Lofoten Islands - Week 1

Lofoten Islands - Week 1
Cabins at Hamnøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

In February I was lucky enough to head off to the Lofoten Islands on another Tom Mackie photography workshop. The Lofoten Islands is an archipelago that hangs off the north west coast of Norway, just inside the arctic circle, and is famed for it’s rugged beauty which has attracted photographers the world over, as well as its production of some of the best fish in the world (found hanging on drying racks pretty much everywhere you look). Being so far north it gets its fair share of wild weather, although because of it’s unique position it benefits from warm air from the Gulf Stream and has the warmest average temperatures relative to its latitude. That didn’t mean it was exactly beach weather though…

On this trip I was going to be joined by Michael Blanchette, a New England based photographer who was in Iceland with me the year before as well, Ed Bacon, from Pennsylvania, Jerry Hughes, a fellow Brit, and Robert Zembowicz from North Carolina. Just like my companions in Iceland, these guys were seriously good, it was going to be another trip where I learnt a lot.

Arriving on the Islands

To get to the Lofoten Islands, I took the long way round. Starting off in Dorset, I got a train to Woking, then a coach to Heathrow, tube to a nearby Hotel where I stayed the night, tube back to Heathrow the next morning, plane to Oslo, then another plane to Bodø, a walk along the icy pavements to another hotel for the night, then a four hour Hurtigruten ferry the next day to Stamsund. By the time I’d met up with the others I’d had quite enough of travelling.

After some dinner in Leknes, and a fairly snowy drive, we made it to Sakrisøy, where we would be staying at Sakrisøy Rorbeur, a tiny island dotted with old fishing cabins converted to accommodation. Not exactly five-star luxury but a great place to stay for a week that also serves fantastic food. No cod drying on the racks outside our windows either, so that was a bonus.

Day 1 – Reine and Vikten

Our first day of photography started early to catch sunrise at Reine, described as one of the prettiest villages in Norway. There was a clutch of photographers there and a few more arrived afterwards, and you could see why, it was a great spot. The clouds were obscuring the sunrise at first but eventually it broke and gave us a lovely lit up mountain reflected in the water.

Reine, Norway at Sunrise. 25s @ f8. ISO 250, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 45mm

This was my first chance to use my newly acquired LEE filters Big Stopper, a 10 stop neutral density filter that effectively stops huge amounts of light coming into the camera, allowing you to capture much longer exposures than would be possible with even the Little Stopper. This allowed me to get a 25 second exposure even with the fairly strong morning light, which smoothed out the water nicely. I just managed to miss a boat that came across a few minutes later and destroyed the reflection which was pretty lucky.

Not a bad start, but the clouds were rolling in, so it was off to Vikten for a nice moody beach shot. Just outside of Vikten there was a rocky shoreline with mountains in the background, a nice setup for something dramatic. After being thoroughly uninspired for about half an hour (and almost killing myself and, more importantly, my camera, on the rocks) I eventually got this moody long exposure as the tide started lapping at my feet.

Moody rocks near Vikten. 59s @ f9. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 38mm

Even more impressive was how close I got the exposure to a minute just by counting in my head. If I was any sort of pro I would at least have used the timer on my phone, but meh, effort.

I did process this image as a Black and White initially, but eventually I decided I liked the blue of the water and dark greens of the seaweed, which I feel made the scene feel as cold as it actually was.

At this point the weather started really turning, so no sunset was on the horizon (pun intended). Back to our cabins for sleep, ready for the next day.

Day 2 – Rain, Snow, Wind, Snow, More Wind.

Yeah…So Day 2 simply didn’t happen. A storm had come in and was throwing rain, wind and snow everywhere. There was literally no point even leaving the cabins. I took a 10 minute walk down the road to avoid cabin fever and that was basically it. I know some of the other photography workshops on the island would have gone out, simply because they were paying for it so they felt they had to go somewhere, but the good thing about these workshops is that everyone is friendly and, most importantly, not insane. It would have been utterly pointless going out in that weather. Oh well, maybe day 3 would bring more luck.

Day 3 – Nope, not much better

Weather was still pretty damn awful, but we escaped and eventually drove to Mryland, on the northern coast of Flakstad. The road there had lots of warning signs about avalanches and falling rocks, and considering the weather we had just had I was constantly looking up waiting for the giant boulder that was going to kill me. Luckily it never came, and we eventually made it to a sandy beach strewn with massive rocks. Looks like more moody beach shots were in order.

Moody rocks near Myrland. 5s @ f8. ISO 320, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 27mm

A slow-ish exposure of 5 seconds gave the water from the incoming tide some movement but kept the distinctive circle around the rock in the foreground. There was a pretty mean sky behind obscuring the top of the looming mountains in the background. Again, I did process this one in black and white as well but it just lost a lot of character. I felt that the subtle, muted tones gave it a more oppressive tone than a black and white did. But I’ve never been a huge fan of black and white and use it very sparingly.

Day 4 – Back in to hiding

Another terrible weather day. I can’t even remember if we went anywhere this day, I think we did, but I’ve got nothing in my Lightroom catalog for that day, so I’ll assume I didn’t shoot anything interesting. I’m trying to retrospectively write this almost 4 months after, so my memory is a bit patchy. On the plus side, towards the end of the day the weather started clearing, and there were decent indications of the Aurora making an appearance…

Day 5 – Aurora Time! Plus some more cabins at Hamnoy.

Sure enough, the weather cleared and we were on for an Aurora! We headed to Flakstad beach, a popular sandy beach surrounded by (surprise surprise) mountains. As we turned up the light show started behind us, but there wasn’t much of a subject to point at. Getting the Aurora on it’s own is all well and good, but without some sort of subject in the photo as well, even something simple, it can feel a bit pointless. So after using that as a test we headed down to the beach and set up pointing towards the mountain, hoping the Aurora would reappear above it. After quite a while of waiting around eventually we, kind of, got what we wanted.

Aurora Rainbow, Flakstad Beach, Lofoten. 6s @ f2.8. ISO 1000, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 16mm

To the naked eye this was pretty faint, but with a 6 second exposure, max aperture and an ISO of 1000 it came out quite clearly. With a touch of reflection in the shore and the way the Aurora seems to come out from behind the mountain like a rainbow it made for an unexpectedly nice composition. I can’t quite decide if the cloud that appears in the left hand side just underneath the Aurora ruins it or helps it, but I’m not a god and couldn’t move it so we’ll live with it.

At around 3am we headed back to our temporary homes, and after less than 4 hours sleep we were up again for sunrise, but god damn was it worth it. We headed to Hamnøy, which was mercifully only two minutes down the road, and set up on the bridge alongside a line of about 30 or 40 other people, so space was at a premium. I found a nice spot, set up and waited. Once again I deployed the Big Stopper to bring down the shutter speed to get some movement in the water. After a bit of waiting, we were greeted with a lovely, soft pink in the sky, and the shutters along the bridge started clattering more fiercely.

Hamnøy Sunrise, Hamnøy, Lofoten. 15s @ f9. ISO 100, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 24mm

This ended up being my favourite shot of the whole trip (so if you want to not bother reading the week 2 blog that’s fine). I did have to use my somewhat limited Photoshop skills to get rid of two cars that slightly spoiled the shot. Can you spot where they should be? I hope not, I’ve showed plenty of other people and they’ve not noticed, so it can’t have been that bad.

That was about it for day 5. We went a few other places after Hamnøy but it was probably my sleep deprived state that left me with not many decent shots to show for it.

Day 6 – Another nasty day

Another nasty day enveloped the islands, and Tom was feeling pretty rough as well, so a couple of us headed 2 minutes down the road in the morning and got this pretty little cabin sitting by the water.

Cabin at Litl Toppøya. 3 minutes @ f9. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 38mm

According to OpenStreetMap this place is called Litl Toppøya. The mountain you see in the background is exactly the same mountain in the shot of Hamnøy from the previous day. This tiny little bunch of islands in a few square miles were proving very fertile photographic grounds. While I was there I thought I’d grab a quick panorama as well, to give a sense of scale.

Panorama at Litl Toppøya. 5 images. 1/15s @ f9. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 38mm

The water was a bit messy in this one, with the requirement to shoot slightly faster for the panorama, but the sky had a touch more drama in it.

And that was pretty much it for that day. The next day we would be leaving Tom behind half way through the day and venturing out on our own, but not before getting a lovely sunrise over Sakrisøy, but that’s for the next post.