Andrew Stranovsky Photography | Winter Photography in the Lofoten Islands
Copper Mountain, ColoradoCopper Mountain, Colorado

Winter Photography in the Lofoten Islands

June 12, 2017

Now that the temperature is in the 90's here in New Jersey, I figured I'd sit in my air conditioned apartment and finish up a first pass at my Lofoten Islands pictures.  Full gallery is located here and below, and I wrote up my field notes from my trip in the post.  Yes, a lot of food and beer pics, but what trip to the Arctic isn't complete without whale meat and beer.  I had an incredible time meeting new people and trying out winter landscape photography for the first time, and already am planning more trips back to that area of the world.

I wrote up a few posts previous to this final one as I developed these pictures, listed below, which go more into a few specifics of the trip, but I think this post summarized the trip for anyone interested.  I have a few more pictures that I'd like to add to the gallery, and plan on doing it eventually once I'm in the mood, but for now I think this is a good first pass.

 

After my last trip to Bhutan, which was my first photography workshop, I was determined to take another class as soon as possible.  Usually I take photography trips to new places during the spring, summer, and fall months, and leave the winter months for ski trips, but this time I decided to take a trip specifically for some winter photography.  I had been following Daniel Kordan’s site for a while, looking at the tours that were posted, saw that there were some spots left on the Lofoten Islands itinerary, and decided to go for it.

Spent the first day and night in Oslo, since the flights to the Lofotens was an early departure from the airport.  The overnight flight was empty, and I slept well, but I think I scratched my cornea again as my eye was bothering me.  Spent the day in Oslo drinking espresso, wandering downtown, and picking up a travel adapter to charge my batteries.  I’m usually pretty good about packing up all my camera gear, but this time around I forgot to bring a travel adapter.  Oslo is a great city and I would have liked to spend more time exploring, but it was freezing, I was exhausted from wandering around, and I preferred to go to a nearby restaurant with giant viking-like fireplaces Norwegian food, and beer.  Spent the night at the Cochs Pensjonat.  Simple rooms but warm and clean, and I got a good night's sleep for the mile walk back to the train station and ride to the airport.

Flight to Bodo was slightly delayed, so we had to run to make our flight to the Lofotens.  Almost everyone on the plane was there for photography, as we were all scrambling for overhead space to stash our gear.  Meeting the group was exciting.  We had a good group of people who had already traveled the world, and again I was probably the only one in the group with the shortest list of destinations.  Daniel and Alban explained to us that the forecast was snowy, which was good in that it would make for much better winter landscape scenery, but would not be great for northern lights hunting, something that I was desperately hoping to see on this trip.  It was cloudy and snowing pretty good when we landed, so we decided to make our way straight to the cabins where we would be staying for the next few nights.

These tiny little fishing cabins were perfect for a winter trip.  Cozy, bare bones, with heat and hot water.  My roommate for the trip brought a nice bottle of Akvavit, which definitely helped with warming up.  After a few pics from the bridge of our cabins, we all met for dinner at the only restaurant in town.  I got along just fine with the two Australians on the trip, as we decided then that we would have to try every Norwegian beer the place had available during our stay here the next few days.  The chef was awesome, and the Minke whale steak was excellent.  I slept well until about 1 am when we were woken up for some potential northern lights shots, which turned out to be somewhat of a bust.

Spent the next morning getting some shots of the town of Reine.  I couldn’t believe how many cod drying racks there were, waiting to be filled up at the start of the fishing season.  The light wasn’t that great, but we still got some good pictures.  Once we wrapped up shooting, we headed back to our Krambua Restaurant for a surprisingly nice breakfast spread.  Daniel gave us an overview of the plans for the tour the rest of the week, and showed us a few of his pictures from past tours.  Once the weather cleared, we gathered our ice spikes and waterproof boots up and headed out.

First stop was the town of Å, a long drive south from where we were staying, known to the Norwegians as “the end of the world” as there is nothing really past that town to the south except uninhabited islands and Arctic seas.  Got a few city pictures when the snow would clear, and it was fun exploring.

Towards the end we got some good light as we headed to our next destination, Skagsanden Beach.  It was a lot of fun walking around an Arctic beach in my new waders, trying to get wave and ice shots.  I had never pictured myself ever standing in an arctic ocean in the middle of the winter.  Even saw some crazy surfers out in the water.  It was surreal thinking as I stood there on the beach that the only thing north of me was the Arctic.  Clouds broke a few times to reveal some nice light, and I think I got a few keepers on that beach.  Dinner included great food again and more beers, and as the clouds closed in we looked forward to good sleep instead of northern lights in the sky.

Next morning we decided on a hike up a hill overlooking the town of Sakrisoy.  It was cloudy, freezing, and the snow and hail didn’t help anything, but I was determined to get to the top and get some shots overlooking small town filled with yellow cabins.  Light was nice, but I didn’t get too many shots due to the wind and hail.  Got a few more shots of the cabins at the bottom of the hill, but I didn’t really like any of my compositions after I went through all of them.  We stopped by the town of Reine to shoot the famous Reine mountain peak and bridge, then headed back out to Å to get some sunset cliff shots.

Dinner was entertaining and the Australians and I were no longer limiting ourselves to two beers for dinner.  They both happened to be miners, and have taken some amazing trips with their time off.  Cory and his wife live in Vietnam, and have already convinced me that I will have to visit sooner rather than later.  The three doctors on this trip have evidently done the northern lights thing many many times, and as they shared their galleries of past shots, those of us who had never seen them were getting more and more worried that we might miss out on the experience this trip as we looked at the forecast predicting another cloudy night.

Headed back to Reine the next morning for some sunrise pictures.  I was a little disappointed that we were going back to the same location again.  I would have been much happier going to another beach.  Didn’t really get any shots that I liked, however this time one of our group members decided to break out his drone.  I’ve seen these things before, but never really took any interest in them.  This Mavic Pro was amazing.  So small and compact, it fit right in his camera bag just like another lens, and the shots that he was getting were pretty amazing.  As something else to waste my money on that seems safer than a motorcycle, I knew I’d be looking into drone options when I got back home.

Heading back to our cabins, we had a couple hours before breakfast.  I had picked up some instant coffee at the lone grocery store in town.  Not the best coffee I’ve ever had, but certainly not the worst, and I was happy my dad’s habit of taking free coffee packets and more importantly, the cream, sugar, and stirrer packets, from hotel stays rubbed off on me, as I had brought some with me.  Drinking coffee on the balcony of my arctic fishing cabin made me thankful I had forced myself to do more trips like this.

Spent the morning driving out to the town of Nusfjord, a UNESCO protected fishing village in Norway, and the oldest harbor in the country.  Stopped along the way to grab a few more lake and beach pictures.  Lots of snow prevented us from really getting any dramatic coastline village pictures, but it was still nice walking around the town.  Even met a couple, Niko and Joska, who have been driving around the world for the past 4 years.

It ended up being too cloudy for sunsets at the harbor, so we headed back to the beach to see if we could catch any light coming through the clouds.  After getting stuck in a two and a half hour traffic jam due to a snow plow catching fire, the beers at dinner were more than satisfying.

Woke up early for a hike to get a few sunrise pictures over the town of Reine.  Hike was worth it, and we got the best light of the trip that morning.  Headed back to the hotel to check out, and spent another hour getting pictures around the area.  I was starting to get sick of the same cabin scenery, but the skies were clear that morning.  Driving to our next location, we finally started asking why the same locations over and over again.  Evidently there are a lot of tourists that visit the Lofoten Islands (obviously) and due to the small roads throughout the country it is illegal to stop on the side of the roads (to take pictures).  We had to choose our destinations carefully.  

We had a couple hours of driving to our next hotel in Leknes, when all of a sudden our bus just tipped over.  Apparently the markers on the side of the road indicating where the ditches were located, were incorrectly placed.  When we drifted to the right, the snow just gave way and we tipped over.  We ended up making the best of it.  There was a rocky beach on the other side of the road, and we wandered down there with our gear trying to get a few pictures in the middle of the blizzard.  After 4 hours, a taxi finally found us and was able to get the last of us to the hotel.  Our van was towed out later.  Afternoon was a complete bust, but we were rewarded with good news that the skies were forecasted to be clear that night.  We charged up our batteries, dressed warmly, and left for the beaches at 10:30 pm.

I’ve never had so much fun standing out in the cold in the middle of the night until 5 am taking pictures and watching green and purple lights dance around above me for no reason.  Epic experience.

I ended up sleeping for only a few hours.  Couldn’t get back to sleep so I just went to breakfast in the morning.  It was a snowy day again so no real opportunities to take pictures, so Daniel decided to hold a photo editing class.  I stayed for the first hour, but ended up leaving as I wanted to wander around Leknes instead.  After last night, I added boot dryers, toe and hand warmers, and instant coffee to my list of things to bring on my next winter photography trip.

 

Last day of the trip before our afternoon flight, we were rewarded with some really nice sunrise light.  I ended up getting some of my best shots during this time, along some random Straumsbukta Fjord.

Honestly, this trip wasn’t as nearly as exciting as my Bhutan trip, but it was nonetheless very memorable, as I had never been to any place like this before.  The northern lights were incredible, the Norwegian people were friendly, and I met some more amazing photographers on this trip that I will definitely try and keep in touch with.

While I found the workshop through Daniel Kordon’s work, I learned a lot about composition and technique from Alban Henderyckx, the other professional photographer guide, who was very helpful.  Being based in Iceland got me thinking of my next potential trip destination.  Coincidentally, as I finally landed in Newark and turned on my phone to begin the painful process of reconnecting to the real world, I received a message from my previous photographer guides about a new trip to Iceland they were planning for November.  I took this as a very good sign, and send them my deposit as we were taxiing to the gate….

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