For the last week I have been away in Norway, photographing the scenery of the Lofoten Islands with Tony Spencer. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Lofotens, they consist of a small archipelago that sticks abruptly off the side of Norway, a bit more than half way up. They are on the edge of the Aurora Borealis band, which makes northern lights photography possible. What makes them more interesting than that is the form of the islands. The Lofotens are made up of several small islands joined by bridges, where each of these islands appears to actually be a mountain, rather than an island. There are pretty much wall to wall peaks of 1000m which rise out of the sea, so you go from beach to mountain in the space of about ten metres. As you can imagine, this makes for some pretty awesome landscape.
Aside from that there are lots of little rivers, lakes, fjords (all frozen and unfrozen), and some truly spectacular beaches full of indescribable sand patterns and rocks. The water is so turquoise it feels like the Bahamas, aside from the negative reading on the thermometers and the wind chill that makes you wish you’d brought your duvet out with you instead of you camera. So all in all, a great place for photography. It pretty much looks like Mordor, but with less orcs and more expensive supermarkets.
For some reason this year the Lofotens have been in trouble (sort of, from a photographers point of view). As North America freezes and the UK drowns, it appears that Norway has escaped its usual dousing of snow. Even in the airport there were newspapers with front covers of pictures of people looking bemused and headlines saying “Drydgyyfffiid Vinter Evar Inginstad” or something similar, which I guessed meant driest Winter ever. Sure enough, when we got to the airport in Evenes there was no snow, and it was about 2 degrees Celsius. Bollocks. I was hoping for pristine white landscapes with little red huts and big evil looking mountains…oh well.
Luckily we seemed to bring the snow with us. Maybe it was the good luck charm I bought in Japan back in November (I bought the real lucky one, the rest in the shop were obviously just called lucky charms but were there to fool the tourists into parting with their Yen…fools). After a day of no snow it decided to chuck down a good few inches for the first time this Winter, which hung around, unlike in London where snow instantly turns black upon coming within 10 feet of the ground, followed by becoming infused with McDonalds wrappers and vomit. Two days later it snowed a lot more. I knew that lucky charm was the good one.
In addition there were some really decent breaks in the cloud, producing some incredible light. At this time of year the sun stays low enough that even at midday it still provides nice side-lighting and is good to shoot in. This means days were spent taking in a whole load of locations, shooting from sunrise until sunset. After a quick stop at the house for food followed some intense aurora speculating. Will it? Won’t it? Where is it? What is it? Why is it green? Can you touch it? And so on. We had aurora on 3 nights, one of which was pretty great and the other two were rudely interrupted by clouds. Bloody clouds. As a landscape photographer you wait all day for it to be either a bit (lot) less cloudy or a bit more cloudy. Cloudless skies are the enemy. Then the aurora pops up and all you want is for the clouds to bugger off…somewhere…anywhere. I would try to liken them to London buses somehow, but they don’t smell of urine and breakdown at Bayswater without fail. The bottom line is that if you like landscape photography and haven’t seen the aurora, then you NEED to. Save up, re-mortgage the house, sell a duplicate body part e.g. kidney, leg, ear, and get yourself on a flight to somewhere cold and North. Nothing really compares to it, and the suspense and expectation is half of the fun.
Staying in Flakstad seemed like a pretty good location. Five minutes from the amazing beach at Skagsanden, twenty minutes from the equally great beach at Uttakliev, forty minutes from Hamnoy and Reine. All good. It seems to be the ideal centre point really. The fishing villages are some of the most picturesque places you could imagine, surrounded by big huge mountains and nice small harbours.
Last time I was in Norway my camera froze. It got so cold that the LCD stopped working and the mirror locked down. Lofoten sits in the gulf stream and, according to Wikipedia, “has the largest positive temperature anomaly in the world relative to latitude.” Meaning it’s not as cold as it should be. Great, so my camera was safe. Apart from the sand. I got sand everywhere. It appears my ability in getting sand in my camera bag is second only to that of my talents in getting my feet wet whilst taking photos (6 days out of 7 on this trip). The main issues any photographer will face in Lofoten seem to be the rain, the wind, the sand, the wind/sand combo, and finding dinner for less than £30.
The area seems to be becoming increasingly popular with photographers too. So if you’ve always wanted to go there, I’d say go as soon as possible before it becomes like Durdle Door on a Summer Saturday.
So here are my top tips for visiting the Lofoten Islands:
1. Take a waterproof jacket and a down jacket
2. Take wellies if possible
3. Eat a brownie at the coffee shop in Reine
4. Don’t eat the chicken wings sold in the supermarket
5. If there is snow get outside ASAP the next day before the scenery gets trashed by pesky photographers
6. Be prepared to pay £2.50 for a Mars bar and £6 for a hot dog
7. Buy/rent a nice wide and fast lens for the Aurora