Category Archives: Lofoten

Keeping An Open Mind

The Making of the Reine Panorama

Following the interest in Janet’s Reine panorama image, I thought a brief account of how this set of images came about might be of interest.

We’d arrived in Reine village on the beautiful Lofoten islands in the early afternoon after a hard day and half’s travelling, but by the time we’d found our accommodation and got settled in, it only left a little time for exploration. We’d done our research on the internet before embarking, so had some ideas about the area, but there’s nothing to compare with local knowledge. We had a meagre meal that evening using the limited cooking facilities in the cabin then turned in early full of excitement and anticipation for the following morning.


The alarm went off at 5.30am and we bounced out of bed, had a quick coffee and out into the cold winter wonderland. We were just thawing out the car and loading up when Bruce Percy and his party trudged up the street towards us. It was our love of Bruce’s work that first gave us the idea of going to Lofoten, so I bounded up to him and introduced us. He looked pretty taken aback, so we let him and his party move on and we got ready to move off.

Next problem, the sun was coming up quickly, so where do we go to take advantage of it? We had to move quickly, so drove out of the village and parked in the car park overlooking the village. The sky was looking great by now, but the foreground from the carpark was scruffy and all the time the light was strengthening.


Panic was starting to set in, this was going to be a lovely sunrise, but were we in a position to do it justice? I moved slightly to my left and managed to get a shot of the village without the scruffy undergrowth in the foreground, but it could be better.


Time to calm down a bit and engage my brain. Check the image on the monitor and consider how it could be improved and also do a recce of the immediate surroundings for a better composition, as well as check the histogram and camera settings.

As I looked around I spotted a steep track out of the carpark that led to a flat area with an uninterrupted view of the village and mount Olstind. This was definitely what I wanted! Once in place and set up, the light was getting fabulous, this was the moment we’d come here to experience and capture! A mixture of the crystal clear arctic light and calm conditions was giving us an opportunity to capture some beautiful images. Note to self, engage brain again and do a good job. By now the light on the mountains was fabulous, so I set up and captured a landscape format image.


Then set up to take it in portrait format.

Early morning light on Olstind and Reine town

Bingo, a nice image in the bag, then back down to earth as I remembered Janet was still in the carpark. I shot back up the track to help her down the slippery slope to my vantage point, but all the time I was conscious that the sunrise was happening very rapidly infront of us.

Time was marching on and the light was moving from that cold early morning blue and pink to a much warmer orange, but we were in the right position, so concentrate, work the scene and hone our compositions and keep checking that histogram.

Early morning light on Olstind and Reine town

Once set up Janet captured the warming light on Olstind, then it was time to work the scene further. As the light grew stronger, it became ever warmer and Janet was able to capture the panorama that was to become one of the highlights of the shoot.

700-1-7295-R revisited-Edit

All this happened in the space of just under an hour, so elated with what we’d witnessed, we returned to our cabin for breakfast and time to review what we’d captured. It was at this point I was mortified to see that I’d chopped the reflection off the Olstind image.


I’d been so wrapped up in capturing the sky I’d failed to follow my own rule of check and double check the composition. Everything happens so quickly in these situations, it’s hard to keep your mind fully open, but it has to be done and only comes with practice. Looking back on the positive side, this image I’m so disappointed with has just sold twice to magazines, so that I guess isa  small consolation. As it turned this was by far the best morning of the trip, as the weather gradually closed in on us. Once home we were soon planning a return trip for the following year. Lessons had been learned, set out earlier, stay focussed and keep an open and active mind and above all check, check and check again. Our second trip was very good and allowed us to produce a strong set of images, but the conditions never compared with the morning I chopped the reflection off mount Olstind. It’s these little details that matter and I’ll never forgive myself for this silly error.



Lofoten Islands

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.

Sakrisoy Roruber

Sakrisoy Roruber

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!

Flakstad beach

Flakstad beach

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.

Olstind Sunrise

Olstind Sunrise

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.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

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 ) , 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.

Rope Drift

Rope Drift

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=”;psc=1″>;psc=1</a> as the wind can freeze the fingers, but you will often need bare fingers to handle filters, cold runny noses etc.

Twilight Glow

Twilight Glow

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.

Lofoten 2013

Tired of following everyone else around the same old places, we decided to do something totally different in March2012 and went to the Lofoten islands off the arctic coast of Norway. The Lofotens are the Norwegian equivalent of our Outer Hebrides and we were blown away by the stunning scenery. So much so that we decided to go again this year, only in February this time to guarantee plenty of snow.

Two weeks before we set off, the islands were covered in deep snow so everything looked promising, then with a week to go it started to rain. By the time we arrived on the islands, most of the snow had been washed away by the rain, but the place still looked pretty good all the same. The first 3 days were a mixture of showers and gale force winds, making things very difficult and our moods gradually sank. By day 4 the weather really closed in on us and the visibility disappeared altogether into the horizontal rain. We were starting to get stir crazy and the mood in the cabin was pretty low by now and tempers were beginning to fray. However day 5 dawned snowy if a little windy, so we got up early to shoot the sunrise at Reine. The better day raised all our spirits and it felt good to finally get out and get working. The weather got gradually better and better over the next few days and more snow turned the place into a winter wonderland and the sun even shone so everyone started to smile!

I’ve always maintained that it’s not the equipment that matters, it’s seeing the shot that really counts and that was brought home to us each evening as we reviewed our shots and marvelled at the wonderful images our friend John Potter had produced each day, he really has good eye for a scene.

I’ve always been good at getting out there and trying to get the shot, but another great lesson I learned from John on this trip is not only getting out there, but staying out even if it means going hungry because you never know when the light is going to come and you need to be out there to capture the shot.

We can really recommend the Lofotens in winter, but the weather is changeable, so bank on staying more than a week to avoid missing a good weather window. Three years ago Lofoten was an almost unheard of winter destination, but all of a sudden it has been discovered and is opening up to winter tourism very rapidly, so go soon if you want to beat the crowds.

Flying North for the Winter!

Early March saw us embark on a great adventure to the Lofoten Isles off northern Norway deep inside the arctic circle. We are often drawn to remote islands, but this has to be our most way out yet even surpassing the Isles of Eigg and Harris.

Not many people visit the Lofoten islands in winter, but the winter light can be awesome, as we saw on the drive down from the airport in Leknes to our base in Reine in south of the islands. We stayed in a fisherman’s hut or rorbu overlooking the fjord with Reinebringen mountain as a backdrop.

Picture postcard stuff!

After a storm the sky cleared on our first night, so we were treated to a faint but tantalising display by the northern lights, so far so good. 5 am the following morning saw me woken by fabulous arctic twilight, so we were up, out, working and smiling!

We had planned to shoot a lot of low visibility winter mono shots, but as is often the case with these wild, remote places, the weather can be very variable, so we spent the rest of the week dodging rain, smow, gales and glorious sunny periods. All in all a magic place to visit and well worth the effort.