Lofoten Islands – Week 2

This is part 2 about my time in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, on another Tom Mackie workshop. Read the previous post about week 1.

Day 7 – Sunrise over Sakrisøy, Sunset over a shed.

Day 7 heralded our last day with Tom and our last day in Sakrisøy before we headed out on our own further north. It started with a trek up the hill out the back of our cabins for sunrise. With a bit of scrabbling and sliding we eventually got set up in a prime spot overlooking Sakrisøy, then we waited for the magic light. For a moment it looked like the clouds were going to scupper us again, but soon enough it cleared.

Sakrisøy Sunrise. Panorama. 10s @ f9. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

I chose to again use the Lee Filters stoppers (can’t remember which one, probably little) to get a slower shutter speed and smooth out the water, which had the added benefit of showing off a lovely mix of colours in the water which would have been lost in the slightly choppy surface. The island on the right of the picture is Sakrisøy, in fact, the very cabins that we were staying in were the ones to the right of the white building on the near shore.

After scrambling (read: falling) back down the hill we packed our things and left Sakrisøy. We ventured north to our new home in the fishing town of Ballstad, then continued north on the E10 to reach the Lofoten Tourist Centre. We weren’t there to go inside and have a coffee though, we’d just spotted a damn near perfect reflection in Steirapollen Lake at the side of the road. And what photographer can say no to a good reflection (I soon learned the answer, none).

Mountain reflections, Steirapollen Lake. Panorama. 1/320s @ f9. ISO 50, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 16mm

The shape of this particular mountain range led itself to a bit of creative zooming, as well as using my artistic licence to flip the image.

Arrowhead mountain, Steirapollen Lake. 1/200s @ f8. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 27mm

And voila, an arrowhead! I think flipping the image helped make it obvious what I wanted you to see, with the arrow going the standard from left to right, but maybe I’m wrong, let me know either way in the comments!

And it was with this last stop that we said goodbye to our tutor and friend Tom. He was off to take on another workshop whilst we struck out on our own. 5 of us in a Skoda Octavia. It was, uhrm, cosy. Well, it was for the mugs in the back anyway…

Before heading back home there was just time to find somewhere for sunset. With a bit of driving we came across a nice little shed by the water. The main attraction was actually a mountain in the distance, but the light never really caught it, so I got a nice sky, a nice colourful reflection in the water and a shed. What? Not every photo can be of some beautiful mountain ranges!

Red shed sunset. HDR @ f8. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 70mm

I did a bit of minor HDR’ing using the Nik Collection to bring out the very dark shed a bit more whilst still getting the great colours of the sky and the water.

Day 8 – Another Aurora! And a smashed lens.

We were on for another Aurora, so headed to Uttakleiv beach, a popular spot on the east coast north of the ‘capital’ Leknes. After scrambling down to the rocky shore with just the red light from my head torch (didn’t want wreck anyones shot if I accidentally pointed it at them) and saying hi to Tom and his new group of workshoppers who happened to be there as well the light show started. Just. It was pretty faint but with a bit of good timing we still managed to pull off some decent, if not exactly award winning, shots.

Aurora at Uttakleiv. 6s @ f2.8. IS) 800, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 14mm
Aurora at Uttakleiv. 6s @ f2.8. IS) 800, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 14mm

After a few hours here we decided to head back to Ballstad at about midnight. We got through the tunnel and saw the lights start to appear behind us again, needless to say we swung in to the next pull in, hopped over the railings and got the cameras out.

Touch of Aurora. 8s @ f2.8. ISO 640, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 20mm

The shape of this particular aurora seemed to bend itself quite nicely over the mountain, which I emphasised by cropping down to a square format image. The strong moon lit up the mountain and cast a nice reflection in the water with a relatively low ISO of only 640 and a shutter speed of 9 seconds. Sadly this was to be my last photo taken with my trusty Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 Wideangle. For this trip I’d bought a new Tripod, a ‘3 Legged Thing’. It was super light and strong enough for most (but not quite all) conditions we faced so far. Problem was I hadn’t got used to the screw tight release plate on the ball head that I got with it, as I had only ever had heads with quick release plates. The screw in plate is fine as long as you are not trying to determine if it’s tight through gloves whist tired. I hadn’t screwed my camera on tightly enough and picked up the tripod to move just a few feet when the whole plate, with camera attached, slipped off and crashed from 6 feet onto the rocks below.

I almost cried.

Any other camera at this point would have been ruined, and that would have been my photography for the rest of the week over. Luckily I use a Nikon D4, which is certified grizzly bear proof, and apart from a few scratches and a small bit of plastic dislodged in the eyepiece (which I don’t even notice anymore) it was in perfect working order.

The lens was not so lucky. In the dark it looked like it survived, it was only when I tried to focus it I noticed a problem. Turns out the metal part at the rear of the lens, the bit that keeps all the important bits together, had bent a bit out of shape.

So that was done for, but luckily I only had a few more days left. Even more luckily home contents insurance covered a full replacement for it, so I had a shiny new one within a couple weeks of getting home.

Day 9 – Ballstad, stuck French tourists and more red cabins.

Another morning, another glorious sunrise, this time just two minutes around the corner from our base at Ballstad. Mike did a little recee the previous morning whilst I was still in bed and found us a nice spot with some yellow (not red!) cabins. When we first turned up it was snowing and cloudy, so we started heading back, but then all of a sudden the weather cleared. We swung a quick 180 and set up again. The far shore in this photo is where we were staying.

Yellow cabins at Ballstad, 10s @ f8. ISO 64, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 26mm

Whilst here we were visited by a friendly local who took a quick photo of us, he said this was the view he woke up to every morning. Couldn’t help but feel a little envious, but being able to capture it was good enough!

We then headed on a bit of an adventure north to Henningsvær, a fishing village nestled in a bunch of islands on the south coast of Austvågøya. It was a great drive along the coast, taking in many classic Lofoten sights along the way, including the obligatory tourist in a totally inappropriate vehicle spun out and stuck in a snowy verge. After being all heroic and pushing the little Citreon without studded tyres back on to the road we carried on and came across a great little iced up lake overlooked by mountains and (you guessed it) little red cabins.

Red cabins across the ice, 1/50s @ f8. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 35mm

The clouds meant timing was everything to try and get some decent light on the mountains. There was also a fairly strong wind that was whipping up the icy, sharp snow all around us, giving us a lovely case of windburn. Being right by the lake I also made the mistake of leaving one of my tripod legs slightly in the water, resulting in it freezing up a treat, but after wrapping it up in my buff and gloves and sticking it in the back of the car it soon sorted itself out.

A little further on we came across another little red cabin (well, more of a shed this time) stuck out in the middle of an inlet on its own. Naturally we pulled in and got shooting.

Isolation, 8s @ f9. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 27mm

I shot this one portrait to try and make it seem even more isolated and to capture the big sky we had overhead. I was a little disappointed by the sea in this one, it ended up just looking a bit messy rather than smooth. The telegraph pole on the left hand side is also a wee bit distracting, but I could get rid of that if I work on my Photoshop skills a bit more.

We did eventually make it to Henningsvær and, although its a wonderful place I didn’t really get any decent photos. Just goes to show that the best stuff can sometimes come from the most unlikely sources, in this case the random spots we came across on our way.

Day 10 – Frozen sand, surfs up, and my last day of shooting

The day started with a trip to Haukland beach. We were the only ones on this white sandy beach that looked like it should have been somewhere in the Mediterranean, if it weren’t for the snowy mountains that surrounded it and the fact that you could pick up the sand in icy sheets and smash it.

Touch of sunrise, 1/8s @ f8. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

The little inlet we hopped over in the foreground leads the eye quite nicely to the mountains in the backgrounds which just got touched with sun at the top, making it look almost fake.

Sunrise done we headed back home, then to the bay at Unstad, but not before stopping the side of the road for a quick church shot.

Buksnes church, Gravdal, 1/1250s @ f8. ISO 250, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 195mm

This was pretty much the first time I got to use my favourite 70-200mm lens. Naturally, landscape doesn’t often lend itself to telephoto shots, but occasionally it can be good not only for capturing things a bit too far away, but also for compressing the perspective or simply removing unwanted distractions.

Unstad is a small village on the western coast of Vestvagoy island. Its beach is apparently famed for its surfer friendly waves, unsurprisingly there were none there on this day, just one other pair of German photographers.

Misty rocks, Unstad, 30s @ f9. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 44mm

I used a 30 second exposure to completely kill off any movement in the waves and turn it to mist. I particularly like the contrast between the dark rocks and the white, misty sea, especially in the middle distance. The sky was a welcome surprise as well with a touch of streakiness in the clouds.

Just for good measure we headed back to Uttakliev beach one last time, and I ended up with a shot that I still, after 5 months, can’t decide if I like or not.

Rushing sea, Uttakliev beach, 4s @ f11. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

I like the movement in the waves in the foreground, captured using a fairly slow 4 second exposure whilst the tide was receding. I also like the clouds coming off the mountain in the rop left that almost make it look like the mountain is on fire. But there’s something about the image I don’t like which I haven’t figured out yet. Lack of a real subject, or possibly the overly bright centre portion (which I could fix). Or something else.

That was to be the last day of shooting, the next day we got up early and headed home, this time with me taking the little prop plane hop back to Bodo. So much quicker than the ferry. I was sad to be leaving this stunning place and parting ways with my newly acquired friends, but at the same time I was quite happy to be heading home. On the last day there came a point where everyone else was shooting something, and I just didn’t have the energy anymore, so sat atop a hill just looking at the view instead. It was bliss. Its something you don’t often get a chance to do when trying to capture the scene. There’s no doubt that going to these places with a camera helps me appreciate the scenes in front of me more and take time to really get to know it, but at the same time it was lovely to put the camera down and just sit watching the view.

Yet again this was an experience I’ll never forget, and it was made so much better with the brilliant support of my fellow photographers, who not only helped me enormously in the photographic department but were the best little team of people I could have wished to have been with. And with the exception of one broken lens, it was a largely successful trip, with plenty learnt and lots of photos to treasure, I even ended up putting a bunch of them up (along with some of my shots from Iceland the previous year) on my wall.

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed the blog or fancy commenting on any of these shots please just give me a shout in the comments, or you can find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Lofoten Islands – Week 1

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.