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Norway Cruise 2017

Recently I went on a cruise to Norway for my brothers wedding. If you’re gonna get married, that’s a pretty decent way to do it. Naturally my camera came with me. We visited four ports, Stavanger, Olden, Andalsnes and Bergen, and each one had a very unique feel and a different photographic challenge.

Port 1 – Stavanger

The first port we stopped at was Stavanger, a large town famed for its streets of original wooden houses and known as the ‘oil capital of Norway’. Having done some prior research I’d found a specific shot that I wanted to get, so jumped ship as soon as I could and got walking. After initially walking in completely the wrong direction I eventually got back on track and started what I thought would be a decent but not overly long walk. I was wrong. It’s amazing how short a route looks on Google Maps when sat at home. After about a 2 hour walk in surprisingly hot weather, taking in some of the sights such as the main park and the Sverd i fjell monument to the battle of Hafrsfjord I made it to my destination.

Boathouse at Stavanger. 10s @ f10. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

What it was I’m still not sure of, some sort of boat shelter maybe? Either way it’s quite pretty, and the rocks leading up to it create a lovely leading line. The sky was playing ball and, being nearly the middle of the day, the sea was also nicely lit. The only issue was the shadow put over the front of the boathouse, but this was just a compromise on the time I could be there. That’s the main issue with trying to mix cruising and photography, you are very restricted on times, no sunsets or sunrises as you are generally at sea at those times.

Boathouse at Stavanger. 5s @ f10. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

The beauty of the shot was slightly offset by the fact that I knew I had another 2 hour walk back to the ship with all my kit, but all in all, a worthwhile trek.

Port 2 – Olden

Our second port of call was Olden. I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning to watch the sunrise as we floated through the small fjords leading to Olden. It was freezing cold with the wind but a stunning sight, seeing the sky slowly light up the mountains around us. This was a definite advantage of being on a cruise ship, you could get a unique perspective. Being on a boat means I didn’t really bother trying to get any proper photos, but I did take a quick and dirty panorama just to remember it by.

Sunrise on Innvikfjorden. Panorama @ f7.1. ISO 800

Once we arrived I made a beeline for Olden Church, a red, wooden church built in 1934 that is a popular attraction. In an attempt to get the whole thing and show off the mountains behind I decided to get quite close and use my 14-24mm wide angle and take 3 exposures, which I later merged in Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Olden Church. HDR of 3 exposures @ f9. ISO 100, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 14mm

The clouds were just building as I grabbed the shot, and somehow I managed to avoid getting anyone in the shot and having to blend them out.

Port 3 – Åndalsnes

Our third port, and the most northerly on this trip, was Åndalsnes. The plan for this trip was to climb to the top of Nesaksla, 715m above sea level, and maybe get some shots along the way. It’s a great walk initially through woodland then up the side of the rocky mountain, before a few final scrambles to the top. At 550m there is a relatively new platform that juts out of the side of the mountain and gives you a spectacular view over Åndalsnes, although if you’re not a fan of heights I wouldn’t recommend looking down.

View from Rampestreken viewpoint, 550m above sea level, Åndalsnes. Panorama @ f8. ISO 100.

After another 45 minutes or so we made it to the top and were treated with views of every angle.

View from Nesaksla looking towards Isfjordan. 1/80s @ f8. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm.

Port 4 – Bergen

Our final port was Bergen, the second largest city in Norway and a far cry from the much quieter ports we had visited so far. I’m very much a country person so trying to photograph in a pretty big city proved to be quite a challenge for me. I wandered through the main centre and was getting slightly disappointed by the lack of photo opportunities, thinking maybe I should have gone on an excursion rather than freewheeling it. I eventually came across this red brick, gothic style church with steps leading up to it.

St John Church (Johanneskirken), Bergen. HDR @ f10. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 36mm.

This shot was all about the vibrant colours, hence it was created from 3 bracketed shots combined together to balance the exposure and really make the red pop.

After walking a bit further I came across a lovely little park with a large lake and some beautiful blossoming trees. There were a large number of people around feeding the many birds on edge of the lake, but a ten second exposure blurred them away and smoothed the water out.

Byparken, Bergen. 10s @ f13. ISO 64 (Low 1), Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 40mm.

I quite like the effect of the blurry birds and people on the edge offset with the stillness of the trees and the lake. I did have to Photoshop out a crane in the top right of the shot, but thanks to content aware fill and a bit of manual cloning it was gone in no time.

So that was the last port and the end of an interesting photographic adventure. Trying to photograph on a cruise holiday comes with challenges, specifically being tied to a ship and its docking/departure times. It does have the advantage of seeing many different places and having a very comfortable base to come back to, so swings and roundabouts, but all in all I came away with more photos than I thought I would and the weather was very kind, so no complaints.

Oh and the wedding was nice as well. Guess I’d better add that bit.

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.