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,
On Skagsanden beach...
Skagsanden beach in Lofoten is a favourite spot of mine for landscapes and auroras, an interesting place to observe the activities of birds and also a place for more adventurous humans to enjoy some arctic watersports.
On my September trip to Norway I visited Skagsanden 6 or 7 times, it always seems to be on the way to places and it is a nother of those very tempting places to stop. On one of these occasions I was wandering along the beach on a rather windy day, following the tracks of a horse which had obviously walked there since the tide last went out. I noticed movement ahead and saw that some small waders (birds that live along the shoreline... not chest length waterproof boots) were sheltering in the hoof prints.
After fetching my binoculars and the camera I use for wildlife from the car I investigated further, identifying a number of juvenile Ringed Plovers.
It is fun to watch these birds alternating between looking for delicious morsels and running away from incoming waves as they take advantage of the "surf sushi" buffet. After a while I realised that the Ringed Plovers were not alone. The plovers are rather small and fast moving waders but there were some even more tiny and rapid birds which were scooting nervously around at the edge of the surf, I believe they were Little Stints.
The Little Stint was a new species for me, I now have photographs of 193 different species - closing in on 200! There is something very amusing about watching very small birds running extremely fast along the ground, their short legs pumping at a remarkable rate. I assume that is a faster and more economical way to travel distances up to a few metres, the overheads in time and energy of taking off and landing making flight a worse option for such journeys.
Some larger waders were also in attendance, a number of Dunlin were also patrolling the shore.
The markings of these two birds, Little Stint and Dunlin, are somewhat similar, but the Dunlin has the black patch on its belly and also has a significantly longer beak. In cases where both can be seen together (not an unusual occurrence) then the size difference is also very obvious.
The shore birds and the photographers were not alone at this location, there was also a significant population of people who were enjoying their day out in the chilly waters of the bay - surfing and kayaking.
I have watched surfers here and at Unstad beach (also in Lofoten) previously but this was the first time I have seen kayakers at either location. I imaging that being in a kayak makes it a lot easier to propel yourself out into position to catch the waves, and maybe gives you more control, but maybe with surfing you feel more like it is really just you and the ocean.
Watching from the shore, my impression was that neither of these activities were very easy, there must be quite an art to understanding which of the waves was really going to turn into a good one and which was going to fizzle out.
When the waves finally broke, they did so in spectacular fashion, foam everywhere.
No matter the results, all the participants appeared to be having a fantastic time in their Arctic watersport adventures and it was enjoyable to watch them.
Back on the shore, the waders continued their opportunistic snacking, completely oblivious to the action on the water.
Even when you are busy trying to feed yourself, it is important to keep your feathers in order. I captured one Ringed Plover performing such maintenance.
Well, that's it for this time from Skagsanden beach. I have no idea who the people are in the surfing and kayaking pictures, but if anyone shown here would like to have a copy of the relevant pictures, or would like their picture to be removed, then please contact me using the contact form on the site and I will take care of that as fast as I can.
Thanks for reading!
Beyond the 69th parallel
As autumn began I decided to make an arctic road trip, returning to Norway, one of my favourite countries, and heading further north than on any of my previous travels.
I had initially planned this as just a Lofoten trip but I was able to leave a few days earlier in order to spend some time in the Senja area which is just to the south of Tromsø in the far north of Norway. My route took me north through almost the entire length of Finland before crossing to Norway near to Kilpisjärvi and heading to my accomodation at Hamn i Senja. At the northern extremes it is possible to cross directly from Finland to Norway, missing out Sweden entirely. The 1430km journey took about 17 hours of driving time.
The journey was not a difficult one at this time of year (mid-September) with the temperatures above zero and the roads in good condition. The main hazard was provided by the reindeer which became an increasingly common site after crossing the Arctic Circle at around the half way point of the journey. The terrain was made more beautiful by the autumn colours, at the cost of providing better camouflage for any large mammals that might loiter near the margins of the highway. Slowing down, or stopping completely, was required on 6 or 7 occasions to ensure safe passage for car and for animal.
Eventually I arrived at Hamn i Senja sometime after dark.
One major attraction of being so far north in such a sparsely populated area is the greatly enhanced possibilities to see the northern lights, aurora borealis. If you have not spent your time chasing the northern lights before then you might not know that there is an aurora forecast that you can follow, based on geomagnetic activity. This forecast is expressed as a number (between 0 and 9) known as the Kp index. The "normal" level of activity ranges from Kp 1-4 with 5 or higher indicating increasing levels of geomagnetic storm.
The further north you are (south in the case of the southern lights, aurora australis) the more likely you are to be able to see auroras. In order to have a good chance of seeing auroras in France or Germany you would need an exceptional Kp index of 8 or 9, whereas from the north of Scotland or the south of Finland you have possibilities when the Kp index is around 5 (maybe once or twice per month).
Hamn i Senja, at a latitude of nearly 69.5 degrees, is in the zone where a Kp index of 1 or 2 already brings aurora opportunities, hugely increasing your chances to see those magical lights.
Although I was a bit tired from my drive, I never like to pass up an aurora opportunity, so out I went, happy to find that the auroras were already dancing across the sky.
Aurora photography is something of a challenge, and it pays to have done it a few times before. It is such a stunning sight when you first see bright and well defined auroras in the sky, the associated excitement and feeling of wonder easily leads to pointing your camera at the auroras without any regard for how you compose the frame overall - leading to ratehr poor pictures which just happen to have some green lights in them. It pays off to think of auroras as an enhancement for a composition which would work without them.
Usually I like to scout for a few possible aurora enhanced composiitons during the day to be prepared for whatever happens in the evening, but on this occasion I had just arrived so I had no idea where would be best. I decided to just see what I could do with the immediate area of my hotel rather than searching randomly in the dark for new places.
Eventually I tore myself away from the show and got some much needed sleep. At this time of year the shooting schedule is quite demanding as ideally you need to be in position for sunrise (before 0600), sunset (around 2000) and auroras (2200-0300) which rather cuts into the times when sensible people like to sleep.
After a few hours of rest it was back to business for the sunrise and I headed for the the rocks near to the Tungeneset picnic area from where there is a good angle to photograph the peaks of Oksehornan ("the Devil's Teeth"). I found a rock pool which provided good reflections.
My exercise for the day came from a climb up Segla mountain, a sail shaped peak with a sheer 600m drop on one side. Here my research had failed me slightly, I had seen many great pictures from Segla but had not realised that in order to get the best view of Segla you should climb the neighbouring peak of Hesten... by the time I was on top of the wrong mountain I did not have time or energy to climb the right one.
It was a very beautiful day and it was great to be able to admire the views to various directions... without ever getting remotely close to the edge of the cliff.
The trail up to Segla was quite steep but not particularly difficult, although it was easy to see that it could be a bit more dangerous in slippery conditions. Even though it was the wrong mountain when it comes to getting the more famous view it is a popular and attractive hike and I recommend it to anyone who happens to be passing through Arctic Norway.
After safely descending and remembering to eat (sometimes difficult to remember when I am on a trip, far too easy to remember at all other times) I headed back towards Hamn i Senja, checking out some possible evening aurora compositions and other points of interest on the way.
As I waited for the evening I was keeping half an eye on both the weather forecast and the aurora forecast, both of which can be easily followed on any smartphone. I use an app called My Aurora Forecast to check the Kp index and AccuWeather to guess whether the skies will be clear enough, there are dozens of other apps which probably do just as good a job. It is important to follow both forecasts because even with the strongest auroras you are not going to see much when the sky is completely overcast.
On this occasion the aurora forecast looked good but the weather forecast was indicating only a small window of clear skies. I set out to try and be in position if an opportunity came my way. I usually look for reflection opportunities when considering possible aurora locations, and I still feel that to be a good route to strong aurora photographs, but on this occasion I took a different approach and headed for the nearby Senjatrollet amusement park... an attraction based on trolls, as we all know trolls are terrifying man-eating monsters that come out at night.
I managed to survive my encounter with the trolls and drove along a mountain road to the beach at Ersfjord where I had seen some tidal pools earlier in the day that might be used for aurora reflections, but by this time the auroras were fading away and the clouds were gathering, there were no further opportunities on this occasion.
The following day it was time to leave Senja behind and head south to Lofoten, a distance of a bit over 200km as the crow flies but over 500km by road (those pesky mountains and fjords!).
The weather was highly variable during this part of the journey, ranging from beautiful blue sky to fully miserable overcast and rainy conditions. As usual there were many temptations to stop, one of which came at this waterfall framed by autumn colours which I was able to spot from the road and then navigate towards on foot through a wood.
There is a certain electricity pylon, near to a certain bridge, some kilometres before reaching the town of Svolvaer, where I have seen a white-tailed eagle perching almost every time I have driven past. On this occasion there was a change in that situation, but to a positive direction, there were two white-tailed eagles sitting there!
In a now familiar routine I parked in a lay-by and tried to find a good position to photograph these magnificent birds without unduly disturbing them, all the while looking out for the moment when one or both decided to fly off to other parts of their territory. They were both sitting rather close together and when one upped and left the other had to take evasive action to avoid getting a wing in the face.
It seems like this "flapping in the personal space of another avian" would be a breach of etiquette in polite eagle society but the other eagle did not seem unduly concerned as it smoothly handled the situation.
With that eagle excitement behind me I continued into Lofoten, that magical chain of islands which is becoming quite familiar to me these days, this being the 4th trip there in less than 20 months. I would stay the first night in Leknes before continuing to my usual accomodation in Reine. I chose Leknes as an intermediate base as it is the closest town to the spectacular beaches at Haukland and Uttakleiv and would make it easier for me to be at one of those for the trio of active times (sunrise, sunset, auroras). After checking in to my accomodation I headed for Uttakleiv.
The sunset on this evening was quite an attractive one, cycling through a wide selection from the colour palette as the day came to an end.
Each time I have visited this dramatic beach I have found some better ideas for how to photograph it, but it is still a bit of a difficult location.
The auroras were still visible on this evening but they were not that strong and not in the right place in the sky for my chosen spots, I did a bit of searching for alternatives without any huge success.
After a good night's sleep, skipping the sunrise based on the (weather) forecast and resting up ready for the rest of my trip, I was ready to leave Leknes and continue towards Reine. I shall leave the rest of this trip until my next post, but before I sign off here is one final picture from a small lake near to Leknes.
Until next time!
Earlier this month I made my third visit to the magical Lofoten archipelago in the north west corner of Norway. This amazing area is one of my favourite places to visit and I have had the idea to try and visit at a different time of year each time I go there to try and see the spectacular views in all their different disguises. My previous visits were in March and October of last year so following this trip I only need to visit nine more times to cover every month of the year.
Why should you visit Lofoten? The small fishing villages lining the fjords, framed by snow covered mountains, make for some of the most spectacular scenery on earth.
As with my two previous visits, I made my home in the village of Reine at the lovely red fishing huts of Reine Rorbuer. These red huts maintain their classic external appearance but inside they are maintained to a very high standard, providing a perfect place to stay right in the heart of the most beautiful part of Lofoten.
These colourful cabins, or Rorbuer, are a feature of the area and in many villages the predominance of a certain colour or a certain mixture of colours really adds to their character. In Reine and Hamnøy red is the dominant colour, in Sakrisøy yellow takes centre stage while in Nusfjord there is a colourful red, white and yellow mixture.
Although Reine is spectacular in itself, it has some very tough competition for the "best village within 5km" title. The villages of Sakrisøy and Hamnøy are both close enough to reach with a 10 minute drive or within an hour on foot.
Sakrisøy, perfectly situated in the fjord with its yellow cabins, has fascinated me since the first time I saw it. It has such a hold on me that it starts to be an impediment to progress on my trips as I cannot easily drive past it without stopping for an hour... and it is on the way from Reine to almost everything else.
When I manage to drag myself past Sakrisøy there is only a few hundred metres before it is imperative to stop again for the world famous view of Hamnøy sheltering under its mountain guardian.
The main road which runs through Lofoten is the E10 highway, this 850km long highway runs from Luleå in eastern Sweden all the way to the end of the line at the village of Å in Lofoten. After Å there are many kilometres of mountainous terrain, but there are not many people and no roads.
Lofoten is also are great location for beach photography, providing everything that you might usually want to photograph at a beach, but with the added bonus of a mountainous backdrop.
The most imposing of Lofoten's beaches (in my opinion) is Uttakleiv, rather a violent place on the more exposed side of the surrounding mountains with a rocky shore and a mountain backdrop. The feeling of the place is enhanced by the warning signs predicting dire consequences for anyone caught in a rockfall.
When you pass under the mountains through a short tunnel to reach Haukland beach you are suddenly in an oasis of comparative calm. Haukland is a massive flat sandy beach gently curving around a large bay. It is a wonderful place for a walk along the sand, observing the oystercatchers as they forage in the surf.
Although Uttakleiv is the most wild and Haukland is the most peaceful, Skagsanden beach is simply my favourite. Skagsanden is a gently sloping sandy beach with a nicely shaped mountainous background. The bay is shaped in such a way that it is both sufficiently interesting and sufficiently safe to attract intrepid arctic circle surfers to test their skills.
On this particular afternoon I would say that the surfer might have been having more fun but the Oystercatchers were having more success as the tide revealed a number of tasty snacks.
A few kilometres along the road from Skagsanden beach there is a turn off which takes you to the village of Nusfjord. It may not be a total surprise to hear that Nusfjord is a small fishing village surrounded by mountain peaks.
Nusfjord is also home to a good selection of seabirds, with the black-legged kittiwake being by far the most noisy of all the villages residents. Its difficult to imagine what meaning their seemingly constant screaming must have but I can only suppose that their communications must rely on the meaning of infrequent silences rather than the meaning of shouting the same words again and again... unless their culture is based on an avian variant of Kabaddi.
A more welcome sight from my point of view was a single European Shag swimming around near the harbour, a cormorant-like species that I had not seen or photographed before.
Driving back from Nusfjord to Reine should be a relatively simple 40 minute drive, but that theory never holds because you have to pass Skagsanden...
... and Hamnøy....
... and Sakrisøy...
... before you finally get to Reine. For some reason Google maps does not take this into account when calculating the driving time. Even when you get to Reine there can be many photographic temptations in the way before you finally get to your cabin.
The early mornings and late nights needed to catch the sunrise and sunset at this time of year soon take their toll, and that makes good coffee extremely important. Fortunately the Bringen cafe provides these lifesaving services with their friendly and welcoming staff, excellent coffee and delicious home baking. Looking at the morning photos with a double latte is a great day to recharge the batteries for the day ahead.
Walking around in the villages of Lofoten there is one feature which is immediately obvious to more than one of your senses. The stockfish racks, filled with thousands and thousands of cod drying in the arctic air, provide an authentic addition to all of your photographs from these villages while also ensuring that you, your clothes, your car and everything else smells faintly of fish for the following few weeks.
This local delicacy is a significant business with Lofoten stockfish being sold all over the world, the temperature and humidity being exactly right for this process thanks to the high Arctic latitude being tempered by the influence of the warming gulfstream currents.
These villages are also home to large numbers of birds, with different gulls and other seabirds being the most numerous of these along with ducks such as the common eider. I saw white tailed eagles flying overhead at least once per day during my visit. There were also a number of smaller birds such as house sparrows, rock pipits, bohemian waxwings and snow buntings.
All too soon, it was time to leave Reine and head back towards my home in southern Finland. I decided this time to drive the whole way (previously I have allowed ferries or trains to do part of the work) in order to see how easy it was to make the journey in that way. Doing this also allowed me to make many stops on the way...
In order to get back to the mainland, you first have to drive north along the whole length of Lofoten. I took the scenic route rather than the direct route, hoping to check out the area around Gimsøy... which took me past this view near to Valberg - a welcome surprise.
As my journey continued, I started to look out for a place where I had encountered a white-tailed eagle sitting on an electricity pylon 13 months earlier. These birds will often have favourite perches within their territory so I thought there might be a chance... and sure enough I was in luck.
The final shots from this trip came on the outskirts of Svolvaer, I stopped to try and find a good composition of a row of houses only to find that they had been obscuring a single house on an island which I liked even more.
Once again, it was a huge pleasure to spend time in Lofoten. I enjoyed every minute of it. Mostly the weather was not quite optimal for photography, oscillating between too good (cloudless skies and harsh light) and too bad (low visibility and featureless cloud) with a shortage of dramatic sunrises and sunsets , but that is just how it goes, sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't.
Now that this blog is published its time to plan the next trip... lets see where the next blog comes from!
When I visited the Lofoten area of Norway for the first time at the start of March this year it was like a trip to heaven itself... I am sure that many photographers and non-photographers have had the same feeling. The beautiful vertical world of fishing villages framed by mountains and fjords offers many majestic views and a peaceful atmosphere within which to appreciate them. Last week I made that pilgrimage once again and experienced Lofoten in magnificent autumn colours, very different but no less spectacular than the winter wonderland that greeted me in March.
As I said in my previous post, I took a different route to Lofoten this time - driving to Vaasa, ferry to Umea, driving to Bodø, ferry to Moskenes. The timings of the trip worked out quite well, although anyone who was not interested to take pictures of the night sky might have objected to the 0330 arrival time of the ferry to Moskenes. The drive from Umea (in Sweden) to Bodø (in Norway) was an unusual experience, the roads being rather remote from population centres, in both directions I encountered more reindeer than other cars on the road. These are certainly an interesting sight, but when you see one up ahead in the middle while driving at 100km/h your feelings are not exclusively positive!
The ferry from Bodø arrives in Moskenes (at 0330) which is in one of the most spectacular areas of Lofoten, just a few kilometres from Reine where I was staying for the week. At this point I had been awake for 20 hours and driven about 700km since last sleeping but would not be able to check-in to my accommodation for another 11 hours... but it was a beautiful clear night and I had a chance to practice some astro-photography before heading to Hamnøy for the sunrise.
The weather for the first 6 days of my stay was remarkably good, warm and sunny with clear skies and only light winds. This was much better than you could realistically hope for in late September when you are 200km north of the Arctic circle... although Lofoten does benefit greatly from the warming influence of the gulf stream. The warm sunlight really brought out the autumn colours in the landscape.
The unseasonably beautiful weather caused both positive and negative consequences from a photographic point of view. On the positive side the lack of wind left the surface of the fjords in a mirror-like state allowing for great reflections, the morning and evening light was very beautiful and the clear skies opened up great possibilities for starscapes and auroras. On the negative side the lack of cloud cover meant that the light during the day was too direct and harsh for successful daytime shooting and also left the sky quite featureless in many cases.
I found that the Bringen cafe in the middle of Reine was a perfect place to review the results of the sunrise session while taking on much needed caffeine each morning, giving a chance to plan the daytime activities and maybe share a picture to my Instagram or 500px pages. I have used 500px to share full resolution versions of my best pictures over the last 2.5 years, whereas I recently started to use Instagram as an easy way to share quickly edited snapshots while on the road.
During the daylight hours I took the opportunity to re-visit three beaches, each ringed by mountains, namely Skagsanden, Haukland and Uttakleiv. In my previous trip I had really found it difficult to get good pictures at Haukland and Uttakleiv and I had a target to do better this time, this was therefore a scouting mission to get an idea how, and at which time of day, I might try to photograph them.
The beaches at Haukland and Uttakleiv are almost adjacent to each other in a remote corner of Vestvagøy - connected by a short tunnel through a large mountain - and are approximately one hours drive from Reine. After leaving the main road (the E10 highway which runs the length of Lofoten) to head for the beaches you pass through some beautiful countryside with lakes, forests and the occasional residential dwelling, the road is narrow and winding, scenic in the summer but slightly treacherous in the winter.
After spending the afternoon on the beaches it was time to head back to base, pausing to capture the perfect twilight reflections in the Reine fjord.
Having had a full day, carrying my camera gear with me for over 20 kilometres in the sunshine, I was quite ready to get an early night... but at 9pm I thought I should just quickly check outside in case there were any northern lights to be seen.
I had learned from previous efforts that trying to photograph auroras as part of a scene containing any artificial lights was not ideal, the difference in exposure needed for the artificial lights and the auroras is so large that you almost certainly blow out the highlights or completely under-expose the rest of the scene. For this reason I headed away from the village to test whether any of the locations I had in mind would be good aurora shooting place. My thought was that Skagsanden beach would be a perfect place, I had noticed previously that the smooth shallow incline of the sandy beach retained a film of water as the tide went out, allowing for reflections in the surface, reflections that could include both mountains and auroras in the correct conditions. I headed to that direction and was rewarded with a better aurora shot than I have ever previously managed to capture!
It did feel good to eventually get to bed... about 0130... with four hours for sleep until the alarm would signal that it was time to shoot once again.
The next day, over a cafe latte in the Bringen cafe, I decided that it was a good idea to drive and then hike to the beach at Kvalvika. According to various online sources this was a spectacular beach, surrounded by mountains, and could be reached by an "easy to moderate" 45 minute hike over a hill. I was pretty sure I could handle that. It had rained a bit over night and the ground was a bit soft as I started the easy to moderate hike but no particular cause for concern. About an hour later, as I was clambering over jagged slippery rocks on a fairly steep incline, I started to re-assess my capabilities for easy to moderate hiking. It seemed to me that the chances of slipping (although I had not done so thus far) were rather too high and that the consequences of slipping were potentially rather serious... so having hiked over the top of the hill and some way down the other side, I decided that I would enjoy the view from where I was and turn back rather than taking any further steps downward. This would be altogether a safer destination to visit in dry conditions.
On the way back home I checked out some possible aurora locations for the evening, and at one point, near to Fredvang, I became aware that I was under surveillance - a harbour seal was watching with great interest from the water while I tried to capture a mountain panorama. After running back to the car for a different camera and lens I was able to photograph my observer and capture a seal on camera for the first time.
I was quite hopeful that the two locations I scouted (at Fredvang and Storvatnet pictured above) would be great for auroras later in the night, allowing for mountains and reflections without interference from artificial light... but things don't always work out how you expect. At Fredvang it turned out that some lights on a bridge, about 100m behind the spot I had in mind to shoot from, were illuminating the whole area with a strong and nastily orange glow (which I might have been able to reduce when post-processing the pictures) and also causing a huge "photographer and tripod" shaped shadow in the scene (which would have been more difficult to handle). At Storvatnet the location was as I expected but the auroras were refusing to appear in the correct part of the sky.
The addition of an aurora shooting session to each day meant that I was burning the candle at all three ends (sunrise, sunset and aurora time) and building up quite a shortfall in sleeping. I can survive quite well without sleep but I knew I had to be a little bit careful when my return journey was going to involve a day of driving for up to 10 hours... so instead of rising at 0515 for the pre-sunrise colours I took a lazy morning and left at 0700 on foot to see if I could find a new (meaning something I had not previously photographed) shot of my "home" village of Reine. Another beautifully calm morning meant that reflections were almost perfect for this panoramic shot of the harbour as the sun was breaching the horizon.
The rest of the day was spent scouting, on foot, for possible new compositions in Reine, Toppøy, Sakrisøy and Olenilsøy before heading for the beaches at Haukland and Uttakleiv where I thought to take in the sunset and then wait around for a few hours to see if the auroras would once again make an appearance. On my way there I stopped to capture a shot of the tiny village of Bø in it's beautiful setting.
The beach at Haukland presents something of a challenge to capture in a photograph. It is massive in scale, following a shallow curved arc in a bay that is surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. In order to capture the whole of the beach itself you need to use a very, very wide angle lens (or combine multiple shots together in a panorama) but one effect of such a wide angle lens is to diminish the size of the massive mountains that surround the beach. By combining five vertically oriented 14mm shots I was able to get this sunset panorama of the beach, but while I like the shot, it does not do justice to the magnificent surrounding peaks. The perfect shot of Haukland remains elusive.
From the calm sheltered beauty of Haukland I proceeded through the tunnel to Uttakleiv, its somewhat wilder neighbour. The sunset colours were still very much in evidence and I expected that I would need to wait around for 2 or 3 hours in order to see auroras.
I had understood that it is usually best to wait at least for the astronomical twilight (when the sun is 12-18 degrees below the horizon) if not the actual night (sun is more than 18 degrees below the horizon)... so I was extremely surprised to see that there were very strong auroras already clearly visible while the sunset was still ongoing at Uttakleiv! Maybe this phenomenon is not so unusual at this latitude but it seemed very special to me.
The following morning I headed for Hamnøy and Sakrisøy once again. Having explored many wonderful places in Lofoten I still find myself drawn back to these same two villages and have not so far got tired of photographing them.
After grabbing a couple of hours sleep I revived myself with an 11am latte at Bringen cafe and set off for Fredvang to wonder around on yet another beach.
I had taken my wildlife photography equipment (different camera, huge telephoto lens) along for the trip but not found much chance to use it (reindeer, a white tailed eagle, a harbour seal, a magpie and a sheep had however been captured). One thought (based on advice from Jorma Tenovuo) had been to head to the island of Røst after my 6 days in Reine but at this time of year the ferry connection is not good, I would have needed to return to Bodø, then wait for a day or two and then travel to Røst before travelling back again. It would have meant extending my trip by 4-5 days just to get a day in Røst... so that is one destination that will need to wait for another time.
The Fredvang area is quite typical of the scenery all around Lofoten, remote villages, jagged mountains, an almost completely unspoiled natural environment.
During my trip I was struck by the effect that the beautiful surroundings were having on people. Each person that I bumped into, whether local or tourist, was quick to smile and say hello and the overall atmosphere was so very friendly and calm. I also caught myself having unusually charitable thoughts towards others and in a much greater danger of smiling... could it be that I was enjoying myself?
My final full day in Lofoten was marked by the best shooting conditions of the whole trip. The perfectly clear skies (beautiful, but sometimes uninteresting) were upgraded to include a few wispy clouds, capturing the sunrise colours and diffusing some of the light with quite beautiful results. Once again I stayed very local, shooting first at Reine about 45 minutes before sunrise, when hints of purple and pink were caught in the clouds...
... and then moving to the hill at Olenilsøy from where I could shoot along the mountainous coastline as the horizon turned to deeper orange...
... and then down towards the magical island of Sakrisøy as the orange gave way to brighter yellow.
After the sun cleared the horizon, there was still a period of very beautiful light with the clouds providing some interest despite the absence of pastel sunrise colours.
While climbing the hill in Olenilsøy I struck up a conversation with a Norwegian photographer who was visiting for the weekend from his home in Bodø. I asked him about locations I might like to visit and he recommended that I drive to see the beaches at Eggum and Unstad, some two hours drive from Reine.
Having already visited all the locations that I had planned for this seemed like a good idea and I set off after grabbing some breakfast. The beach at Eggum was an interesting destination, as was the scenic village that you drive through on the way, and I hiked along the rocky coast for a few kilometres.
Attractions, besides the coastline itself, included a world war 2 radar station and the 1996 sculpture of a head by Markus Raetz, a Swiss sculptor, painter and illustrator. The sculpture is remarkable in that while it looks like a head from all different angles, it does not look like the same head from all different angles. It is said that there are 16 different views available.
After Eggum it was time to visit Unstad, where it was possible to observe large numbers of intrepid surfers riding the impressive waves! This was not a pastime that I would have associated with life inside the arctic circle, but there they were.
Even on this relatively calm day there were pretty sizeable waves available for these arctic surfers, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was fun to watch them for a while. After making my way back to Reine, it was time to pack my things and make sure that I got a proper nights sleep before the long journey home.
I awoke to a rather different variety of atmospheric conditions to those which I had enjoyed throughout my stay... a storm was in full swing. The winds were steady at 51km/h (31mph, 14m/s) with gusts of over 60km/h and the waves on the coast beside Reine were huge and violent. Perhaps the surfers at Unstad would have been in the next level of paradise, but for me there were some concerns about the ferry I should take later in the day from Moskenes to Bodø - would it still operate and would it be safe if it did?
I spent the day walking around near the villages of Å, Tind and Sørvågen, trying to get some pictures of the waves while not getting too soaked, but neither of those objectives was reached very successfully.
That evening I made the rather hair raising ferry crossing from Moskenes to Bodø, along with a couple of hundred other passengers and about 40-50 cars and trucks. The vessel, MF Bodø, weighing nearly 4000 tonnes, was thrown about by the sea on many different axes, as if it was a small rowing boat. While the ferry was heaving, swaying and surging, the passengers were concentrating almost exclusively on the heaving part as the provided sick-bags were in heavy use for multiple travellers from 10 minutes into the journey. The journey lasted 4 hours. I discovered during the journey that I don't suffer from motion sickness, but I believe that I was in the minority. We did however arrive safely in Bodø, from where I drove to Umea, took the ferry to Vaasa and then drove home, arriving 46 hours after I had left Moskenes.
Overall, this was a fantastic trip. I loved being back in Lofoten and it was very much worth going through the long and tough journeys to and from in order to get the chance to be there for a few days. I hope to visit again towards the end of winter.
Still to come this month, another quick visit to Utö and a few days in Amsterdam. Field reports from both locations to follow in due course.
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P.P.S. - I decided that I would start to include more images in my blog posts and I also reduced the resolution of the images to help with the speed at which the pages would load. In case you want to see higher resolution versions of my images it is worth checking out my 500px page or contacting me through the link at the foot of the page.
Returning to Reine
In the spring of this year I made my first visit to the Lofoten area of Norway, having seen hundreds and thousands of great images shared from there by other photographers. It promised to be a magical destination, and it absolutely lived up to expectations, providing me with a number of good candidates for a portfolio of my best work. On that trip I was accompanied by two photographer friends, Mika Grönroos and Pasi Kaunisto, and we stayed in the beautiful fishing village of Reine, pictured below.
Reine was a beautiful location in itself, but it was also a great base for exploring the surroundings, although we did not have to travel far to see more spectacular scenes. Hamnøy, pictured below, was my personal favourite of the locations we photographed.
The journey from Reine to Hamnøy is a massive 3.2km... and on the way you have to pass through the village of Sakrisøy which is also an unbelievably scenic destination, especially if you climb the nearby hill which has some kind of weather station or other installation on top of it as we did on one morning after the sunrise. While Hamnøy was my favourite location at the time, in the proceeding months I started to feel that the panorama images of Sakrisøy may have been my most successful images.
Since leaving Reine in March, I have been very eager to return, and plan to do so on multiple occasions, experiencing the changes in scenery brought by the progression of the seasons... this week I will be making the first of those return visits. As I write this I am on the Wasaline ferry from Vaasa in Finland to Umea in Sweden, I will spend the night in Umea before driving about 600km tomorrow to Bodo in Norway in order to get another ferry to Moskenes... which is just a few kilometres from Reine, once again my base for the trip.
There are many different ways to get to Reine, but none of them are particularly fast or easy. In March we journeyed by car-train overnight from the capital area of Finland to Kolari (about 1000km north) before driving for 7-8 hours to Bjerkvik near to the Norwegian border and then driving the remaining distance (a further 6 hours or so) the following day. This time I decided to test the car-ferry-car-ferry-car route, there is also a possibility to fly to Lofoten (from most starting points this requires two flights, one to get to Norway and then a domestic flight to Lofoten) but then you are more limited on the amount of equipment you take with you and have to hire a car. Whichever way you choose, getting there is quite an operation.
On this trip the weather promises* to be a bit clearer than it was in March, which is both a blessing and a curse. I really hope to get a chance to shoot some starscapes and to be lucky with the appearance of the northern lights as well as seeing some dramatic sunrises and sunsets, but I might miss the moody scenes that overcast skies can provide, making for potentially interesting shooting even outside the key times around sunrise and sunset.
I will remain in Norway at least until 2nd October, and maybe longer, and will keep my blog updated on my progress.
* although I recently heard a rumour that weather forecasts are sometimes not 100% correct...
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