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,
Having enjoyed a few days in Senja as an appetiser, it was time for my main course, a week in Lofoten, my photography heaven. Before heading to Reine I went to Haukland to take a walk along the long flat sandy white beach. There were no other people there at the time, but I was not alone, a juvenile White Tailed Eagle passed over my head on its way into the mountains beyond. This was a most helpful bird, calling repeatedly to announce its impending arrival and make it easy for me to be ready to shoot. I captured a long sequence of frames as it flew overhead, three of which are shown in a montage below.
The beautiful mountains and picturesque fishing villages of Lofoten tend to steal most of the attention (they are truly spectacular) but the many beaches of the area are a major attraction in their own right . The violent waves and huge boulders of Uttakleiv, the calm serenity of Haukland and the unexpected paradise for arctic surfers at Unstad are all very easy to reach but some of the more scenic ones require some hiking or even camping in order to visit.
After spending a couple of hours at Haukland I made my way towards Reine (my home for the rest of the trip), stopping at Skagsanden beach (perhaps my favourite of them all) for another walk on the way. I checked into Reine Rorbuer, my Lofoten accomodation of choice, and headed out to check the local sights as the sun went down. It was too cloudy for any useful sunset pictures but it felt good to be back in Lofoten once again and I stayed out to shoot some long exposures in the dark.
Those who have followed my blog for a while will start to be familiar with the magical triangle of villages - Reine, Hamnøy and Sakrisøy - all of which are right next to each other in this remote part of the world. They start to be extremely familiar locations for me but I never seem to tire of shooting them (hopefully you are not fed up of seeing the results).
The next morning I climbed the very wet, muddy, slippery hill on Olenilsoy in order to catch the moment when the sun's rays first hit the yellow cabins of Sakrisøy. There are no bad times to capture this amazing view, but I think that the time of Sakrisøy's personal sunrise (usually many tens of minutes after the actual sunrise) is one of the best times. This time I was rewarded with a day where there was plenty of cloud, but high enough cloud to preserve full visibility of the mountains behind.
Sakrisøy is also a great photography target from sea level, the yellow rorbuer (fisherman's cabins) and mountain background make it a distinctive subject from many angles.
I sometimes feel like I haven't seen a good sunrise or sunset for months, despite many tens of very early starts to be in position to take advantage of the best parts of the day. Days like this one are maybe not the perfect one that you dream of, but there is at least enough richness to the light and drama in the clouds to make it feel like it is worth it to keep setting your alarm clock.
When staying in Reine, the Bringen Cafe is a vital part of my morning routine. Great coffee, delicious cakes and snacks, and friendly helpful service makes it a perfect place to recover from early mornings and cold weather. It also provides pleasant surroundings while you make a first review of the photos from the morning.
Refreshed, I headed for a location I have not visited before, a waterfall near to Sørvågen.
The weather was a bit variable, but I continued to the village of Å, the end of the line in Lofoten.
While the road (highway E10) ends in Å, the Lofoten islands continue as mountains and fjords for some 10-15 kilometres and then beyond that there are a number of decent sized islands as you head south towards Røst, a set of islands which are even more remote than Lofoten. I walked away from the town towards some cliffs, allowing a distant glimpse of Røst and also scouting the area near the cliffs where I was able to observe some black guillemots and cormorants flying around.
The daytime is not usually an ideal time for photography, but it is a very important part of the day for getting to know different possible places you might like to return to at sunset, at night or for sunrise. If you are familiar with your spot and how to get there then it makes things 100 times easier when you are fumbling around in the darkness trying to shoot a few hours or days later.
After investing some time into this area I headed back to Reine to have some food and some rest before the evening session. Once again the sunset was quite a non-event from the point of view of interesting colours in the sky, there was significant cloud cover, but the clouds were well defined (rather than being a shapeless mass) and that provided at least some interest in the sky as I went to shoot at Hamnøy.
As the blue hour progressed the cloud cover started to disappear and the light was very nice as I drove back towards Reine.
The aurora conditions now seemed rather promising (only a few clouds plus a Kp index of 3) and I headed back towards Å to see what I could capture at two locations that I had scouted earlier in the day.
The first idea that I had was to use one of the lakes near to the waterfall to capture aurora reflections, but that turned out to be spoiled as a possibility by the street lights which ran all the way round the lake (which I had brilliantly failed to notice earlier). When shooting auroras you would ideally like to get away from all artificial light. My second idea, using a very small pond near to Å as my reflector, worked a lot better.
The lights were still dancing for me as I left Å, so all thoughts of sleep were put on hold, I decided to stay out as long as the auroras were active.
As is often the case during an aurora evening the lights were coming and going in phases, appearing in different shapes and in different parts of the sky. As I got to Sakrisøy the auroras were tracing a wide highway across a huge area of the sky, far too big and high to fit into any picture I might have planned.
One of the fun things about photography is that, no matter how much planning you have done, it is still very often necessary to improvise and react to the light. The unpredictability and impermanence of auroras really emphasises that need.
I continued through the night towards Skagsanden beach, about a 30 minute drive from Sakrisøy, hoping that the auroras would still cooperate and that the clouds would not be winning the battle. I arrived at Skagsanden about 2am, one advantage of that was that the beach was not crowded, although my arrival in a car with all associated light and sound was probably not that popular with all the people sleeping in their camper vans at the Skagsanden car park.
The auroras were still present but no longer very active, there was some low cloud in the distance over the town of Leknes which amplified the effect of the lights of the town, making it almost look like there was a fire on the horizon. Normally you want to avoid all light pollution if you can but this time the effect looked interesting to me.
By now I was getting a bit tired and the auroras were not doing much, so i headed back towards Reine. As is so often the case I have a hard time driving past Hamnøy without stopping to shoot... even in the dark at 0330 it seemed like a good idea to stop... so I did.
After a late night I did not have much enthusiasm for chasing the sunrise 3 hours later... a quick look out the window confirmed that the forecast was correct (miserable rain) and I went back to sleep. This depressing weather was set to continue for a couple of days.
When you are inside the Arctic circle you have to expect that at least some part of your time is going to be disturbed by the weather, this is part of the deal... but it is still frustrating when it happens. I guess I must have been pretty bored at this point... it is not often that I even consider taking a selfie...
Having spent most fo the day resting and sheltering, I decided to go exploring the following day even thought the weather was still horrible. I drove along the very beautiful road 815 which follows the eastern coast of Lofoten from Leknes before joining up with the main highway (E10) a bit further north. The weather prevented any mountain views and any useful photography. I continued along E10 with the idea to end up at the fishing village of Henningsvaer... but then the increasingly awful storm clouds ahead of me caused a change of mind and I started to retreat.
This turned out to be a fortuitous decision. As I was approaching Bøstad from the north I spotted a magnificent Elk (Alces Alces, known as a Moose to those in North America where there is a different animal they call an Elk) splashing though a wet field. I stopped my car as soon as it was safe to do so and grabbed my camera.
This adult male had a tremendous set of antlers - I believe (based on studying my pictures from different angles) that there were 20 points in total on this impressive set of weapons. This was a sizeable animal, probably weighing about 450 kilos and standing around 2m tall.
The antlers are used to determine dominance among rivals, either just by display (this specimen would have intimidated many others) or if necessary by using them in battle, and are also key in their mission to impress the Elk females. The displaying, fighting and breeding seasoon is in the autumn so at this time the antlers would have been at their peak.
This confident beast wondered out of sight behind some trees, still about 100m from the road (the above photographs were taken from that range). This was such a great sight that I wanted to try and get more pictures. I walked up the road a bit and saw a wooded hill which I thought might give me another distant sighting if the Elk continued on its last known course.
I jumped over a stream and stomped up the slightly boggy hill. About half way up the hill I heard a noise to my left and turned to see the Elk about 25-30m away from me. From a photography point of view this was great... but from other points of view it might not have been ideal - usually these animals are not aggressive without cause, but in the mating season they can be more agitated than usual. The Elk and I spent maybe 20 seconds just looking at each other, while I took some pictures but otherwise tried not to do anything to irritate it, before he decided (correctly) that I was harmless and left the scene. He headed to his right and walked slowly (and safely) across the main highway before disappearing into the scrub on the other side of the road. This was a most unusual encounter!
Well, that's it for this time... the story from my Norwegian road trip will be continued and completed in my next post.
Thanks for reading, and thanks a lot for your shares, likes and comments in Facebook.
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