I spent a week in Norway this winter (2020) photographing the sights of the Lofoten Islands with 5 other photographers. The Lofoten Islands are an archipelago of islands known for dramatic landscapes with rugged mountains and peaks, beautiful blue fjords, sandy beaches and sheltered bays. Lofoten is also known for colorful traditional fishing villages.
I spent a day flying from Chicago to Oslo, Norway. I spent the night near the Oslo airport. The next day I caught my flight to Bodo. My flight from Bodo to Leknes on a small plane got cancelled due to the weather. There was an extreme low-pressure system over Iceland and Norway during this time. Apparently, they wouldn’t be able to calibrate the planes instruments because of the low pressure. My options were wait and possibly go later in the evening or take a four-hour trip on an inside steamer (ferry) from Bodo to Stamsund. Stamsund is only 15 minutes from my destination at Leknes. I got in touch with the leaders of the group and they agreed to pick me up in Stamsund. Unfortunately, it rained the entire trip and I didn’t get to see much of the ocean and archipelago.
We stayed at a resort called Lofoten Basecamp. They were nice cabins made to look like the classic Lofoten fisherman’s cabins. I got lucky and had an entire cabin to myself, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen/living room. For me the trip started the next day since I was a little late having come on the ferry.
After a quick breakfast, our first stop was Skagstranden beach. Skagstranden is a wide sandy beach with a jagged mountain in the background. There was not a lot of snow on the mountains or ground. It had been raining over the previous days. This would change and we would have some snow each day.
We next headed to Nusfjord, one of the quaint little fishing villages with many red fisherman’s cabins along the shore, many out over the water of the fjord on stilts. These huts were originally for itinerant fisherman that worked in the area during the fishing season.
After leaving Nusfjord we stopped at a large lake called Strovatnet. Strovatnet means “big lake” in Norwegian. There were nice patterns in the ice which were probably made by the wind blowing thin layers of ice. The sun tried to peak out at one point but never made it.
On our way to our sunset location at Uttakleiv we stopped at Flakstadpollen, a large bay with turquoise-colored water. A long exposure smoothed out the water.
Our destination Uttakleiv is another wide beach. Portions of the shore is rocky with many large boulders. We never got our desired sunset, the sky remained overcast as it was all day long. Walking down to the shoreline I noticed this sculpture that I thought was nice since it was only a few days before Valentine’s day.
The tide was up and the waves were crashing upon the rocky shore. I shot a number of long exposures of the surf. This can give some interesting movement to the water and create “ghost” rocks. You never quite know how things will look until you’ve made the image. It’s hard to visualize what the image will look like ahead of time. It all depends on the wave and your timing of the photograph.
We finally got our snow. At times the driving conditions were a “white out.” I was glad I wasn’t responsible for the driving. Our first stop was the Grimsoy church which is at the edge of the sea. The tide was out and the seaweed was exposed but covered with snow. It was a pretty unique scene, the snow-covered seaweed, white church and the snow-covered mountain in the background. It’s not often you see snow-covered seaweed. We had fun composing many photographs while the snow was coming down.
Our next stop was the small town of Henningsvaer. Henningsvær is spread across a number of islands, with breakwaters and dikes bringing the fishing village together. Access to Henningsvaer is by bridge which is common for many of the towns and areas of Lofoten.
We stopped for coffee and sweets in Henningsvaer and did a little souvenir shopping. Henningsvaer is a quaint small fishing village with a small harbor and a famous soccer field at the tip of one of the islands making up the town.
I was most intrigued by the fish hanging up to dry. We had been seeing these fish racks along our drives. This was the first opportunity to see them closeup. The fish is cod. This is the traditional way of preserving the cod. These fish were fresh and smelly. Actually, we smelled a fishy odor in many towns due to the drying cod. We just got used to the smell. I learned later that much of the dried cod goes to Italy.
We came across some red sheds along a small fjord after leaving Henningsvaer. We stopped to photograph this idyllic scene with the snow-covered mountains in the background. The shed had cables attached to it. We noticed this on other buildings which we assumed was to stabilize the structure from the winds and storms that can hit this archipelago.
We stopped along the E10, the main road through the archipelago for sunset. The sun was trying to peek out from the clouds over the sea. It made for wonderful pink colors on the distant mountains. Eventually the sun peeked through clouds for an interesting sunset. The sunset was nice but I thought the best scenes were where the setting sun was reflected onto the clouds over the mountain.
I wanted to try the dried fish for a meal but we saw this sight of gulls trying to feed on the fish and I lost my appetite for dried fish and instead had fresh cod.
We were at Balstad harbor for sunrise. We had great color on the mountains and great reflections on the water in the harbor.
We made several stops prior to our destination for the next segment of the trip, the town of Reine. The first stop was a small waterfall below the usual rugged mountain in the background. I also found the ice forming in the stream interesting.
We stopped at Skagstranden Beach again to watch a surfer in the cold water.
We dropped our bags off at the Lofoten Bed and Breakfast and headed out to probably the most iconic location in the Lofoten Archipelago, the bridge in the small fishing village of Hemnoy. This is a popular spot to photograph and we lined up with other photographers on the one-lane bridge overlooking the old fisherman’s cabins. Some of these date to the 1890s. The cabins have been rehabbed and are rented out to tourists. We were hoping for some sun to light up the scene, but no such luck. We would return and try again along with other photographers.
We got up early and hiked up to a hilltop overlooking the small fishing village of Sakrisoya which is just a very small island. Crampons were in order getting up to the top of the hill. There was one other photographer up on top when we got there. It was overcast and the color wasn’t good. The other photographer started to leave and told us we were 10 minutes too late. We stayed around in the sleet and snow and in about 10 minutes the sun started to peek through the clouds and paint the mountains pink. I’m not sure why the other photographer thought we were late but it sure seemed he left 10 minutes too soon.
We then traveled farther south, as far as you can drive to the town of A, pronounced “aw.” We were in whiteout conditions again and didn’t stay in A but worked our way back north. We stopped at a spot overlooking the town of Reine. We got some photographs of the town before the snow started getting serious.
We returned to the Hemnoy bridge location for sunset. We got more images of the cabins with the snowy mountain in the background. While we were there, a fishing boat left the harbor.
Once the sun had set, we moved to another iconic location of a footbridge. It was difficult shooting because you had to be on a small road to photograph it properly and there was lots of traffic of workers driving from work. I gave up and spent my time photographing around a house nearby and the town of Reine from the dock. I think my photograph of the town of Reine at night is one of my favorites from the trip.
We went back to the overlook of the town of Reine before sunrise (the blue hour). The light was nice reflected off the water of the harbor.
We went back to Hamnoy again but not the bridge location. We were behind the iconic cabins that are photographed from the bridge. Here we found more colorful cabins and a harbor.
Our ultimate goal for sunset was to return to Uttakleiv beach. We had time to make stops on the way if we saw anything interesting. We stopped at a pretty scene of the high arched bridges linking up parts of the archipelago. We crossed many of these bridges. We also passed through numerous tunnels; some were under the fjords linking different sides of the fjord.
We stopped at Ramsberg to examine the beach and made another visit to Nusfjord. While we were there, an inland steamer came and dropped off some passengers. These ferries are a regular way of getting around the Lofoten islands
Our final stop of the trip was back to Uttakleiv for sunset. The sea was not as wild and the tide was lower than on our first visit. On the first visit we couldn’t find the famous “eye of Uttakleiv” or “dragon’s eye.” The crashing waves during our first visit covered up the eye. It was easy to find this time with all the photographers around it and we had to wait our turn. It’s a round rock in a depression that looks somewhat like an eye. I had fun photographing the surf and rocks with a long shutter speed. More water streaks and ghost rocks.
It was time to leave. I had the early flight and I was dropped off at the tiny Leknes airport. The plane left Bodo and at some point, during its flight to Leknes it turned around and went back. So, my flight out of Leknes was cancelled just like my flight into Leknes. This time the airline bused us to a large airport in the north of the archipelago. It was a 4-hour trip and it snowed the entire way. The only good thing was we were on a direct flight to Oslo and I didn’t have to transfer in Bodo. It snowed most of the way and the roads were slick but we made it. I’d love to go back to Norway but I’m not sure about in the winter when air travel can be easily disrupted.
I spent the night in Oslo and left the next day for home via a stopover in Iceland. I was rewarded with clear skies over Iceland, Greenland and Labrador, Canada. Here’s a view of a glacial arm coming off the largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajokkull.
I had a great trip and would like to go back with Maureen in the summer.