Rayann Elzein

Expedition Guide & Photographer

Rayann is a professional photographer, guide and expedition leader in the polar regions. He lives permanently in Utsjoki, the northernmost municipality in Finnish Lapland, where he spends his winters chasing the northern lights.

Rayann’s fascination for the night sky and space led him to travel to Lapland for the first time in 2011. The sheer beauty of the auroras did not take long to convince him that this was where he wanted to settle down, which he was finally able to do in 2020. He is passionate about the polar regions, and his first trip to Svalbard on a ship as a regular guest in 2018 was an eye opener. Since then he worked on expedition ships as a photographer and guide, and loves sharing his passion of ice and local wildlife with guests.

When not on ships, Rayann also continues to perform his professional activities as a civil engineer and consultant. He is specialised in ports and shipping, and has been focusing in the last years on green ports, climate change resilience and decarbonisation of the shipping industry as a whole.

Through my guiding, I aim to convey a powerful message about wildlife conservation and the urgent need to protect these incredible creatures.”

Personal Note

It all began back in 2012 when I first set foot in Finland. The moment I arrived, I was captivated by the country’s breathtaking landscapes and the allure of its pristine wilderness. From that point on, I just kept coming back. As the years passed, my travels to Finland evolved from casual holidays to purposeful explorations, eventually leading me to organize photography workshops in collaboration with a local tour operator.

In March 2020, I was in Finland working on a documentary with the BBC to film the Northern Lights. But the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the BBC team had to go back home. I was at a crossroads then. I had a stable job as a civil engineer in the Netherlands, but I was also on a holiday break, pursuing my passion for photography.

My boss suggested I return home, but something inside me told me to stay in Finland. So, I chose to remain there.

After spending months in Finland and falling in love with its tranquility and beauty, a crucial decision lay ahead. My boss informed me that the office would reopen, and they expected me to return. However, the idea of leaving behind the serenity and fulfillment I found in Finland was unbearable. So, I took a leap of faith and resigned from my job, selling my apartment to embrace this new path.

It was an exciting journey, though not without its challenges. Being a French person living in Finland, I faced difficulties in getting firearm courses and shooting range memberships. But I persevered, and during a stopover in Tromso, Norway, I finally achieved the course and qualification I had been longing for.

At first, it was just about experiencing the winter sights, but gradually, I fell in love with the Arctic’s wilderness in all seasons. Hiking, camping, and immersing myself in nature became an essential part of my life.

My passion for photography extends far beyond simply taking pictures. It’s about immersing myself in the entire ecosystem, understanding the animals, their behavior, and their environment. This dedication led me to become a guide, allowing me to share my knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Capturing the perfect shot demands more than just luck; it requires keen observation and predicting the animal’s movements.

Conservation holds great significance in my work. While I don’t claim to be a conservationist, I seek wisdom from specialists in the field and gather stories to share with my guests. Through my guiding, I strive to convey a powerful message about wildlife conservation and the urgent need to protect these incredible creatures.

During one of our trips, we had a unique and unforgettable encounter with a polar bear. Spotting a yellowish shape in the distance, a telltale sign of a bear’s presence, we approached with caution, only to find that the bear had passed away. It was a sad moment, leaving us pondering the potential reasons for its death. While climate change may play a role, we lack concrete evidence. Such encounters serve as poignant reminders of the fragile Arctic ecosystems and the pressing need for conservation efforts.

Apart from polar bears, the Arctic is home to many other marvelous creatures. One of my favorites is the Ivory Gull—a beautiful and graceful bird that frequents the remotest corners of the region. Witnessing an Ivory Gull in its natural environment always evokes strong emotions in me, symbolizing the pristine beauty of the Arctic and the importance of preserving it.

Seeing climate change up close, like glacier calvings, deeply impacts our guests’ mindset as we explore these breathtaking landscapes. It highlights the importance of responsible tourism and conservation efforts.

Managing tourism’s impact on the Arctic is a challenging task. While some suggest a complete ban on tourists in certain areas, I believe responsible management, rule enforcement, and fines for violations can be more effective. Secret Atlas, being a smaller company with fewer guests, is committed to minimizing its ecological footprint and striving for more sustainable practices.

Working with Secret Atlas has been a rewarding experience. We share a common vision for conservation and a dedication to raising awareness about the fragile Arctic environment. Although the journey to sustainability is challenging, I am confident that our dedication and collective efforts will pave the way for positive change.

As a guide for photography trips, my advice is simple: observe and immerse yourself in the experience. Photography is essential, but being present in the moment and cherishing the memories is equally valuable. I’ve seen many guests struggle with camera settings during the excitement of wildlife encounters, and I always remind them not to let it detract from the experience itself.

Being a guide may not be a typical 9-to-5 job, but it’s the best job in the world for me. Witnessing unseen places, educating, and sharing knowledge with guests bring immense rewards. It’s intense and requires dedication, but the smiles on people’s faces make it worth every effort.

Meet Rayann

For a more personal connection and to stay updated with Rayann’s latest adventures, conservation efforts, and photographic endeavors, we encourage you to connect with him on Instagram, LinkedIn or via his website.

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