A first-time visitor to the Finnish city of Helsinki, Jarvis Lawson was impressed by the charm of its cobbled streets, the rumble of its slow-moving tram, and the extraordinary exteriors found around each and every turn.

The Upsinki Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church filled with ornate, stunning architecture. Embracing and soaking it all in felt almost overwhelming.
This was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. After exploring beautiful Helsinki, I wanted to view the city from a bird’s-eye view. A local friend of mine, Omar, showed me a place from which you can enjoy a 360-degree panorama of the city. Later that day, I set out to photograph the sunset. It did not disappoint one bit.

What was your first impression of Helsinki?

I was taken with the city’s beautiful architecture and the kindness of the locals. From the moment I stepped on the plane with Finn Airlines, I was treated very well, and that first impression of Finland and Helsinki will resonate positively with me forever.

Was there anything about the city that surprised you?

I was surprised by how well maintained Helsinki is. There was hardly any litter on the ground, which took me by surprise. I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so comparing the small Finnish capital to a larger city back home really impressed me.

Helsinki is by far the cleanest city I have even been to, and I think that my photographs convey that. I was impressed by how rad their subway stations are. Clean, efficient, symmetrical, and aesthetically pleasing!
It’s safe to say that I fell in love with the architectural style in Finland after this trip. I think that their Neoclassical Architecture is splendid, making the city both grand and unique at the same time.

Can you detail your favorite moment exploring Helsinki?

I traveled to Helsinki to photograph the city for the tourism board there (My Helsinki). I’ve been on photography trips before, and having the freedom to shoot what I wanted to and explore the sights I resonated with was incredible.

Part of the campaign centered on the hashtag #HelsinkiSecret, which encourages visitors to find “their secret” in the city, wander around freely, and explore all that the city has to offer — both in its main squares and in its tiny nooks and corners. I thought that was rad. I embraced the freedom and wasn’t pressed for time to photograph one location after another. In those moments, I felt truly present, and wanted to be nowhere else in the world.

What did you hope to capture about the place?

As with every trip I embark on, I did some scouting beforehand, so there were certain places I wanted to see and experience — the University of Helsinki, the Upsinki Cathedral, and the city’s harbor area, to name a few! But, I just wanted to show everyone a perspective of the city through my own eyes and my lens. Above all, I wanted to do a great job and showcase just how awesome Helsinki really is, to do it justice. I loved it there.

Were there any elements that felt completely unexpected?

I arrived in the middle of October, so I was aware that it would be chilly, but being from Wisconsin, I consider myself used to frigid weather. However, it was a lot windier than I anticipated. That, combined with the already chilly temperatures made for a very cold visit!

It was also intriguing to experience and talk to the locals. All in all, Finnish people were very kind and curious when they saw me wandering around their city taking pictures. Back home, I think most people just ignore me when I’m out and about capturing the city of Milwaukee, but in Helsinki, people were genuinely curious, and it was great to stop and talk to them.

On my first day there, a kind, older gentleman approached me while I was photographing the beautiful symmetry of Helsinki Central Station. He was initially interested in my gear and asked me about my camera brand, but we eventually got to talking about how he had actually visited Wisconsin back in his prime. I was ecstatic to hear about his endeavors in my home state, over 4,000 miles away from Finland. My conversation with him marked my first interaction with a Finnish local, and that great first impression really set the tone for the rest of the trip.

What will you miss most about the city? 

The trams in Helsinki are incredibly important to local commuters. For them, the trams are not just convenient; they’re also quite nostalgic, too. They’ve been around for a long time and are an amazing way to see the city and experience local culture. It was also interesting to wander the city and hear the distinct rumbling sounds of the trams! I think it’s one thing I will really miss about Helsinki.

I came across this cheerful yellow building and couldn’t help but take a photo of it! I was so impressed by the scale of this place. In Helsinki, you can venture into the downtown area, turn into a small driveway, and suddenly be standing before a massive and colorful facade like this one!
This is one of the most unique streets in Helsinki. I love everything about it, from the hue of the colors to the way the road flows throughout downtown Helsinki. The multi-colored streets were just one more reason this city became one of my all-time favorites.
The Helsinki Cathedral is located in the Kruununhaka (just try pronouncing that!) neighborhood and appeared very impressive from the outside. Imagine my delight when I discovered the interior was equally ornate.
Riding Helsinki’s metro system was so enjoyable. It’s one of the best (and cleanest) systems in the world, so I didn’t mind riding the cars and soaking up the atmosphere. Though locals and tourists use the system frequently, I was able to capture this shot as everyone departed from my car.