The Lofoten Islands are a dream location for landscape photography, located in the Arctic Circle they have incredible mountains, beaches, fjords and fishing villages. Each season brings a distinct feel and a new level of awe, from a winter wonderland where the Aurora dances in the night sky, to summer where the mountains glow green and the midnight sun brings endless days.
I timed my arrival in the Lofoten Islands for the middle of April after 4674 miles driving through Europe so I can capture the Aurora before midnight sun made it impossible. Cloudy nights however ruined that plan which was a huge disappointment since this is one of the best places in the world to see it. I had planned to spend 4 weeks exploring the Islands and then be back on the road heading home again, but I quickly realised it would not be long enough to really experience this beautiful place, to see the snowy mountains turn to green, to hike all the Islands and capture each scene in all it’s glory. If I Stay long enough I may be able to see the Aurora in September when the nights are dark enough again.
I was lucky to have chosen to stay at Aimees Farm because she was able to let me stay for as long as I wanted beyond my initial 4 weeks. It become a home away from home sat right in the middle of the Islands and she became a good friend too joining me on hikes and camping together. The farm sits below Justadtinden mountain which has an amazing 360 degree view of Vestvågøya and beyond as shown above, but is rarely visited so I never saw another person at the top. At 738m high I would hike the mountain on bad weather days to get my legs ready for the summer onslaught.
Snow fell until early May which meant hiking up some of the mountains had to wait until it melted. Many of the trails are steep and dangerous even in the summer months, so I can only imagine how they would be covered in snow.
Most of my time in spring was spent at sea level exploring the coastline of all the islands and planning what to shoot and when. With so much to capture it is a daunting task, but Lofoten is a unique place that every location will get perfect light at some point in the year, so all I have to do is plan and then wait.
Low clouds often roll in from the north in the colder months shrouding the islands in mist and creating beautiful views as the mountains jut through. I found my self frantically trying to find the best angle to capture it with the angle of the sunset.
Lofoten is known for winter scenery and Aurora, but summer was my favourite time here with the midnight sun allowing for incredible all night hikes with beautiful light for hours from the mountain tops. It is a place you could spend a lifetime hiking all the peaks, each one with a view that takes your breath away.
Golden hour lasting 4 hours is a photographers dream and meant I could enjoy the moments as I explored rather than rushing to capture the light. I ended up shifting my sleeping pattern to the California time zone, so I would stay awake all night and go to sleep at 6am once golden hour had ended to make the most of the best light every day.
As with most holiday destinations tourists tend to visit the recommended places, and with most people only spending a few days here Lofoten is no exception to that rule. This is a great thing though as if you get off the beaten path you can have beaches and mountains all to yourself, even in the busy summer season. I spent many nights at the top of mountains with the best views all to myself. The famous beaches on the Islands are also full of camper vans and tents but I discovered an incredible one that I could camp on all alone because it isn’t found on a list online. I would tell you which beach it is but I want to keep it a secret!
This shot along Horseid Beach was taken on a special night at the end of summer just as the midnight sun season was coming to an end. Sunset and sunrise would blend into one and last for hours through the night. I took an afternoon ferry to Kirkefjord and then hiked 7km to Horseid Beach, then once the sun had set I hiked back through the dunes to Kirkefjord as the sky glowed pink for hours and caught the first ferry back to my car.
Lofoten is a place where each season brings something new and exciting to see, and once summer was over and the nights got longer I could finally see the Aurora after 5 months of waiting! Being able to capture it needs clear skies throughout the night, which I was lucky to get for 5 days in a row at the end of September. This allowed me capture the glowing skies across different parts of the islands. I learnt quickly that if you wait long enough on a clear night you will get a great display no matter where you are because the Islands sit in the perfect location to see it.
I have only captured the night sky once before and never seen the Aurora so this was a learning experience for me to photograph scenes that worked at night. I will not be sharing with you my first attempt! An extra complication was finding mountains that looked good in silhouette since there was no snow on them to illuminate the scenery below, but I love this as the glowing sky is the main focus of the night scenes creating an abstract feel.
Capturing autumn never crossed my mind until I saw the mountains turn to gold as I waited for the Aurora, it completely transformed the landscape and created a new challenge to capture it since I hadn’t considered this when I was exploring the islands in spring. I had never imagined it would be so beautiful.
I suddenly realised if I left Lofoten at the right time I could capture autumn through all of Norway as I made my way home, so once I was happy there was nothing else I could capture I loaded up my car and headed south retracing my route back home.
THE ROAD HOME
I have hiked so much over the summer that my last 1000m high mountain in Nordland on the way home was a breeze. Walking a steep incline felt like I was going flat and when I arrived at the top my legs could keep going. Unlike the summer months though now it was getting very cold and windy at these altitudes making the wait for beautiful light less enjoyable. With my photography it is about the enjoyment of the moment as well as capturing amazing scenes.
I rarely drive the same route twice on a road trip so that I can see as much as possible in the time I have, but I wanted to retrace my route up and see all the mountains again without snow covering them. The winding coastal roads I took through Norway are rarely boring despite adding an extra 2000 miles to my journey.
4 weeks after leaving Lofoten I was passing through the Netherlands again, a lightning storm passed by Rotterdam just as I arrived in the city. I have only once before captured it during a crazy storm in the USA where I witnessed multiple strikes every second. When I lived in Singapore I attempted and failed on multiple occasions to capture lightning behind the skyline, and that has the most stakes of any city in the world. But today I luck was on my side, I was in the right place at the right time to get the shot and was smiling despite getting drenched by the heavy rain moments later.
After spending 6 months on the Islands I have almost captured the most complete collection of Lofoten that I may be able to turn into a book, all I am missing is more of winter. I nearly decided to stay over the winter but my VW Golf would not have have been a good choice for getting around during an artic winter! So I plan to return one day soon to experience the extreme weather of Lofoten.
I was dreaming of Lofoten before I saw the Island with my own eyes, and now back in the UK I am still dreaming of Lofoten.