As the nights draw in here in the UK, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit my shoot over in Lofoten Islands, Norway last year.
In Norway I explored the photographic possibilities that came with 22 hours of night, including how to hunt for the aurora borealis, make the most of the blue moment, and how to ensure I was in the best spot for the two hours of daylight available in mid January.
After one car journey, two trains, and three planes, I finally arrived in Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands, on the northern tip of Norway. It’s a mightily impressive place with mountains ripping through the sea and towering above the small villages dotted around the islands.
The first thing I noticed was the darkness. What with going in january and the islands being well within the arctic circle I had only two hours of direct sunlight a day. That meant the sun skipped above the horizon in a low arc giving a solid two hour sunrise/sunset all in one. A golden two-hour. Fantastic news for photographers, but with one caveat: you have to predict how the light will fall in a given location before you get there. With almost 22 hours of night time to plan for this, it’s not much of a problem if you have something like The Photographer’s Ephemeris or PhotoPills. Even a quick search online will give you the details you need.
However, I highly recommend getting a guide to make the most of your time there, especially if you’re not spending long in Lofoten. They’ll help you get to the best spots, track the weather and hunt for aurora with the most interesting foregrounds all over the islands.
The most famous, postcard picture of Lofoten that you’ll surely have already seen is the village of Hamnøy. Being here for golden light is special. Facing the iconic mountain the sun swoops behind you and bathes the scene in momentary warmth. A tripod is essential here, I wanted to slightly blur the movement in the water but maintain the strength of the waves that crashed on the rocks. One to three seconds did exactly that, blurred, but still with a little detail. You’ll also want to bring gloves and a microfibre cloth for your lens/filters, because when the snow comes in, you really know about it.
Two hours of golden light sounds amazing, and it truly is, when you get it. Hands clasped together, you have to pray for a break in cloud cover in order to get those rich, warm colours. Otherwise, it’s pale blue skies for you, before trying again the next day. I experienced at least a couple of days where it was cloudy the whole two hours I was trying to shoot (ironically, clear again after the sun had set) but this light can still be beautiful, you just have to plan for it.
Beaches like Skagsanden are a godsend when you’re unsure if the clouds will part or not. At Skagsanden I was met with deep, ornate patterns in the sand, rocks jutting into the seascape and pyramidal mountain ranges in the distance. The sun didn’t show its face, but it didn’t matter. The blue light and minimal contrast allowed me to shoot some of the most stunning lines I’ve ever captured in my landscape work. Due to the minimal light levels an exposure of 10 seconds was needed to get the shot. I set my aperture to f/16 and focused a third of the way into the frame to make sure my entire scene was sharp. This narrow aperture also gave star brights to the light from the distant hut.
When the sun sets in Lofoten one might naively think that’s it for the day, but the darkness opens up a whole other world of shooting. Long exposures, star trails, galaxies and the reason all photographers travel north during the winter: the northern lights, aurora borealis. Read part two of my Lofoten landscape adventure in my blog post next week to see how to hunt for, and successfully shoot the northern lights.