French man under the aurora: You have probably read some of the articles I write for the aurora borealis observatory. You might have caught me live under the aurora on our live Facebook sessions. You might even have come across my work at Night Lights Films. This is the story of how I left my teaching position to fulfill my dream to work full-time under the aurora borealis!
My name is Adrien Mauduit. I am a twenty-nine-year-old French guy living on the beautiful island of Senja in Northern Norway. I am currently working as the aurora borealis observatory manager and aurora science communicator. I also own a photography and cinematography company called ‘Night Lights Films’ mainly dedicated to the night sky. In my spare time, I also work for an international non-profit astronaut-scientist program dubbed project PoSSUM. During the aurora season, I am in charge of taking care of the guests at the observatory. I also organize activities like night-sky conferences and photography workshops. During the summer, I travel the world to take pictures and film sequences of the stars. However I still work for the observatory by writing articles like this one. So how and why did a French guy end up in remote Norway?
I was born and raised in France in the Champagne region. At a young age I would spend all my time investigating and exploring the outside world. I grew a passion for nature, birds, plants, insects, rocks and anything that wasn’t artificial. Very early in my life, I joined local nature associations and expeditions. I also helped educate younger people, but also older people about the beauty of our planet. After graduating from high-school, I took a very intense and advanced two-year program that would give me the B.Sc. level in biology, geology, mathematics, physics and chemistry. I passed and was admitted to the agronomy and veterinary schools. Then I successfully earned a M. Sc. degree in biological sciences with a major in agro-ecology, soil, water and landscape management at the UniLasalle in Beauvais, France. My thesis work on the biological control of pests in Canada earned me a prize from the Foundation Xavier Bernard at the French Academy of Agriculture.
Back in France I decided to gain some hands-on experience in education before potentially going for a Ph.D and took a teacher position at Odsherred Efterskole in Denmark, where I rapidly learned Danish. As I thrived educating young teenagers in sciences, English and PE, I also successfully developed a special innovative and interactive program in the science department for higher quality education. I took advantage of being surrounded by the beautiful nature of the county of Odsherred to start photography and integrate it in my career and programs.
The area was the perfect ‘start-up kit’ for a nature photographer. There was a lot of wildlife, the landscapes were gorgeous, and you could even practice astrophotography with some breathtaking sunsets, auroras and noctilucent clouds!
I spent my days working at the school and most of my nights looking up at the sky. I would gear up at dusk and drive around the countryside to set up my cameras and shoot time lapse for hours in a row. Five hours of sleep was all I need! Most locals were not aware of the nature around them. When I showed my first pictures of Danish northern lights, my Danish entourage would not believe me. I really wanted to reconnect them with nature and I believe I convinced them in the end…
High quality work does not come without sacrifice though. I would spend hours practicing indoors and outdoors, watching tutorials and putting into practice the theory I had learned. There is no success without sacrifices and challenges, whether it is money, time or energy. However the rewards are limitless. You never stop learning in life, and those who think they know all are fools. With a lot of patience, hard work and perseverance, you can do pretty much anything if your mind is set to it!
After Denmark, I decided to take the ultimate test by becoming full-time professional photographer and returned to France for financial reasons. I spent a year sacrificing all my savings accumulated in Denmark to buy better photographic gear specifically made for low-light. Part of the money was put towards traveling to various places around the world to constitute my film and photo portfolio. These were adventures I will never forget. They enabled me to get some material that exceeded my expectations. I still use a lot of these photos or films today and you can see them at www.nightlightsfilms.com . I was doing what I liked but these were trying times. I was surviving on very little and made the choice to sacrifice any form of social life to live at night when other people were sleeping or partying. Besides I was missing the human interaction that I got when I was teaching…
Walking alone is a necessary evil when you want to get results, especially in photography. You need to get out there and fail. Many times!
Since I started, I have relentlessly been posting material on social media to try and to get my name out there. However things didn’t go as well as I had expected and I barely made any profit that year. Indeed the astrophotography sector is very competitive and restricted. Nonetheless I never gave up and kept at it. I was thinking about getting back into teaching until I received a very surprising message on Facebook one day. The observatory, which had 500K followers at the time (which was 494K more than I had), asked me if they could share some of my material. At that point, any publicity was good, so I accepted without second thought. Over the course of several weeks, the observatory page published several of my pictures and I started to get a bit more followers. In January 2017, as I was on a shooting trip in Swedish Lapland to capture the aurora, the observatory invited me for a visit as I didn’t even realize I only was 3 hours away from it by road.
After making up my mind, I booked 5 entire days to visit Senja island. I spent the first night at the observatory and I met Ander Hanssen, the owner. After showing me around, I rapidly felt at ease. The aurora was insane that night, so that helped! I spontaneously helped with the few guests there were and the live stream answering Facebook questions. I absolutely fell in love with the place: best view in the arctic, major auroras (5 nights out of 5!), friendly people and all of that surrounded by a winter wonderland. As I was about to drive back to my AirBnB at the end of the night, Anders came barging out the door and asked me to roll down the car window. ‘How would you like to work for us?’, he asked. ‘Erhmmm, let me think about it!’, I joked.
I returned a month afterwards to work at the observatory as a trying period. Since both parties were satisfied with how well it worked out, I got a full-time contract for the aurora season 2018-2019, which has just past. And what a season!
Looking back at this crazy story, I never regretted a bit switching careers completely. At the observatory, I get to do what I like, and much more. I can spend time photography and filming, while teaching or communicating about the nature and the aurora. The human interaction is also an important factor, which helps me get through the long hours of darkness. Together we have built such a wonderful resort and we have gotten so much excellent feedback! It really is gratifying!
The story about the French man under the aurora: I hope my story will encourage other people in the same situation to never give up and give everything they got to achieve their goals. It might sound cheesy but that’s a true fact of life: dare, try, get out there, sacrifice, work hard, everyday!