Landscape photography over the years has become much more than the basic operation of capturing a scene. It’s become a reason to explore the world while seeing new cultures and challenging oneself with a creative pursuit.
Spending time outside in nature is something that is immensely good for your mental well-being and it’s a great thing the photography pastime encourages that.
Traveling with camera gear by your side or even undertaking a full landscape photography holiday has slowly become the norm for many photographers.
So, picture the following scene – it’s 1:00 am in the morning, you’re tired, have a four-hour drive ahead, and a plane to catch in the early hours. You’ve extracted the maximum benefit from the largest cup of coffee you could find, but despite your best efforts, you’re still living out a scene from the walking dead.
The excitement, however, of what’s about to come starts running through your mind and you can’t wait to get to your destination. It’s that drive, which many non-photographers don’t understand, that will get you through it. But that still doesn’t make you feel any more awake of course.
You’ve arrived at the departure gate just in time to watch the sunrise, something which you hope you’ll be seeing a lot more over the next few days. You get a warm feeling inside from the excitement of exploring Scandinavia and the fact that from here on in – everything is new.
Being a British landscape photographer affords me many benefits, not only the fact I can talk about the weather (yes that’s a British thing) in an awkward social situation! But because I am semi-well located in the world for travel.
We have mainland Europe to our right with a range of cultures, landscapes, and climates as well as Scandinavia to the north. Although it might be too cold for many tourists, it’s great for capturing dramatic landscape photography. Isn’t that what we are all after?!
So it’s a destination that is on the list of many photographers worldwide.
Norway’s Lofoten Islands
Arriving in Tromsø you are greeted with the winter wonderland that is Norway. A snow-covered landscape with a somewhat calm blizzard filling the skies.
After completing several laps of the airfield while the snow plow is called in to clear the runaway, you feel a somewhat mixed feeling of relief and communal joy as the pilot is applauded for landing in whiteout conditions.
It’s at this point you regret walking the two miles to pick up your transport, after realizing suitcase wheels and snow don’t mix well. Despite this, you arrive at your home for the next seven nights, a little VW Caddy Campervan.
The good news is you have heating, a bed, and transport – everything one really needs to explore! The bad news is you’re going to have to be organized when you realize you only have two USB sockets to charge an array of torches (flashlights), cameras, phones, and drone batteries.
An array of USB power bricks will come in handy for sure!
Note from Darlene – just get this: MOGICS Donut Power Strip (it has 5 AC outlets and 2 USB ports)
The next stage of your journey involves a seven-hour drive to the Lofoten Islands. But this travel time opposed to the previous hours fills you with nothing but joy because the exploration has finally begun. While the inconsistencies and annoyances of air travel are fading into the past.
You travel as far as you can to get to your first photography location, in the back of your mind you’re hoping you will make it in time for sunset. In reality, though, you know that’s not going to happen, so you start wondering where your first night will be spent in the campervan.
The Freedom to Roam Law of Scandinavia affords you the luxury of being able to stop anywhere for the night. You literally have your pick of some of the best views in the world.
Location #1 – Hamnoy
You’ve arrived at your location, you’ve seen images of the area, but nothing prepares you for the actual scene. The grandeur and scale just don’t come across in media.
Hamnoy is an old Lofoten Fishing Village perched right on the edge of the archipelago. The area consists of many red fishing huts that were once used in the fishing industry of Norway. You can tell they were workers’ huts in some regard due to the red paint used.
Historically red paint was the cheapest available color, the next being yellow and the most expensive being white, it’s a telling tale that you can see the wealth of an area by the color of the houses. Something about social classes sticking together in this.
Hamnoy benefits the photographer greatly and you soon realize the bridge across to Sakrisoy is the perfect vantage point for photography. You really couldn’t ask for a better spot.
Hamnoy really is a stunning location. The classic viewpoint is somewhat restricted as you’re locked into photographing from the bridge. However, you can head further down and capture a few interesting pictures beside the bridge.
You might even get lucky and have someone arrive in your scene for scale!
From the main vantage point, you only have two options. The end of the bridge closest to Hamnoy seems to favor vertical shots, while closer to Sakrisoy you’re looking at horizontal compositions.
Despite these limitations, you’re in for a treat. The village of Hamnoy is perfectly framed by the imposing face of the Festhelltinden mountain.
Shooting from the bridge does have its issues. You’re going to have to use a decent-sized tripod, as most travel tripods won’t reach above the railings. You can shoot through the railings but changing filters and undertaking panoramic shots can be tricky.
It’s a good idea to revisit during clear nights for a chance to capture the northern lights and the area does well when undertaking moonscape photography.
PRO TIP – Get there early! The bridge can get very busy, so you want to pick the best spot and get set up because you might not be able to change your location very easily as more people arrive.
The magic of the morning light fades away and you feel rather content with your images. It’s true that iconic locations are over photographed. But they are iconic for a reason and when the light plays ball, it’s a great feeling to have captured that location under the best conditions.
Normally as a landscape photographer, as the golden hour fades it would be time to pack the camera away, but you’re in Norway and you have plenty more to photograph. There is plenty of interest in those snowy skies and white landscapes to keep you motivated.
Hence after a bit of breakfast, you’re off to Sakrisoy, on the other side of the bridge from Hamnoy!
Location #2 – Sakrisoy
Sakrisoy is a beautiful village full of yellow houses – you’re upmarket now (remember the color of paint indicates the wealth of an area)!
The area lends itself to many compositions although you have the image in your head that you want to capture – if you have done your research. You just need to find it.
You drive through the tiny village, with a population of only 1200, and instantly see the composition. Yes, it really is that easy to spot, you park up in the nearby carpark (parkade)and attempt to walk to the composition which lies only 40 meters away.
Did I mention how icy the roads and paths are in Norway? You will struggle to get to places on foot but can drive as easily as if you’re on dry tarmac. How the tide turns when you have proper studded winter tires and normal walking boots.
After snail-pacing your way to the location, you grab your camera and stand by the road, grab a slightly telephoto lens, and set up your composition. Your image here is a rather simple one, but you gain a lot of satisfaction from that, it’s almost like they built the house for you to discover hundreds of years later with your camera.
The composition involves a yellow hut against Olstinden Mountain (as seen above). The two items just work together, due to the mountain’s pointy nature it perfectly matches by the apex of the hut’s roof.
This is another location where compositions are slightly limited and vertical images often work better. But it really is a great location, and I recommend stopping by as often as you can to capture it under different conditions.
Another bonus location you can visit not far from Sakrisoy is the view of The Horn from Hammerskaft. This scene is another simple composition that involves a small wooden bridge and a giant horn-shaped mountain that lies behind (hence the name).
It’s certainly one of those locations that look better on camera than in person. A good tip here is to visit shortly after sunrise, after a light snowfall to avoid any footprints on the bridge in your images.
The beaches of the Lofoten archipelago are also stunning, and certainly something you do NOT want to miss. Luckily you find out from a quick Google Maps check that it requires a drive back through the heartland of Lofoten and another chance to explore the dramatic peaks and fjords the area has to offer.
“Photography is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the journey.”Darlene, DPM creator
Eventually, you will come across the dramatic beach of Skagsanden. You really can’t miss it, the main road runs right by it.
You won’t find isolation at Skagsanden as the beach becomes very popular with photographers, but you will certainly find some great compositions. You just might have to wait your turn.
Location #3 – Skagsanden
You really do get the feel of being on the edge of the world at Skagsanden. Behind you and to the side lie imposing dramatic peaks and in front of you the vast Arctic Ocean, with a thin strip of beach as your safe haven.
Once you’ve finished exploring the beach be sure to head back towards to road to photograph the stunning Flakstad church which somehow complements the surrounding peaks very well.
A red church among the mountains what a good idea!
Like many Scandinavian beaches, you will find this one to be very flat which creates some great reflection shots.
Your best option is to explore the location with this in mind. Spend time framing up your shots to make the best of those reflections which always help to make your image a little bit more unique, plus they are quite fun to pull off.
Like most shots undertaken on beaches – be prepared! The last thing you want in your camera is sand or saltwater. In Scandinavia and other places around the world with strong and unpredictable weather the risk increases dramatically.
It’s always a good idea to try and select your lens before you head to the beach and get everything set up beforehand.
See how I made the images at Skagsanden in the video below.
When going for reflection shots you may think it’s better to do a long exposure. But this often reduces the effectiveness of the reflections by picking up movement in the water from the wind or the water filtering through the sand.
While we are on the topic of beaches, there is a tiny beach called Unstad. It is known as a hot spot for surfers (yes surfers in the arctic at -8c ) and is a great location for landscapes as well. So grab your handy satnav and the journey starts.
Location #4 – Unstad Bay
You arrive at Unstad beach a little late and it’s getting into the blue hour. But you’re there now, you head down to the beach and start shooting away. You love the results so much that you shoot until the light has almost completely faded.
You don’t know it yet, but these will turn out to be your favorite images from the holiday. The joys of landscape photography are you never know what you are gonna get (or is that a box of chocolates?).
Unstad beach is a great location. It’s not the biggest beach, in fact, it’s more like a cove, and the beach isn’t that flat so don’t expect reflection here, but the headland formation allows you to create some great images.
Photographing Unstad Bay
You’re shooting and it’s getting very dark when the photographers’ dilemma comes into play – to use high ISO or not. Some photography genres regard this as an issue and it appears that bias penetrates the photography world far and deep.
High ISO black and white portraits are said to be full of character, film photography is said to have a fine art depth to it from the film grain. Digital landscape photography on the other hand, well that’s just poor technique (or so “they” say, but they say a lot of things).
To be fair this is often true. In most situations, we can minimize the need for using a high ISO. The exception is astrophotography – not golden hour or even blue hour!
Sometimes though, you must go against the grain if the results are worth it in your opinion. The high ISO allows for dramatic blue hour tones while still capturing movement and detail in the water. Just don’t mention ISO 6400 to anyone (see video above and image below).
You finish capturing images well past the blue hour but it’s time to head back to the van. You decide to stay the night at Unstad. You put the heating on, despite it being so cold in the bottom of the van that your fridge doesn’t activate the whole journey, the top gets nice and warm and you head to sleep with the hope the morning will bring you more great images of Unstad.
You can see the campervan I stayed in for the seven nights and follow my journey in the following video.
This is just a selection of the images I captured during my time in Norway. I hope this article has inspired you to travel and visit some stunning locations around the world with your camera.
To me, travel is a great companion for photography, and it has thoroughly enriched my life. You can see behind the scenes from my trip to Norway in this YouTube playlist.