Friday Photo #13 – Haukland Beach Winter

Haukland beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Haukland Beach winter, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 20, 2013

After a week of fairly cold temperatures and calm conditions, the weather began to change on this day.  Winds and increasing temperatures swept across the islands.  Rain instead of snow now fell and setting up a tripod became difficult.

I was planning on spending the night at Utakleiv, but after a quick trip out to the beach, it was quite obvious that I wouldn’t be taking any photos there.  So I headed back through the tunnel to Haukland beach and relatively calmer conditions – though I still had to wait for a lull in the breeze before attempting to take a photo.  The sea was rough, and crashing high up on the beach, so after a few minutes of observation, I found myself just at the edge of the high water line.  Then comes the waiting game…

Finally, after what seems like forever, the next set of waves arrives, pushing the sea just to the edge of my tripod legs.  With luck, the wind also remains calm for the 25 second exposure to keep my light backpacking tripod from shaking too much.  Moments later, drops of rain begin to fall from the clouds and photography is over for the day.

Camera Info:
Nikon D800
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
24mm
ISO 50
f 16
25 sec
WB Daylight
Filer – B+W 6 stop ND

Friday Photo #12 – Northern Lights Over Vik

Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights shine in sky over snow covered mountains from Vik beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights fill sky over Vik beach, Vik, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway. February 19, 2013.  21:48

I almost missed this one due to laziness. One of the, if perhaps the only, benefits of sleeping in a car during Winter in Lofoten is that you don’t really have anywhere to go, so it’s no problem to wait all night in search of the Northern Lights. This night however, was the first night after a week on the islands (and sleeping in a car) that we would stay at a hostel. I was looking forward to sitting back and relaxing, a warm dinner and maybe a beer or two. But as the evening arrived clear and calm, I knew it would likely be another late night Aurora hunting.

We left the hostel in Ballstad around 9:00pm and headed towards Utakleiv. I had shot the Northern Lights here a few days before, but I knew there would be several other viewing options: Haukland, Vik, Vikveien, depending on where (if) the lights decided to show up. Luckily I wouldn’t have long to wait on this night. Shortly after arriving in Utakleiv a faint green glow appeared in the northern sky. At that moment, Utakleiv was a bit on the windy side, which it often is, so I decided to head back to Vik beach where I knew I would be far enough from the mountains if the Aurora stayed low in the sky.

Soon, that faint glow turned into a bright streak rising into the sky. A few moments later, everything intensified and that magical dance of the Northern Lights filled the sky. 20 minutes later, the glow faded and the lights were gone; almost leaving me thankful for having an early night but glad my effort was briefly rewarded.

In the first week of this February trip, I took more Northern Lights photos than last years 8 weeks north of the Arctic Circle combined. I definitely had some luck on my side this time!

Technical Info: Most of the common info suggests to shoot the Northern Lights with your lens wide open. I think a lot of this thinking is from the old days of shooting with 100-400 ISO film. Today, when you can easily crank up most modern DSLRs to ISO 1000+, a fast lens is less important. I like to stop down slightly to help with a bit more overall sharpness; especially when shooting a ‘landscape featuring the Northern Lights’ type of photo, not just the Lights themselves in the sky. The moon was at about a quarter on this night, giving enough light to illuminate the snow covered mountains. Though it could have been a bit brighter in my opinion. Again, I go slightly against the common conventions here, which suggest a dark, moonless night when shooting the Northern Lights. I like to have enough light to include the rest of the landscape into the photo – that’s why I’m on Lofoten and not someplace else!

Another piece of advice when shooting in the dark is to check the exposure with the histogram, not just estimating the exposure by eye. Your eyes will have adjusted to the darkness, so what looked like a properly exposed image on the back of your camera will likely be a stop or so under exposed once you’re back on a computer and under normal lighting conditions.

Camera Info:
Nikon D800
Nikon 16-35mm f/4
16mm
ISO 1000
f 4.5
20 sec
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #9 – Winter Dawn at Haukland Beach

Frozen tide at Haukland beach in winter, Vestvagøy, Lofoten islands, Norway

Photo: A frozen tide line on Haukland Beach in the day’s first light, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Jan 6, 2010.  09:55

Having arrived on the islands the previous day, I spent the night sleeping in my rental car out by Utakleiv beach.  It was a stormy, uncomfortable night, and I worried that my car might get blown off the ice covered parking area and into the sea.  Fortunately, exhaustion from nearly 2 days of travel and little sleep meant I was actually shut my eyes for a while.

In the morning, I awoke to near silence, only the sound of gently crashing waves below me.  Leaving Utakleiv, I came upon this scene at Haukland Beach, just on the other side of the tunnel.  It had been cold for several days, and the beach lay littered with chunks of ice, frozen from the river that runs through the beach, and washed back ashore from the tide.  The nights wind seemed to have scoured away most of the snow from the beach, leaving only a thin, ice coat over the sand.  Overhead the sky glowed a brilliant pink as the sun was preparing to rise above the horizon for the first time in nearly a month.

I spent some time photographing the ice and then wandered closer to the shore where this scene caught my interest, where the high tide line frozen into the sand.  In the distance, the moon hung low over the sea while waves gently lapped the shoreline.  I stayed until my feet were so cold that I had to go back to the car and heat them up again.

This day ended up being one of my most photogenic days ever on the Lofoten Islands, and I there are many images that I still consider to be my favourites over 3 years later.  There will likely be more ‘Weekly Photo’ post with images from this day.

Technical info:  The final photo consist of 3 images, shifted vertically so I could get the 1:1 crop.  And for this scene especially, I think 1:1 works well.  With 2:3 format, it would appear too narrow if framed vertically, while horizontally I would have needed to shoot too wide not to cut off the top of the mountain.  I shot at f/16 and ISO 100 because I wanted a long(ish) exposure the flatten out the sea.  I also need quite some depth of field.

Camera Info:
Nikon D700
Nikon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift
24mm
ISO 100
f 16
10 sec
WB Daylight
3 Images – top, middle,  bottom. For square format
No Filters

Friday Photo #8 – Unstad Winter

Snow covered Unstad Beach in Winter, Lofoten islands, Norway

Photo: Snow covers Unstad Beach in the day’s last light, Unstad, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Jan 7, 2010.  16:30

A second composition following on the footsteps of Weekly Photo #1, Winter at Unstad Beach.  You can read more of the overall story of the day HERE.

When shooting in winter, and especially with fresh snow, it’s always important to take a moment to scan the overall scene and possible compositions and then proceed to work your way ‘into’ the scene.  IE, don’t immediately rush to the water’s edge and start shooting, as you’ll now have footprints over what previously would have been an untouched beach.  I often almost walk in a circle on my way to a scene, being careful to avoid spoiling future compositions.  If it’s one thing I’m annoyed by, it is footprints in an otherwise unspoiled landscape (applies to sandy beaches as well).

So, after feeling I had gotten the most of of the rocky areas of the beach (weekly photo #1 HERE), I proceeded to move to the sandy part of the beach.  Here is where good timing and luck also came to my aid: the combination of clearing winter storm with an incoming tide.  The incoming tide part is important.  If the tide had been outgoing, then there would have been a section of the beach already cleared of snow.  It would still look nice, but not as nice as this image, where the tide runs directly to the snow line.  Though maybe this is just a matter of personal opinion on my behalf.

I like the blank, almost abstract nature of the scene.  I have other compositions, including ‘normal’ 2/3 crops, but I think the 1:1 format helps create some tension between foreground and sky.

Technical info:  The 1:1 format is from two images, shifted vertically.  Ie: a top image and bottom image.  I don’t like to crop to 1:1, shooting two images provides a bigger file and more info to work with.  When moving elements are present in a scene, it’s best to try and keep them within a single frame, such as the sea in this image.  Otherwise it can sometimes present difficulties later.  Thus my choice to shift vertically and not horizontally.  [When using a long exposure such as this, it really isn’t too important.  But it’s a good thing to keep in mind for other scenes.]

Also, I again kept my WB on ‘shade’ setting to keep the blue channels from clipping, allowing for a better overall exposure.

Camera Info:
Nikon D700
Nikon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift
24mm
ISO 200
f 5.6
25 sec
WB shade
Two Images – top, bottom. For square format
No Filters

Friday Photo #5 – Ytterpollen Ice Flower

Ice formation of frozen coast of Ytterpollen, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Ice flower on Ytterpollen, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 8, 2012. 09:39

This image is a product of the highly changeable weather of the Lofoten Islands.  Two days prior, February 6, the temperature was -10.7˚C, the coldest day for the whole of 2012, and the islands were covered in a light dusting of fresh snow.  Two days later, when this photo was taken, the temperature had risen to over 4˚C and a night of rain had melted nearly all the snow covering the lower elevations, including the snow that had been covering the frozen sea ice here at Ytterpollen, between Borg and Eggum.

I had been mostly been sleeping in my rental car out at Eggum and had been eyeing this section of coast as I drove by, knowing there would be possibilities of something interesting.  The previous day, as the last light was disappearing from the sky I stopped near here, while there was still a covering of snow, and took a few photos of patterns in the ice cracks.  But as I drove by the following morning I noticed the nights rain had melted the remaining snow, and these ‘ice flowers,’ where rocks cracked through the sea ice, took on surreal in interesting shapes.  So of course, I parked on the side of the road and headed out for some photos.

First step onto the ice and I was immediately on my ass.  Good that I hadn’t yet taken my camera out.  To say that rain covered ice is slippery would be an understatement.  Any minor gradation in the ice and I would slide, and slide until I reached a low point.  I finally resorted to extending my tripod as using it as a makeshift walker along the lines of what old people use as I sort of skated and slid over the ice in a rather comical fashion.  The ice creaked and cracked under my bodyweight and I thought it possible that I might break through at anytime (I was safe and wouldn’t have fallen in any deep water, just maybe some when feet, though still not desirable.).

I found the symmetrical nature of this ‘ice flower’ to be the most appealing of them all, or at least the ones I was willing to risk getting to.  I made several compositions, with this extremely wide angle one, emphasising the foreground being the most appealing to me.

Technical info: The light was extremely flat so I had to increase the contrast in the image quite a bit in the foreground.  And As I was in the shade, while there was some sunlight on the clouds in the background, I brought down the sky a bit to give a bit more balance to the image.

Camera Info:
Nikon D700
Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0
16mm
ISO 200
f 13
1/13 sec
WB Daylight
Single Image
No Filters

Friday Photo #4 – Aurora Over Olstind

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis in night sky behind Olstind mountain peak, Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights over Olstind, Moskenesøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 6, 2012, 19:25

Northern Lights over Olstind:  Olstind, as it rises from the waters of the Kjerkfjord is perhaps the most Iconic mountain on Lofoten.  A near perfect pyramid when view from some angles, it just begs to be photographed over and over again; which often I do!

This photo is taken a few hours after last week’s image.  With a rare moment of clear skies, I parked my car near Reine, hoping to capture an image such as this.  And one of the benefits of sleeping in a car is that I don’t have the temptation of being lulled back to a warm room and a hot meal.  I suffer from the cold and eat bread and butter for dinner, but I can also sleep more of less wherever I want, and thus be quickly ready when moments like this occur.

I don’t quite like the reflected lights from the distant village of Kierkefjord.  I could have located myself a bit more to the right, but this would also have concealed the brightest part of the Aurora, so a bit of a compromise had to be found.  For me this image is just a start of an idea, and something I hope to approve upon over the years.

Another element to this image is that it was captured a few days before the full moon, hence the landscape is well lit.  I often read the somewhat misinformed advice that the Northern Lights are best captured when there is no moon.  Not true in my opinion.  And with a snow covered landscape, I think moonlight is an essential part of night photography; to photograph a Northern Lights landscape, not just the lights themselves somewhere in the sky with a dark silhouette in the foreground.

Camera Info:
Nikon D700
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
24mm
ISO 200
f 5.6
132 sec
WB Auto
Single Image
No Filters

Friday Photo #3 – Reine Winter Blue

Reflection of Olstind mountain peak in harbour at Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter blue, Reine, Moskenesøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 6, 2012, 16:50

Winter blue, Reine:  The day to this point had been my most productive day yet after 1 week on the islands.  A light dusting of snow had fallen over the previous night but as morning arrived the sky was clear and the islands were frozen in silence on the coldest day of 2012, -10.7˚C.

As evening arrived I hung out around Reine in hopes of some Northern Lights, though the forecast showed only a small probability.  As evening began in late afternoon the islands took on this amazing tone of blue.  And with near perfectly still waters, I knew this was an image to capture.

This is taken from the turnout on the side of the E10 just after the turnoff into Reine and is probably the most photographed scene of Lofoten.  Despite this, when you encounter a special light, you can still create something somewhat unique.

Camera Info:
Nikon D700
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
44mm
ISO 200
f 10
15 sec
WB Auto
Single Image
No Filters

Friday Photo #1 – Unstad Winter

Winter storm over snow covered beach, Unstad, Lofoten islands, Norway

Photo: Clearing winter storm, Unstad beach, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.   January 7, 2010

For me, photography on the Lofoten Islands is more than just pointing your camera at something scenic and pressing the shutter.  This is the first photo in my new ‘weekly photo’ series I’ll be posting every Friday.  For the most part I’ll be selecting from Images already appearing on this site, but from time to time I’ll also post some photos that didn’t make it here for some reason which I still find interesting.  In these posts I hope to go beyond simple descriptions of each photo and talk more about why I made the image, how I made the image, and other elements I think are of note.

Clearing storm at Unstad:  It had been snowing heavily since the night before.  I was now halfway through a short 5 day trip January trip to the islands.  A trip that so far had shown me the islands in a way I’d never seen, nor photographed before; and which produced some of my all time favourite images.

By the afternoon on this day I was beginning to grow frustrated with having spent the day driving in circles without finding any scenes to shoot.  Finally, as the light was fading I headed out along the snow covered road to Unstad to see if by chance the storm would have been deflected around the mountains. [note: Unstad can often have weather isolated from the rest of the islands.  It can be extremely windy while most other places are relatively calm.  Alternatively, Unstad can escape any detrimental weather hitting the rest of the islands.] Emerging at the far side of the tunnel, I found the snow had ceased falling, although it must have happened recently as the entire village and beach was completely covered and some of the residents had just pulled out their snow shovels and tractors.

I probably drove a little to fast in my excitement and desire to spend as much time as possible in the ever darkening light.  The road to the parking lot on the right side of the beach hadn’t yet been cleared, so I drove as far as I could until I got stuck. I got out and walked down to the sea from there.  Light is more important than a stuck car!

I spent the next hour shooting, until it was completely dark.  This image, produced sometime about halfway though, remains one of my favourites.  Something about snow covered rocks leading into the sea seem totally surreal for someone who grew up on the beach in southern California.

A few technical notes:  With few exceptions, I always keep my camera white balance set to daylight.  Firstly, because I learned photography on film, so I more of less know what I’m going to get in different lighting conditions.  And Secondly, since I often combine multiple images for panoramics or square crops, it’s best to have a consistent white balance; and if I leave my camera on auto, I’d forget to change it 90% of the time.  But, when shooting in dark, winter conditions like this, daylight white balance doesn’t work very well.  The reason is that there is so much blue light present in the scene, that you will clip the blue channels while red and green remain underexposed.  By switching to shade white balance, a more neutral exposure is produced, and thus you can make a properly exposed photo without clipping the blue channels.

Camera Info:
Nikon D700
Nikon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift
ISO 200
f 16
25 sec
WB shade
Single Image
No Filters