Exploring Norway’s Lofoten Islands: a Photo Essay

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Ana walking around the Bend in Fredvang

When I was planning my trip to the Lofoten Islands of  Norway, I wanted to see (and photograph) the Northern Lights. But like much of life, it’s not the big highlights that make up all of my memories of the trip. Part of the charm of the Lofoten Islands is that they are small, scenic and sparsely populated. This combo can make them a dream for photographers.

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Sheep in the Lofoten Islands

The pastoral scenery of Northern Norway is lovely. Fjords with small clusters of fishing cottages and small farms filled with sheep. There were several places worth pulling over to the side of the road to take a photograph or wander a bit.

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Fall frost in the Lofoten Islands

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Portrait of Ana near the Fjords in Northern Norway

Renting a car (or having access to one) is essential in this part of Norway. As the days grow shorter, many businesses tend to close for the season so you’ll need a vehicle to get from place to place. Norwegians do the sunbird thing and flock to the Canary islands for sunshine and a lower cost of living.

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Ana on sandy Ramberg Beach

I was most surprised by the white sandy beaches in the Lofoten Islands. They add some unexpected atmosphere and charm to the dramatic landscapes and were delightful places to walk even on a windy autumn afternoon.
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Ana stopping traffic in the Lofoten Islands

Businesses in Svolvær are more likely to be open year round, and it makes sense to stay here off seasons. Many of the smaller restaurants and rorbu (fishing cottages) in smaller towns like Reine and Hamnoy close seasonally for some or all of the winter. If you are visiting during the off-season, be sure to take some snacks with you. Ana and I found our hunger kicked in during off hours and the nearest open grocery store was some distance away.

 

 

 

 

 

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Day Hike to Kvalvika Beach in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

 

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Dramatic clouds and scenery on the hike to Kvalvika Beach

Norway’s Lofoten islands are known for their dramatic landscapes. But the handful of gorgeous sandy beaches came as a real surprise to me as a first-time visitor to the area.

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Clouds reflected in a pond

An unexpected highlight of my recent trip to Norway was the scenic hike we took to Kvalvika Beach. Located onMoskenesøy and only accessible by foot, the day hike is popular with families and photographers. It’s easy to see why.

 

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Looking down at Kvalvika Beach

After about an hour of minutes of pleasant hiking with some slick patches due to the wet grass and natural oil oozing from the land, the mountain landscape opens up to reveal a glorious crescent shaped beach with waves crashing against the golden sand.

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Ana taking in the view from the hike

The hike itself is interesting (and popular) throughout the year. During the summer, campers head to Kvalvika Beach to spend the night under the midnight sun. In the fall and winter, photographers and families head up for the dramatic views.

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Kvalvika Beach, possibly the prettiest spot in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

We wound up being led on this hike by Alex Conu, who we hired from Colors of Lofoten to be our photo guide for the day.

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Red grass and pink clouds on the hike to Kvalvika Beach

It’s worth the effort for the scenery alone. You’ll pass fields of red grasses and lakes before getting a bird’s eye view of Kvalvika Beach.

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Otherworldly landscape in the Lofoten Islands

I appreciate unusual landscape and the moss, rocks, oil, and mountains made this one of the most visually satisfying hikes I’ve ever taken.

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Oil oozing from the Lofoten Islands

There are some step sections, and hiking boots are key to handling this terrain.

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The landscape before dusk looked drastically different

We took this hike just before dusk, when the colors and light were changing quite a bit. Views looked dramatically different on the way back than they did on the way up, We opted to retraced our steps to save time, since we were prioritizing photographing the Northern Lights that evening rather than take the long way back.

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Portrait of Ana in the outdoors

Kvalvika Beach was featured in a documentary called North of the Sun, about two surfers (yes, arctic surfing is a thing) who spent nine months there catching waves. You can watch the film on iTunes.

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Clouds reflected

If you’re headed to the Lofoten Islands and fit enough to handle a reasonably easy hike with some moderate altitude gain, I’d highly suggest taking the hike to Kvalvika Beach.

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Portrait  of Ana in pastels on the hike to Kvalvika Beach

Getting there:

From any location on Lofoten, take the E10 to Fredvang. After leaving the E10 and crossing the twin bridges, turn left into Fredvang and continue along the road through the village. After approximately 3 kilometers (from the turn) you will see a red boat shed on the left near the water. Immediately past this is a paved parking turnout large enough for 10-15 cars. Park here.

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Exploring the Scenic Fishing Villages of Norway’s Lofoten Islands

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Overlooking Eliassen Rorbuer in Hamnoy

The Lofoten islands of Northern Norway are incredibly scenic. They a popular spot for both professional and recreational fisherman. The small clusters of colorful fishing cottages scattered against the dramatic landscape of mountains and fjords are one of their most distinctive and charming features of the Lofoten Islands.

Morning view outside my cottage at Rorbu Eliassen

Fishing is still the many industry in the sparsely populated islands with an estimated 24,500 inhabitants. In the summer, the fishing cottages fill up with Norwegians who fish recreationally and tourists who want to take in the midnight sun. But the locals who live in the Lofoten Islands year round are most likely involved in the fishing industry.

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Fishing net detail on the side of cottage in the Lofoten Islands

The Lofoten Islands are located in the Arctic Circle but experience milder winters than one might expect due to the archipelago’s position in the Gulf Stream.

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Morning calm in the Lofoten Islands of Northern Norway

Many residents of Northern Norway head south to the Canary Islands during the dead of winter. I was told there was a “Little Norway” on Gran Canaria, complete with Norwegian pizza which is a thing.

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A boat launch in Reine

Red and yellow seem to be the preferred colors for the clusters of fishing cottages that dot the coast of the islands. Reine and Hamnoy are two of the most picturesque fishing villages.

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Yellow fishing cottages

 They are a charming contrast to the naturally dramatic scenery of mountains, fjords, beaches and sea.

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Emerald green waters in Reine and a step peak

Cod fishing is the primary industry in this part of northern Norway. Also known as stockfish, the fishing season for Arctic Cod runs from mid-February through April.

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Morning’s low tide in the Lofoten Islands

Norway is also known for whaling. They kill a few whales in this part of the world for human consumption. Whale meat is a local delicacy known as hval and it’s on the menu at restaurants in Svolvær.
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A peaceful sunrise view in Hamnoy

The major Lofoten Islands are Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy, Moskenesøy, Værøy, and Røst. Most are connected by a series of bridges.

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Pops of color and dramatic natural scenery in the Lofoten Islands

In the winter, when many local businesses shut down photographers and tourists hoping to see the northern lights flock to the the charming fishing cottages.
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Twilight in the Lofoten Islands

We hired local guide and photographer OddPetter Tanke Jensen as a guide for a day to show us around the islands. His roots in the area are strong. His father worked on the construction of some of  the bridges that connect the Lofoten Islands.

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Much thanks to Odd-Petter Tanke Jensen for taking this pic of me and Anastasia

You can check out Odd-Petter Tanke Jensen’s instagram here.

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Stockfish Snack: the Pringles of  mini-bars in Svolvaer.

Stockfish snack is sort of the beef jerky of the Lofoten Islands. It was in my mini-bar at my hotel in Svolvaer.

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Photo Tips for Capturing Norway’s Northern Lights With An iPhone

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Norway’s Northern Lights captured on my iPhone 7 plus using the NorthernLights App

I photographed the northern lights with my new iPhone 7 Plus on my recent trip to Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Anastasia Chernykh, this blog’s social media manager, also gave it a go with her iPhone 6. We had some success. As a general rule, the brighter the aurora, the better your chances are of getting a good photo of them with your iPhone. Here are five tips for photographing the northern lights with an iPhone.

Tip #1 Download Camera Replacement Apps to Shoot Longer Exposures

You need to use longer exposure times to effectively capture the northern lights. Since the iPhone’s native camera app doesn’t allow you to manually select your exposure time, I experimented using LongExpo Pro and the NorthernLights app.

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Northern lights near Svolvaer, shot with iPhone 7 plus

I really like the LongExpo Pro app, and I thought it was going to be my go-to for this experiment because it has an intuitive interface which easily allows you to easily change the shutter speed with a simple tap, and an easy-to- locate timer butter.

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Faint Northern Lights (shot using LongExpo Pro on my iPhone 7 plus)

Unfortunately both Ana and I had issues where the focus would lock where we wanted it to and then shift after the timer was set, resulting in blurry foreground. Hopefully this will be corrected in future updates of the app. I had the better luck using the NorthernLights app, which has some easy presets to play with for weak, moderate, and strong aurora lights. There is also a custom option that allows you to adjust your film speed (ISO) and shutter speed.

Tip #2 Use a Tripod or Mount to keep your iPhone still

Longer exposures require you to keep your camera still to avoid shake and blur. This also applies when you are shooting with an iPhone. Since we were both traveling with large tripods for our DSLR Cameras, we used In Your Face ViewBase clamps to steady our iPhones and clamped them onto the legs of our larger tripods.

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Squiggly Aurora Borealis (shot with the NorthernLights app)

Other lightweight options include the Joby Gorillapod Stand which easily fits into a backpack. When I return to Norway in February for a winter photography workshop, I will use an entirely separate tripod setup for my iPhone 7 plus, including the MeFoto Sidekick 360 Smartphone Adaptor for Tripods and a MeFoto Backpacker Air tripod.

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Northern lights reflected near Svolvaer (iPhone 7 plus)

Tip #3 Use the Timer feature

Delaying the shot by a few seconds helps prevent camera shake, which usually results in a better image. Using the timer feature or remote shutter release helps reduce shake and blur. All the camera replacement apps mentioned in this post have timer features. I found a two second delay sufficient. Some iPhone camera replacement apps, like Slow Shutter Cam, are compatible with the Apple Watch, which allows additional remote shutter release options.

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Anastasia got the image above using the Shutter Speed App on her iPhone 6

Tip #4 Include Foreground Interest in Your Shot

The aurora can appear as everything from a green streak across the sky to a rapidly shape-shifting pattern of streaks ranging in color from green to pink and purple. If possible, you’ll want to compose your image in a way that will add some local context. I tried to frame my shots to include the local fishing cabins to add a bit of Norwegian fishing village atmosphere. The northern lights were strongest and easier to photograph a few hours later, when we were near a lake outside of Svolvaer. There I tried to compose my shots to include some of the lake, where the lights were reflected on the water’s surface.

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 Ana got the image above using the Shutter Speed App and her iPhone 6 

Tip #5 Use iPhone Apps to Edit Your Northern Lights Images 

All of the northern lights images I got in Norway’s Lofoten Islands looked better after some basic photo editing. Reducing the noise in the images and making the color pop were the two things most of the aurora photos shot on my iPhone 7 plus needed. I found the most useful app for editing these northern lights images was Adobe Photoshop Express,which has a good de-noise feature. I also used the TouchRetouch app, which was also useful for cleaning up burned out highlights and bleeding from artificial lights. I straightened the horizons in my images using the editing features right in my iPhone’s native camera app.

For more northern lights images shot on our DSLR setups can be found this earlier post, Chasing the Northern Lights in Norway’s Lofoten Islands.

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Chasing the Northern Lights in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

 

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The Northern Lights on display near Svolvær

After first seeing the northern lights in Iceland last year, I’ve become a bit addicted to aurora hunting.

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Aurora hunting in the Lofoten Islands of Norway

Since locations in and near the arctic circle and away from the light pollution you find in large cities are the best places to spot the northern lights, I recently visited Norway’s gorgeous Lofoten Islands with this blog’s social media manager, Anastasia Chernykh, for a photo trip.
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Norway’s Northern Lights reflected

The aurora season runs from September to April. To increase our chances of capturing the mysterious solar phenomenon, we hired photo guide Alex Conu, who is known for his award-winning astrophotography and runs photography workshops. Originally from Romania, Alex understands the northern lights phenomenon very well and was great about explaining them.

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Green and Purple Northern Lights

Norway knows the northern lights are a big draw for tourists and has a Northern Lights Tracker, which is very user friendly. There is also an Aurora Forecast app available for serious aurora hunters, although it requires a bit of knowledge to understand and read.

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Stars, aurora and reflections in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

The northern lights are a phenomenon that runs in an 11 year cycle that peaked about a year and a half ago. If you’re interested in seeing or photographing the the aurora, your chances will be best during the next year before they wane. There will still be northern lights, but scientists think they’ll be more elusive.

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Faint aurora in Hamnoy, Norway

Science (and aurora trackers) can tell when there has been a lot of solar activity and then you have about two days to get someplace to spot them. There was a full moon during our time in the Lofoten Islands, which was helpful for composing shots with some visible foreground interest. The Lofoten Islands are located in the Gulf Stream, so the winters are mild by arctic standards, making them a favorite spot for aurora hunters and photographers.

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Northern Lights Image above by Anastasia Chernkyh

Local weather and light pollution can keep you from seeing the northern lights. This happened our first night in the Lofoten Islands, when we were staying in Hamnoy. The northern lights were faintly visible but the heavy cloud cover made viewing (and photographing) them virtually impossible.

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Anastasia Chernkyh got this amazing shot of the northern lights reflected before they began to dance

We had better luck the night we went out with Alex. Not only did the northern lights show up, but they danced for us! Alex was very good about helping us with photography tips as well as telling us to put our cameras down when the northern lights began to dance. The rapidly moving aurora is harder to photograph with a still camera and was worth just experiencing and taking in the awe of this glorious phenomenon.

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Colors of Lofoten Photo Workshops

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 Note: all the images in this post were shot by me and Anastasia Chernykh on DSLR. Stay tuned for a future post on photographing the northern lights with an iPhone 7 plus.

 

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