’s winter draws to a close and the obscuring cloud cover lessens, is one of the best times of the year to see the aurora borealis. The nights are still long—and a white blanket of snow still covers the land.
"Excellent Alaskan experience. The Aurora was awe inspiring and enjoyed the dog races and getting to see the dogs up close. The leaders and photo experience was amazing."
- D. McElroy

These magical lights are just one feature of the surprising week of photography in and near Fairbanks, the gateway to the Arctic. The diverse photography of this adventure highlights not only on Alaska’s spectacular and colorful night sky, but also the exciting daytime activities that coincide with the dates of the tour—the action-packed Limited North American Championship Sled Dog Races and the World Ice Art Championships.

The aurora borealis has both fascinated and terrified humans for millennia. The aurora is probably the progenitor of dragon mythology in China and Europe, a supernatural omen prophesying war, doom and destruction as the heavens “turned red with blood.” For northern peoples living under the “aurora belt,” the northern lights have been incorporated into their stories and legends of creation, death, and even celestial sports.

In the past, photography of aurora borealis was a difficult proposition. Exposure calculations of light intensity, and lengthy shutter speeds using film, were usually hit-or-miss—and a night of shooting could have been lost by a simple mistake. Now, in the digital age, with relative ease we can take a few test shots to check exposure and set our ISO, aperture and shutter speed accordingly. And the results can be spectacular!

Photographing the northern lights near Fairbanks, AlaskaOur time in Fairbanks corresponds with the winter sled dog races and ice sculpture championships. During the day we allocate time along the dog team racecourse, capturing action images of the teams, sleds and “mushers” as they run through photogenic birch and aspen woodlands during 8-dog, 6-dog and 4-dog competitions. In the evening we photograph the intricate large-scale ice sculptures created during the Fairbanks World Ice Art Championships. Just at dark and thereafter, the numerous carvings are lit with a variety of colored lights that radiate a photogenic internal glow. Then, as the night fully darkens, with a clear sky, we concentrate on photographing the aurora.

Sixty miles northeast of Fairbanks is the acclaimed Chena Hot Springs Resort—world renowned as one of the best places on Earth to see the northern lights. The resort is located directly under one of the world’s most active regions of magnetic fields producing aurora borealis. It is away from the light pollution of cities, and the skies over Chena are clear more often than those over Fairbanks. To see the lights all you have to do is walk out of your room—and they are there. There is no time wasted driving somewhere while the lights are happening overhead.

We have scheduled four nights at the resort to maximize our opportunities for aurora photography. Prior to our nighttime photography sessions, we spend a portion of our days photographing iconic Alaska winter landscapes, learning about sled dog racing, or simply relaxing at the resort.

This photo shoot is a rare combination of excellent conditions for viewing the Northern Lights, along with snowy northern landscapes with a perfect selection of photo subjects to line up on the horizon, plus exciting sled dog racing and a colorful and photogenic ice festival.  Join us in March for a wonderful variety of photo opportunities that should be on every photographer’s bucket list!


Check out Kevin McNeal's trip report from our 2019 aurora borealis photo tour

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Mar 8)
Our group meets in the lobby of our Fairbanks, Alaska, hotel for an orientation session followed by dinner at a local restaurant. (D)

Dog sled racer in Fairbanks, AlaskaDay 2
We drive to Chena Hot Springs Resort, photographing wintry Alaskan landscapes and watching for moose and other wildlife along the scenic route. We have time to relax before dinner and then shoot late into the night if the aurora activity is good. At the resort, it is possible to just step out of your warm room to see the aurora—with no wasted drive time! (BLD)

Day 3
We have the option of getting some extra rest this morning in preparation for our late night of aurora photography. Bring your bathing suit if you want to enjoy a relaxing soak—Chena Hot Springs Resort is known for exceptional indoor and outdoor hot springs. This afternoon we photograph wintry landscapes and ice carvings at the local “ice museum” and have time to enjoy an apple martini—served in a martini glass made of ice!
Day 4
We sleep in this morning after our late night. In late morning a private tour of the lodge’s sled dog kennels is a unique opportunity to learn about the history of sled dog racing and to photograph a few of these hearty canines.  In the afternoon, we photograph amid the snowy landscape and explore some of the resort’s diverse photo subjects, including rustic old cabins, classic old cars, a river and creeks—all great foregrounds for photographing the northern lights later tonight. (BLD)

Ice sculptures from World Ice Sculpture Championships in AlaskaDay 5
Today we experience one of the most popular activities at the resort—sled dog riding! Following an afternoon nap and dinner we head out to shoot the aurora late into the night. (BLD)

Day 6
Following breakfast we load our vans and head back to Fairbanks, photographing along the way. In the evening, ice sculpture photography at the World Ice Art Championships is our focus, with amazing large and intricate ice sculptures colorfully back-lit by floodlights. They glow like jewels! From the “ice festival,” with clear skies, we head out for another opportunity to photograph the northern lights. (BLD)
Day 7
During the day we photograph the Limited North American Championship Sled Dog Races. The races are a three-day series of sprint sled dog races and skijoring (skiers pulled by dogs). Later, if time allows, we photograph the World Ice Art Championships or, if conditions are right, have one final opportunity to photograph the northern lights. (BLD)
Day 8 (Mar 15)
Depart for home. (B)

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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Aurora Borealis, Fairbanks, Alaska

Mar 08, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of entire trip fee
100% of entire trip fee

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Aurora Borealis, Fairbanks, Alaska: Easy Activity Level

Van transportation.  Easy walking on flat ground often by the vans and hotel grounds.  Expect slippery conditions at some locations.  Microspikes recommended.  Participants will spend several late hours on most nights to photograph aurora borealis, cloud conditions permitting.  Cold temperatures are normal on this trip.

Trip Details
Mar 08 - Mar 15, 2020
Fee: $4,595 from Fairbanks, Alaska
Deposit: $500
Limit: 14 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy
  • Photograph the northern lights from renowned Chena Hot Springs Resort—one of the world’s top aurora viewing locations
  • Shoot spectacular colorfully-lit ice sculptures during the World Ice Art Championships
  • Capture outstanding action photography at the Limited North American Championship Sled Dog Races
Tour Leaders
Eric Rock

Eric Rock

Kevin McNeal

Kevin McNeal

Photographing the aurora borealis had been a lifelong dream. This trip exceeded all my expectations in making this dream come true. The auroras were amazing as were the ice carvings and the dogs, too! I highly recommend this to anyone with a desire to photograph the aurora borealis, you won’t be disappointed.
—J. Graybill

The Aurora Borealis tour was a wonderful, exciting and very different kind of tour. To see the lights dance above us was something else; an out of this world experience! Though there were late nights and freezing cold temperatures, it was all worth it to see the swirls and waves of the northern lights! The people in the group were very nice and the tour leaders were excellent and helpful. I can't wait to sign up for another tour.
—A. Gershin