Friday Photo #419 – Northern Lights

Photo: Northern lights fill the sky over Skagsanden beach, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. January 11, 2021. 19:06

It was not even dark yet on Monday afternoon when I thought I noticed faint hints of northern lights dancing in the twilight sky. at 16:15 I took a test photo from my backyard just to see if my eyes were playing tricks on me or not. Nope, it was aurora! By 16:30 I was taking my first photos at Storsandnes beach. What followed was an aurora that lasted the entire night over Lofoten and probably the best show of the last two winters.

Around 18:00 the northern lights calmed down for a little while – which is normal, the northern lights often fluctuates in levels of activity/brightness throughout the night. The beach I was at wasn’t the best, as the aurora were too far overhead and towards the south, so I took the chance to relocate, this time to Skagsanden beach.

Covid has kept the tourists away, but even so, I’m always somewhat hesitant about Skagsanden these days, as it can get crowded with tripods! To my surprise, I arrived to an empty parking lot! I got down to the beach and was focusing my camera just as the sky exploded with light. I didn’t even have time to adjust my shutter speed before I was taking the first shot just to make sure my camera was in focus. Then I took a couple seconds to actually find a better composition.

This photo is from about 20 minutes later, after the aurora had calmed slightly, but still filling much of the sky. This is generally slightly easier to photograph anyhow, as the highly active aurora can be moving so fast through the sky, that it can be difficult to compose into a shot. What can also occur on active nights is that the aurora moves ‘beyond’ the location your at. I.e. If the best composition is is facing northwest to north, but the aurora moves to the west or southwest, often times then becoming obscured by mountains as well. This can often happen at several of Lofoten’s beaches – sometime the aurora is just too high in the sky to work with the location.

But luckily, this wasn’t the case on Monday and Skagsanden works well as a location for active northern lights. A car or two would occasionally pull into the parking lot, but despite my fears of seeing 20 vans show up and a line of headlamps marching across the beach in front of me, only two other photographers eventually showed up in the hour or so I was there.

Winter tourism on Lofoten has been steadily increasing since 2015 or so, to the point where it has felt busy and crowded at times in recent years – especially in the popular destinations. But this winter will be quiet – I’ve had to cancel all my winter photo tours, and I image most others have as well – Norway currently requires 10 day quarantine + a covid test on entry. So this winter will likely feel like the old days, where I could wander around and hardly ever see another tripod. If the idea of the winter crowds has been putting you off of visiting Lofoten, then this year might be the one chance you have to experience the winters as they used to be and to find yourself alone at Skagsanden beach while the northern lights dance in the sky overhead…

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Sigma 14mm f/1.8
14mm
ISO 2000
f 2
3 seconds
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #418 – Second Sun

Photo: January sunrise/sunset over Nappstraumen, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. January 8, 2021. 12:39

The sun has returned to Lofoten! For the last two days, the sun has been visible again across the whole of Lofoten. Yesterday, Jan 7, was even better, with a perfectly clear sky and the sun floating along the southern horizon. But I was lazy and didn’t take any photos of it – the lack of snow in the mountains has left me somewhat uninspired for hiking lately.

Today, the sun returned again, but this time with a fiery sky. I was a again a bit slow to start my day, but on the way to Leknes I stopped by Nappstraumen for a couple images – I couldn’t completely ignore light like this.

Though with the sun still low on the horizon, and a fair amount of clouds around, the light was mostly focused in the direct south, not leaving me too many compositional possibilities. I shot a few wider images, but I couldn’t quite get the feeling I was looking for out of the foreground – the wave were quite small and the tide was low, forcing me out onto the seaweed, which I don’t think looks very nice.

So instead, once the sun popped around the bottom of Skottind, I put on the telephoto lens for a closer detail shot. By now the illuminated clouds had also pulled back quite a bit, leaving much of the sky a flat grey. Perhaps I should have also shot an image at 14mm to use as a reference. Not the best composition in the world here and I would have rather shot wider with a more dynamic foreground if there had been one. But at least it was a nice colorful sunrise over this part of Lofoten.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 70-200 f/4
125mm
ISO 100
f 8
1/60 second
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #417 – A New Year

Photo: New Year twilight at the eye of Uttakleiv, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. January 1, 2021. 12:43

The new year has arrived with the soft pastels of winter twilight. Cold and clear, perfect weather for the first day of 2021 and a slightly slow start. Feeling lazy, I headed for a Lofoten classic, the Eye of Uttakleiv.

Lots of locals were out and about enjoying the weather, but at will likely be the trend for most of the winter and probably the first half of the year, no other photographers were around. Though had I not been lazy, I should have probably used the nice weather to head up a mountain. But there are still 4 months of winter left, so plenty of time for that in the days and weeks ahead.

You can see in the photo that the snow is still quite thin on Lofoten. It’s nice for driving, having the roads clear and mostly dry. But for photography, a little more white in the mountains would be nice! Soon hopefully.

The moon has been shining bright the last days, though in this photo it’s just a small spot above the rock on the left. It would have gone blurry from the 30 second exposure anyhow. I used a dark polarizer filter to actually bring out the reflection in the foreground water to add contrast against the dark rocks – though this did slightly make the ‘eye’ less visible, I liked the overall feel of the image better this way.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
24mm
ISO 100
f 14
30 seconds
WB Daylight
Breakthrough Photography 6 stop dark polarizer

Friday Photo #416 – Christmas Moon

Photo: Christmas moon in December’s twilight light over mountains of Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. December 25, 2020. 13:06

Driving home from Stamsund this afternoon I saw the moon sitting low over the mountains along the southern side of Vestvågøy. I was actually looking for a better angle of Vågakallen, which was rising nicely into the mid-day twilight. But unfortunately I was slightly too slow for that and by the time I got to a decent angle, a lay of clouds had drifted into the scene.

The moon looked quite cool, however, and was a good backup shot. Unfortunately again for me, since I had slept in my van, I put my 200-500mm lens into the house yesterday. Probably would have been a more interesting shot at 500mm, but I’ll never know…

God Jul from Lofoten!

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 70-200mm f/4
120mm
ISO 100
f 6.3
.6 second
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #415 – Polar Night

Photo: Twilight glow of December’s Polar Night over Vestfjord from Ballstadheia, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. December 12, 2020. 13:04

It has been nearly two weeks since the sun left Lofoten, and still a few more days to go until the winter solstice, when the days will finally begin to brighten again. The weather of the last week has improved somewhat from the soggy grey of November. Yet, with the sun not rising above the horizon, Lofoten only gets twilight light spreading out from the southern horizon.

On day’s without clouds, it almost feels like daylight, but not quite. And perhaps it is because I’m already well used to the darkness by now. I see references to how some people like this time of year, but I am not one of them. Maybe they think the light is special because it happens at noon, whereas in summer they are probably sleeping while I’m out wandering among mountains in the midnight light. I prefer the endless light of summer.

But the good thing about Lofoten is that no season lasts too long. In a few more months the northern horizon will be glowing at midnight and soon after that the midnight sun will return.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 70-200mm f/4
140mm
ISO 100
f 5.6
1/60 seconds
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #414 – Polar Night

Photo: Blue hour over Nappstraumen during December’s polar night, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. December 7, 2020. 14:05

The sun has left Lofoten for the year and will remain below the horizon until early January. Though, the reality of this year’s weather has meant the sun has been a rare visitor since the beginning of November – with almost constant overcast skies for over a month now.

Monday was a rare moment of somewhat clear skies, though a layer of cloud along the southern horizon blocked most of the light from coming through. But for the next weeks, twilight will be as light as it gets, with no direct sunlight reaching Lofoten. And while fantastic colors are still possible given the right cloud conditions, for the most part the islands are left in shades of blue and grey.

The polar night does not mean complete darkness, and as you can see, even at 14:00 there is still some glow to the sky – though with an exposure of 20 seconds without a Neutral Density filter – it is definitely far from daylight! Though the level of brightness is highly affected by weather, and on dreary, overcast days even noon can feel quite dark. And beyond weather, the level of snow also affects the feeling of brightness – and unfortunately rain over the last days has melted away what was only a light dusting of snow seen in this image.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
29mm
ISO 32
f 13
20 seconds
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #413 – December Rain

Photo: Rainy view across Nappstraumen to cloud covered peaks of Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. December 3, 2020. 10:35

The wet and soggy weather has carried into the first days of December, and judging by the forecast, carry on throughout next week. I’ve already given up hope on seeing the sun again this year, so it will just be the slow fade into the Polar Night which begins on Monday.

Last week (Friday Photo #412) I wrote that I was expecting this November to come in several degrees above the normal average. And I was close, it ended up being 4.2˚C warmer than normal for the month. And in fact, Norway as a whole had the warmest November (but also tied with 2011) since record keeping began in 1900. And I also wasn’t crazy to complain about all the rain either, as this ended up as the 9th wettest November since 1900 as well, with Lofoten at about 150% above normal rainfall.

I’ve slowly been working away on what I’m referring to as my ‘Lofoten 365’ project. Yesterday was one of the days I needed to shoot on. Unfortunately the weather was far less than cooperative. To by benefit, the wind was blowing the rain mostly sideways, so I was able to use my van as a wind/rain block while I took photos. There is already little light or contrast at this time of year, but with low, flat clouds covering the islands, the scene seemed almost empty.

The sea was rough, but not interestingly so. So I threw on a 6 stop ND filter to get me to a 30 second exposure (I probably should have gone up to 1 minute for a smoother sea – but I was lazy) to turn the scene into soft shades of blue.

I shot another version with a large rock in the foreground, and while it adds a nice piece of contrast to the scene, I feel its almost more of a distraction than anything.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
70mm
ISO 100
f 7.1
30 seconds
WB Daylight
Breakthrough Photography 6-stop ND filter

Friday Photo #412 – Reflection

Photo: Mountain reflection in Farstadvatnet, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. November 24, 2020. 10:53

After last week’s brief cold spell, the mild and wet weather of this November has continued, with daily rain and overcast skies. With the sun disappearing below the horizon in 10 days, I’ve probably already seen my last sunlight of the year – unless I happen to get lucky and randomly be in the right place at the right time for a sudden hole in the clouds. I think by the time this month is over, the temperature will end up being 3-4 degrees above average for November.

Now of course this is Lofoten, and who knows what will happen over the next months and into winter. Last year November had the coldest day of the entire winter, which then turned into a rainy and warm January, and overall mild temperatures into the spring. While I wish for snow photographically, daily life is much easier without having to deal with constantly icy roads – there will be plenty of time for that later.

In the middle of the week, the wind dropped off sufficiently for some nice reflections of many of the lakes of Vestvågøy, as they are somewhat sheltered from the surrounding mountains. I was actually heading out to Unstad on Tuesday to shoot something when I passed the perfectly calm Farstadvatn. Normally I don’t stop here, but this day I think I had to, so I pulled over on one of the pullouts and walked down to the shoreline. I actually like that the lower ground is snow-free, adding a bit of separation from the mountains.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
45mm
ISO 100
f 10
1/10 second
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #411 – First Beach Snow

Photo: First beach snow of 2020/2021 winter at Haukland beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. November 19, 2020. 11:54

After some unusually mild November temperatures over the last weeks – and no shortage of rain! – the winds finally shifted to the north and brought a cold blast of winter snow across Lofoten. Although this looks to be fairly short lived for snow, as the winds will shift to the south again by Saturday, bringing more mild temperates and rain.

I had been at Haukland beach just a few days ago, working on one of my ongoing projects. Yet with Thursdays snow, and basically full blizzard conditions much of the day, I headed back to the area again, as it would at least offer me a fairly large choice of subjects depending on what the weather decided to do at any given moment. Though I could see on the weather radar that I would have a small 20-30 mininute gap between the super heavy stuff, I figured the beach would likely be possible.

Luckily I was also the first one of the day, having the fresh dusting of snow for myself, so I headed towards the river for the classic shot towards Veggen. The river and beach were nice and clean today – there had been quite some seaweed a few days prior – all blown away overnight I imagine. I Initially shot a few images at the river, but I’ve gotten better conditions before with pretty similar lighting and mood.

I liked the subtle cure and tone of this layer of sand on the right side of the image, created by the higher water flow overnight before the temperatures dropped. I couldn’t quite get the angle I wanted, otherwise Mannen, the mountain leading up to the right becomes too overpowering in the composition. But I still like the overall feel here – and finally some snow!

You can also see how dark it is getting on Lofoten now. Taken basically at noon, there is not much light on cloudy days like this. One month to the winter solstice and the beginning longer days again!

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift
24mm
ISO 100
f 11
13 seconds
WB Daylight
2 images – top, bottom
Breakthrough Photography 6 stop ND filter

Friday Photo #410 – Friday Sun

Photo: Friday Sun low in the sky over Rorbu cabins, Nusfjord, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Island, Norway. November 13, 2020. 11:01

After a rainy, grey, and windy start to November the sun finally reappeared today! Even better the temperature was also quite mild for this time of year, reaching over 9˚C in Leknes – Normally a clear day such as this would be cold and chilly. A photo project I’m working on with a friend took me to Nusfjord, on the south side of Lofoten in search of today’s light.

Even with a fully clear sky, the sun is only around for a few hours now that it is mid November and the Polar night is a little over 3 weeks away. You can see in this photo, taken at 11:00, that the sun is low on the southern horizon. So at this time of year, even with the sun shining as brightly as it can, much of Lofoten remains in the shadow of mountains. For sun over the next weeks, you have to travel to the southern side of the islands, or up a mountain…

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Sigma 14mm f/1.8
14mm
ISO 100
f 11
1/80 second
WB Daylight