An ode to Lofoten
Earlier this year I made another pilgrimage to the magical Lofoten archipelago in northern Norway. There are many reasons that I keep visiting this area, of course the incredible scenery on an epic scale is fantastic for photography purposes but I think there is more to it than that. For whatever reason I feel more at home in, and more connected to, this spectacular place than many other spectacular places I have visited.
Perhaps one reason that I appreciate the time spent in Lofoten is because of the effort of getting there. Usually I drive there from southern Finland, covering the 1600km in winter conditions usually takes about 20 hours of driving time and I find the journey therapeutic in itself as it is a significant period of time with my own thoughts, free of any of the distractions usually provided by the internet. The journey helps me make a more definite transition into the right frame of mind for photography.
My days in Lofoten follow a certain reassuring rhythm, falling into sync with the light. An early start for sunrise, scout different locations but take it quite easy during the day, see what sunset has to offer and then hope that the night will be blessed by dancing auroras. Sleep when you can.
Staying in the traditional rorbuer (fishermen's cabins) certainly adds to the feeling of being at one with the place. The authentic exterior provides the atmosphere while the comfortable, warm and well appointed interiors have everything you could want to be safe and cosy no matter what the arctic weather has in store for you.
After an early start and a battle with the elements there is nothing quite like good coffee and something delicious in a pleasant environment, and so we come to one of Lofoten's biggest treasures. A daily visit (or two daily visits) to the Bringen cafe in Reine is one of the things I look forward to just as much as anything photography related. Excellent coffee, home baked cinammon buns straight from the oven, nice surroundings and a most friendly welcome - there is no better place to have a first look through your morning pictures and plan the rest of your day.
The remote arctic environment has it's challenges for human inhabitants, but the snow covered wilderness is full of life. Evolution has worked it's perennial magic here to produce perfectly adapted local residents.
It has been said that variety is the spice of life. Spring in Lofoten can deliver weather conditions worthy of any of the seasons, sometimes changing it's outfit to sport a fresh new look from hour to hour.
The knowledge that all things are possible is enhanced with an element of jeopardy when you also know that a storm can rise from nowhere, mercilessly inflicting a miserable week of gale-propelled precipitation upon you, despite all the weather forecaster's promises to the contrary.
The grand scale of this arctic paradise, and the relatively small impact made by humankind on the natural beauty, brings a feeling of balance and wonder which is all too sadly absent from many parts of the world.
As night falls on this Lofoten trip I start to wonder when I will visit this magical place again, each visit makes me more eager to return. In order to continue to develop my photography I want to ensure a certain balance between exploring the new and inhabiting the familiar, but the call of Lofoten provides a strong temptation to upset that balance.
Thanks a lot to Robert Juvet, Krisztina Juvet and Andreas Hohmann who shared part of this latest Lofoten trip with me.
Until next time,
Reach for the Skye
As my Scotland trip neared it's conclusion I decided that I wanted to spend those final days back on the beautiful Isle of Skye.
On my way I decided to visit Eilean Donan castle, a 13th century stronghold which was destroyed in 1719 after a failed Jacobite uprising. An early 20th century restoration project brought the castle back to it's former glory and it has operated as a tourist attraction since 1955.
I approached the castle as the sun was going down and the waited for the time when the declining brightness of the sky matched the brightness of the artificial lighting on the castle, allowing for an even exposure. I used a 6 minute exposure to give the sky a more dreamy appearance.
Accomodation was not that easy to find on Skye at very short notice during the off season, which gave me a good excuse to stay at the excellent Cuillin Hills hotel even though it was (deservedly) a bit more expensive than I would have normally wanted. The location of the hotel on the north-east of Portree was a good fit for my purpose as I wanted to focus on shooting the Trotternish peninsula on these few final days.
The Trotternish peninsula is the northernmost part of Skye and it's unique features were sculpted by massive landslides (the largest known to have happened in the UK) which occurred after the last ice age.
As you leave Portree and head along the coast of the peninsula one of the first attractions that you come to is the Bride's Veil waterfall, a small series of hillside cascades which offer a view with the Old Man of Storr in the background provided you are willing to jump across the stream.
Continuing the journey you come to the beautiful Loch Fada with it's single lonely island.
The Storr (the mountain in the left-centre of the picture above) is the highest point on the peninsula and the iconic rock pinnacle on its lower slopes is known as the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man is clearly visible as you approach Portree and is recognisable feature from many vantage points in the area.
To the north of the Storr there is a vantage point where you can view Mealt Falls cascading down Kilt Rock. The vantage point is somewhat limited when it comes to photographic compositions, this is one spectacle which might be better viewed from the sea or the air.
Before visiting Skye one of the places I was most looking forward to was the Quiraing, possibly the most dramatic of the areas sculpted by those ancient landslides. It is unfortunate that the weather turned instantly unpleasant on each occasion when I made the meandering ascent to this spectacular location. I still spent many hours walking here with my camera but when the light is really against you there is not always a huge amount you can do about it.
I hope, one day, to be at the Quiraing in some better light as it was a truly stunning place.
On the opposite side of the Trotternish peninsula you can find a zone known as the Fairy Glen due to it's interesting but relatively small features, almost like a miniature Quiraing.
My short visit to this place was a bit odd. Firstly I was a bit concerned about ending up trapped there - the narrow winding road passed over a cattle grid and there were signs saying that the cattle grid would be replaced, causing significant delays for traffic, and indicating that the work would happen on that day... this contributed a bit of a rush to proceedings as well as a "this could be a bad idea" feeling. One of the things I like most about being out in nature is the peace and quiet, but my visit to the Fairy Glen coincided with the visit of an extremely loud family and their similarly high volume canine companion. I could hear every word of their exchanges from at least 300 metres away and that added to my irritation.
My time there was more based about maintaining maximum distance from the loud people than it was about photography, and the impact of that was obvious when looking at the images later. This is another place I should revisit in different circumstances, but I did at least have a bit of fun processing the images.
During all my time on Skye I was very much hoping that at least one morning would give me suitable conditions to take best advantage of the 45 minute climb up to the Old Man of Storr. On one of the days, early in my trip and very early in the morning, I made my way towards the Storr, hoping that the cloudy twilight would give way to something interesting.
An hour before sunrise, as I was approaching Loch Fada, there were some beautiful pastel colours in the clouds and heavy snow on even slightly higher ground.
The climb up to the Old Man of Storr is not a particularly challenging one, but it is steep enough for long enough that you certainly notice that you are doing some exercise, the elevation gain is about 300m to the Old Man himself, perhaps closer to 400m to get to the higher vantage point that offers some of the best views.
The climb starts from the car park and goes through an area where a non-native forest has recently been felled in order for indigenous vegetation to be re-established in it's place.
The path makes it's way steadily upwards, sometimes over rather boggy ground and sometimes requiring more of a scramble over loose rocks.
The sun rose as I was still climbing, but the most interesting light was still to come as the cloud and fog which were gathering over the area continued to act as a giant diffuser for the golden light of rising sun over the next hour or so, an effect which varied in intensity from minute to minute.
The rocky pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr is 164 feet (50 metres) tall and stands proudly on the hillside. The area around it is surrounded by warning signs suggesting that one should not get too close due to the danger of rock falls. I usually pay attention to such signs but obviously not everyone takes the same approach. As I was loitering near such a sign a runner appeared around the base of the Old Man, coming towards me at a fair speed, dressed in shorts and a singlet (the temperature would soon be above zero after all), and rather irritated that some stupid photographer was standing on the narrow ledge which he had designated as his running track. He sprung off the path and proceeded through the boulder field without noticeably reducing his speed.
In order to get the best vantage point it was necessary to continue the climb up to a high plateau, slightly above the Old Man.
While making my way up to the higher ground there was a short period where the cloud intensified and the light was at it's most stunning and I was able to get the kind of shots I had been hoping for.
From the top of the plateau you can get a very good angle to see the individual rock towers, and the presence of other mortals helps to show the scale of the scene.
As you move closer to the towering rocks you can get a bit of a different view, but it is probably wise not to get too close.
Despite the early hour, and the snow, and the fact that it was very much out of season, I was not alone on this beautiful morning. A number of other photographers and a few tourists were also able to witness this beautiful spectacle. A visit to the Old Man of Storr in the summer would mean that you share the experience with many hundreds of other people, assuming that you could find a place to park your car in the first place.
Before bidding farewell to Skye I decided to make one more trip to the remote village and beach at Elgol. I always enjoy shooting at beaches and trying to make good seascapes, but it is also something that i am very much still learning.
Some of you may have noticed that I keep finding excuses to use very long exposures in my photography. At Elgol, as the weather deteriorated towards a dreary sunset, I became interested in the slipway beside the beach and decided that a 250 second exposure woudl calm the waves and the clouds to give me a peaceful and minimalist view.
My time in Skye was at an end and I had to start making my way back to Edinburgh airport to return to Finland. In a moment of nostalgia I decided to spend my last night on the other side of the country at the home of golf, the city of St. Andrews. I have played golf at St. Andrews dozens of times and visited on a few other occasions to observe professional tournaments, it is a place which is special to me, as it is to many other golfers across the world. At the same time my visit was tinged with a certain sadness as my back no longer lets me play golf on a reasonable level and I still feel that loss whenever I bump into reminders of my former hobby.
For the last hours before heading to the airport I left my cameras behind and took a long walk on the beach at St. Andrews, reflecting on the experiences I had enjoyed on what had been an excellent trip to my homeland.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
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