Friday Photo #433 – Aurora Season Finale

Photo: Aurora Corona fills the southern sky over Stornappstind just before midnight, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. April 16, 2021. 23:40

My prediction for the weekend in last weeks post (Friday Photo #432) of maybe 1-2 more last nights of northern lights of the season more than came true, turning into 4 consecutive nights of aurora from Friday to Monday. The best display by far though, was Friday night and into the early morning hours of Saturday, with multiple KP5 coronas appearing well into the southern half of the sky.

I’m posting multiple photos this week, as these will be the last northern lights photos I’ll have until the sky begins to darken again in late August. But this was a good finish to the year, and now the latest I have taken northern lights images into April, with the last night being Monday/Tuesday the 19/20th – where previously it had been the night of 13/14th. So almost a week later this year.

Really though, it is just pure luck after the beginning of April, as it needs to be a large enough aurora display to appear overhead or in the southern sky which remains dark enough. Any small northerner lights along the northern horizon would not likely have been visible. But I think there is something unique and special about these spring auroras, with the horizon glowing which adds depths and color to the image.

The second image, taken just after midnight on Sunday night/Monday morning might be my favorite of this group. Too bad I hadn’t been in Reine on Friday, that would have been a show! But I kind of like the subtlety of this image, with the aurora almost interacting with the moon, which itself was also nicely situated over the landscape. Normally I try and avoid including city lights in my aurora photos, but here, I think they add to the sense of place to the image. The aurora didn’t last long this night, but eventually some really cool lenticular clouds began floating over the fjord (you can see a time lapse of if you follow me on Instagram) which eventually took over my attention – Perhaps only a photographer living on Lofoten can be more interested in clouds than northern lights!

Head over to my Instagram account for (almost) daily postings of the local conditions here on Lofoten: @distant.north

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Sigma 14mm f/1.8
40mm
ISO 1250
f 2
2 seconds
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #428 – Kvalvika Sunset

Photo: Setting sun behind Kjerrina from Kvalvika beach, Lofotodden national park, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. March 14, 2021. 17:37

Tomorrow, March 20th, is the vernal equinox and the sun will pass north of the equator for the first time since September – spring and summer are on the way! Even the first of the migratory birds have started to find their places along the beaches and coastline of Lofoten, and the evenings are finally feeling a little lighter after the long dark months of winter.

From a photographic point of view, this means the sun is finally leaving the southern part of the sky and reaching into more northern facing locations. Today’s photo, of the setting sun at Kvalvika beach from last Sunday would not have been possible just 2 weeks ago, as the sun would have set just behind the mountain and not been visible from the beach. Over the coming weeks, the setting sun will move further the the right (north) of this scene until it reaches true north in late May – the beginning of the midnight sun season here on Lofoten.

As the sun rises and sets further to the north, more and more locations on Lofoten will emerge from the long shadows of winter. Especially important for this are the beaches, most of which are on the northern sides of the islands and surrounded by steep mountains.

Last Sunday, I decided to head to Kvalvika with a pair of journalism students who are including me in one of their university projects. Knowing it was one of the first days with the setting sun on the beach, it seemed like a pretty good option. Although leaving the parking lot for the short 1 hour hike, it was one of those days where the weather forecast was more optimistic than reality, as heavy clouds cloaked most of Lofoten. Arriving at the beach in mid afternoon I could see some small areas of clear sky along the lower horizon. I gave it a 50/50 chance of seeing a sunset vs. having a grey set.

Time seemed to pass slowly, and even the surrounding mountains where not receiving any light and with the sun behind the mountain Kjerringa, I couldn’t see what was going to happen, we could only wait. But finally, I could see the steep cliffs of Ryten begin to lighten, and then glow bright in direct light! As the minutes passed the sunlight moved towards us, eventually shining across the northern half of the beach. Luck was on our side.

Head over to my Instagram account for (almost) daily postings of the local conditions here on Lofoten: @distant.north

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Sigma 14mm f/1.8
14mm
ISO 31
f 13
120 second
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #407 – Ice Season

Photo: Frozen mountain pond, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. October 21, 2020. 17:16

The landscape has begun to settle into its winter freeze over the last week and many of the small mountain ponds are beginning to ice over. I went for a short hike on Wednesday up towards Solbjørnvatn, under the promise of a clear sky and good northern lights forecast – neither of which turned out to be true. Even the lower ground was mostly frozen and the hiking quite treacherous in places.

I had hiked higher into the mountains, where I was initially planning to wait for northern lights. But the route up over ice covered rock slabs required some tricky navigation, as I wasn’t entirely confident I could find my way down in the dark with the light of my headlamp, so I headed back to a lower spot just after sunset. By now the forecast showed a clear sky, while the scene before me was over ever thickening clouds in the fading light. My feet were wet from some of the bog which wasn’t yet frozen and a cold wind was blowing. It was barely 17:00.

So I took one last photo of this frozen pond, which I think ended up nicer than any of the sunset photos from earlier. I sat for a moment, glad to have my winter jacket on, as I took in the conditions. Should I stay and hope it clears? Or head down and try again another time. Had the evening been still, I probably would have cooked dinner and waited for a while. But as the conditions were, heading back to my van seemed like the better option. Which turned out to be the smarter choice in the end, as sky ended up fully cloudy and the aurora never arrived.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift
24mm
ISO 100
f 9.5
1 second
WB Daylight
2 images – top, bottom

Friday Photo #404 – Rainbow Season

Photo: September rainbow over Olstind, Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. September 15, 2020. 12:33

One benefit of all the rain this autumn is rainbows! In general, autumn on Lofoten is what I like to call ‘rainbow season.’ Even though rain can be just as common in summer, the autumn weather patterns seem to produce rainbows on a more regular basis.

With a bit of understanding of the weather and where rainbows occur – opposite the sun, it is actually somewhat possible to predict where a rainbow might occur and use it to your advantage. Or, at least showing up at the right time of day, you can maybe get a rainbow over a mountain like Olstind here in Reine. A couple hours earlier or later and the rainbow would not have been in the same location.

Unfortunately, the bay had been completely still with a nice reflection when I first arrived, but with the rain came the wind, blowing away the calm waters. Still, one of my better attempts at a rainbow over Olstind. With all my autumn tours canceled this year thanks to Covid-19, at least I can try and capture some better versions of this scene – or maybe up from Reinebringen as well. If one thing is certain, there will be plenty more rain in the next weeks…

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
26mm
ISO 100
f 10
1/125 second1
WB Daylight
Polarizer filter

Friday Photo #401 – Kirkefjord Rain

Photo: Merraflestind rising into the rain over Kirkefjord, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. August 28, 2020. 14:34

The weather forecast was more promising than reality. What showed mostly sun and some clouds turned into mostly clouds and rain. Such is the weather on Lofoten. Even so, I found myself on the ferry from Reine on a Friday afternoon heading out to one of the beaches for the weekend – the ferry has now switched to the winter schedule now, so there are no Saturday departures.

As the boat approached Kirkefjord the next wave of rain arrived. Off to the right was a nice rainbow, but not it any photographic position. More interesting to me was the layer of sunlight shining across the shoreline village with the mountains rising into the dark rainy sky. As the ferry got closer, Merraflestind seemed to rise over the village like some ancient castle. I’ve been here dozens of times over the years, but never quite seen the scene like this before. Worth a quick snapshot from the front of the boat before an afternoon hiking in the rain!

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
38mm
ISO 200
f 8
1/400 second
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #398 – Changing Seasons

Photo: Changing seasons – low August clouds sweep across the summit of Olstind, Hamnøy, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. August 22, 2019. 11:58

Every year in late August there comes a shift from summer to autumn. That’s not to say summer cannot have weeks of grey and dismal weather, which most years there is plenty. But in summer there is alway hope that the sun and warmth will come back again. By mid to late August, that hope begins to fade with each passing day. And as the sun circles lower and lower in the sky, the winds become a little more frequent until that first autumn storm arrives, letting us know summer is really over.

But with the changing weather comes more interesting conditions and the beginning of rainbow season with the more frequent passing rain showers. Though on other days, like it has mostly been since last weekend here, the clouds can be low and dark, and full of a misty rain which coats everything. But at times, even these clouds clear, giving you a hint of the mountains rising above.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
58mm
ISO 64
f 11
30 seconds
WB Daylight
B+W 10 stop ND filter
2 images – top, bottom

Friday Photo #396 – The Maelstrom

Photo: The Maelstrom – Mosken and Very rise in the distance across Moskstraumen, Lofoten Islands, Norway. August 1, 2020. 22:32

Until last weekend I had only visited Lofotodden – The very western tip of Moskenesøy once before during a sailing trip in 2014 where we moored in Buvågen bay for a night. So when a friend informed my that they had a boat ride lined up for the weekend, I was excited to join in!

The Original plan had been to hike to both Refsvika and Hellsegga, but in typical Lofoten fashion, a heavy layer of summer fog enveloped the islands of Friday and well into Saturday. So we skipped Refsvika and just decided on a night camping on Hellsegga, a 600 meter high flat mountain rising over the southern end of Lofoten – basically the end of Lofoten.

From the southern side of Hellsegga one has fantastic views over Moskstraumen, one of the worlds strongest currents, and the islands of Mosken and Værøy. There is lots of folklore in Norway about Moskstraumen and whirlpools swallowing ships and sailors. But un this particular evening it looked quite calm in the fading summer twilight.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 70-200mm f/4
92mm
ISO 100
f 6.3
1/50 second
WB Daylight
2 images – top, bottom for 4:5 ratio

Friday Photo #384 – The Long Winter

Photo: Winter without end – sea to summit snow over Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. May 14, 2020. 21:45

It has snowed for the last 10 days straight and it is currently snowing outside my window as I type this. I think May has had more winter weather than this year’s winter! I’m semi joking, but actually, the warmest day of the year was 10˚c on January 2nd. We’ve reached 8˚c a couple times since then, but the last weeks have remained cold. And with the long term forecast (as unreliable as that is anyhow) only showing up to 8˚c by the 24th of May, I’m not sure we’ll break the 10 degree boundary this month at all. And the one year were a calm, sunny spring is needed for us here in the north…

I attempted to head up Ryten on Wednesday evening, but having gotten a late start, I made terribly slow progress through the often knee deep snow. And so I made a detour to a side peak to at least catch some sunset light before returning to my van mostly empty handed.

Yesterday evening was attempt number two. I took a different route, the more direct one which I normally just use for skiing, not hiking. and though the snow was thinner, the spongy bushes underfoot made me wish I was on my skis – and once I was post holing through the beautiful 20cm powder on the upper slopes, I was even more depressed I wasn’t on my skis – it was better snow than I had skied on the mountain all year.

But I was there for photography, not recreation unfortunately, and my skiing abilities aren’t such that I can carry two camera, two tripods, and several lenses without severe risk of damage – and as Corona has made me unemployed for the summer, I can’t go breaking stuff at the moment, though that is already too late for my 14-24 lens which broke in April…

It is always windy on Ryten, and last night was no exception. I made sure to get an early start, knowing the snow would add some time to my normal hiking pace. I reached the summit around 19:00 – 4 hours before sunset. Maybe a little early!

Timing is everything for Ryten and Kvalvika. And at this time of year, the setting sun shines directly into the bay and across the beach, generally providing the best lighting conditions. Luckily, the snow actually makes this look like a winter image, but it’s not actually an image that can be taken in winter due to where the sun needs to be.

After several hours changing light – I was really up there to work on another project which may or may not ever see the light of day – and with cold feet, I headed down just before 23:00 as a large wave of snow was approaching from sea.

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift
24mm
ISO 40
f 11
60 seconds
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #373 – Winter Twilight

Photo: Soft winter twilight the mountain peaks of Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. February 19, 2020. 16:46

This image is a prologue to last week’s post: Friday Photo #372.

There is always a bit of a balance of how much waiting around one wants to do if heading out to the mountains for northern lights without camping. Do you go up early, shoot sunset, and then wait around some undetermined amount of time in the cold and dark for the aurora to show up later in the evening. Or do you just head up sometime after dark – assuming you know the route, and give yourself a shorter wait.

On this day I did a bit of both. It was the first clear and calm day I can remember so far this winter. I hadn’t quite decided where I was going when I left my house in the late afternoon, only that it would be something around the Fredvang area. As I crossed the twin bridges, the mountains of Flakstad were glowing in the warm afternoon light. As I continued into Selfjord there were multiple places I would have liked to stop, as the reflections were perfect! But I had no time, unfortunately.

As I pulled into the parking area for my hike, I kicked myself for not leaving even 30 minutes earlier. And I had actually planned to leave a little later, but finished my projects for the day ahead of schedule. As I put on my crampons I headed up the flat ridgeline through the snow, racing the last sunlight quickly disappearing from the distant mountain peaks. I was too late.

Soon though, a cold winter twilight began to take over the landscape. I knew I would have a decent viewpoint a little higher up the ridge, so now it became another race. Would the twilight last long enough for me to arrive? Luckily it did! And the result is that I did not come away from the evening completely empty handed – waiting for northern lights that never appeared…

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
48mm
ISO 100
f 10
.3 second
WB Daylight

Friday Photo #372 – Forecast Vs. Reality

Photo: Forecast: Clear sky and KP5 northern lights. Reality… Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. February 19, 2020. 19:15

Finally, after endless weeks (months really) of near constant clouds over Lofoten there was a forecast for clear sky on Wednesday night which also happened to coincide with KP5 aurora. Those that have read these posts for a while know that I’m skeptical of both. However, as Tuesday nights aurora was quite good – that of which I could see between the waves of clouds – I decided to be optimistic and take a hike, literally.

As late afternoon passed I hit the road for my destination, half way up Kitind with a view over the west side of Kvalvika beach. The light was fantastic and the sky perfectly clear. I kicked myself for not heading up earlier in the day and not being able to catch sunset, but at least I got some fantastic twilight glow half way up to my destination.

I slightly misjudged where I wanted to shoot from, which was past one final steep 100 meters of ridgeline. But in the fading light, I decided just to stay at a place that was good enough. A smart decision it would later turnout. And so around 17:00 in the fading light I pulled out my sleeping pad and had a cold dinner of Bunnpris pasta salad while waiting for that KP5 aurora to show up.

It never did. What did arrive was clouds. And then more clouds. I could see some clear spots in the sky at times, but the area north, which I needed to be clear, remained almost constantly cloudy. So I waited and waited a bit more. Some test shots showed a hit of green, but nothing more.

A little after 19:00 I used the last batter power on my phone to check the radar, a big wave of snow was due my way in around 30 minutes. Ikke bra!

Normally, under such circumstances I would have camped and weather would have been less of an issue. But as I had to drive to Svolvær relatively early Thursday morning, camping wasn’t an option. I might have already used this as an excuse to not even hike at all, but at the moment Lofoten is completely crowded with photographers, so the only way to be alone is to go up.

Not wanting to hike down with zero visibility and not have my tracks to follow, I made a quick descent off the mountain – much easier than the way up though the deep snow! The sky was fully overcast and a light snow falling when I finally reached my van. Driving home I could see most of the pull out spots filled with cars, patiently waiting for that clear sky and KP5.

It never came. Sometime after midnight, long after I had gone to bed, I could see on one of the webcams that there was some aurora activity into the late morning hours, but nothing worth (for me) waiting up that late for, but I’m sure many did – the benefit of being on holiday…

Camera Info:
Nikon D850
Sigma 14mm f/1.8
14mm
ISO 2500
f 2
8 seconds
WB Daylight