For anyone looking for a photo adventure, the Lofoten islands off arctic Norway might just be the place for you. It’s more compact than Iceland and still relatively unknown, though it is gaining popularity very rapidly, so now is the time to go while it’s still un-developed. It’s a fairly expensive place to get to from the UK, requiring 3 flights to get there, but good deals on the flights can be obtained if you book well in advance.
Last year we only saw a few tourists/photographers, but this year it had increased 10 fold and I spoke to people from a very diverse selection of countries, from Latvia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and many more. So I guess it’s easier to get to from mainland Europe.
Virtually the only accommodation available is in the Rorbu’s, (Fishermen’s huts that have been converted into holiday lets, dotted all around the coast). Accommodation was hard to come by last year, but that has all changed now with the Rorbu owners realising there’s money to be made by opening up in winter, instead of just the short summer season. The Rorbu’s make ideal bases and tend to be warm and cosy, but don’t come cheap and have adequate, but limited facilities inside compared with a UK holiday let. Budget for £100/night for a basic Rorbu, though the one we had this year was spacious and could easily accommodate six people with space to spare.
Buying food (All packaged in Norwegian of course!) can be a bit of an adventure at first, but the Co-op in Reine is very good and all the staff are very friendly and helpful, as are all the locals. If you like fish as we do, then you’ll eat well at reasonable prices, but things like frozen chicken fillets are also readily available. If you fancy a Sunday roast, then take out a second mortgage or sell a kidney. Price wise it’s not as bad as you might imagine; think Outer Hebrides prices and budget accordingly. We managed to buy beer at £2/can, so we even got a drink! Interestingly, we planned to push the boat out and celebrate the return of the snow with some wine, but there was no sign of any at all in the Co-op. There’s a nice coffee shop in Reine village, but precious few places to get a coffee or anything to eat apart from the Co-op, though there is an extensive Shopping Mall in Ramberg where you can buy everything from groceries to a fishing line or a washing machine.
Car hire came in at £560 for 10 days for a Toyota Avensis estate, so split between four of us, that wasn’t too bad. Petrol prices are also very comparable with the UK; we used £65 worth of Diesel in 10 days. I’ve done plenty of driving in snowy conditions, but having a hire car fitted with studs was a novel experience, though I still nearly managed to dump it in a fjord last year! On the plus side, a base in the Reine/Hamnoy area puts you within easy reach of all the best photo sites, so you don’t have to do big mileages if you don’t want to. We found being based in Sakrisoy meant we could cover most of what we wanted on foot and only used the car for the more outlying places like Ramburg, Ytresand and Flakstad. One regret is that we didn’t manage to get to Utaclieve in the north which has huge photographic potential, but weather didn’t permit a trip out there this time. More on the weather later, though a plus side of having a car is its good place to hide from the weather when it closes in!
We sat at Flakstad beach for hours waiting for the wind to die down and nearly lost the tailgate when I went to get our lunch!
For anyone considering going to Lofoten, plan on an absolute minimum stay of a week, preferably longer. It’s a relatively expensive place to get to and the weather can be very un-predictable, so bare in mind that you may be spending several days stuck inside riding out the weather. There’s no point in spending all that money getting there, only to be stuck in a cabin waiting for the rain to stop, then going home with no photos.
Last year day one for us was great, then the weather went dull and finally warmed up giving rain for several days which washed all the snow away and completely transformed the look of the place. This year we arrived with snow on the ground, but had 3 days intermittent rain, followed by a day of horizontal rain, which once again completely washed away all the snow. Fortunately the snow returned overnight and it was game on at last! If the conditions do come, then work hard even if it means going hungry as the weather may close in again.
It’s a similar story with the Northern lights. Last year we arrived after several nights of great sightings, but we were only given a tantalising glimpse on the first night, then had to wait another 4 nights before we got a moderate, if slightly cloudy show later in the week. Similar story this year; a few days before we arrived there had been clear skies and fantastic light shows (See http://www.codyduncan.com ) , but we had overcast night skies all the time we were there, so never got a glimpse this year. I read a quote from David Clapp saying “See the northern lights, it will change your life” and I tend to agree.
Access to most of the photo opportunities is dead easy as most can be got to with a short walk from the road (So no need to hire 4WD), but bare in mind it can be very icy; all of our party had several falls this year, fortunately with no injury except to the pride. I did the splits at one point and just as I recovered Kevin managed to fall flat on his face; I laughed so much I ended up flat on my back, so I gave up all plans to go to that particular jetty!
For the more adventurous there are the mountain trails and less accessible areas available, so there really is huge photographic potential and the variable weather produces some great conditions.
My favourite image from this year’s trip was captured in gale force winds and horizontal snow, so be prepared to work with the conditions. One of the great things about Lofoten, is that it looks much colder than it is? It has the benefit of being in the Gulf Stream, so temperatures in February/March tend to be in the -5/+5 degree region. I know where I’d rather go to photograph the northern lights compared with Sweden at -20! Though do remember to gear up for cold conditions as you will be standing about for long periods and it can get very wet and windy. I took lined walking trousers with a choice of thin and fleece base layers and only wore the fleece ones when out at dawn, the thin ones proving perfectly adequate most of the time. We also recommend good gloves with removable fingers <a href=”http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00368BKDO/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1″>http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00368BKDO/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1</a> as the wind can freeze the fingers, but you will often need bare fingers to handle filters, cold runny noses etc.
Apart from being a truly beautiful place, the big plus with the arctic is the quality and clarity of light! Even on an overcast day, there is often still enough good light bouncing around to make photographing possible and if like me you are fan of photographing in the twilight, then you have opportunities galore. Added to that the low winter sun means weather permitting you can often photograph for most of the day and the relatively short days mean you even get a reasonable amount of sleep. We tended to be out for an hour or two around dawn, back for breakfast, then out again before returning for some lunch and a rest around 11. The low sun meant you could go back out again around 2 o’clock and photograph right through until sunset at 5 o’clock and beyond. Sunsets there can be wonderful, though the overcast evenings meant we didn’t manage to get a good sunset either this year or last, but boy am I pleased with my Olstind sunrise.