#109 Magic from the Lofoten

By philberphoto | News

Jun 02

My friend Boris asked me if, after our first experience together shooting Ludwig’s crazy castle Neuschwanstein, I would be interested to shoot with him over an extended April week-end in the Lofoten islands. The what? Where? But Boris being who he is, meaning a superb landscape photographer, I accepted. We also decided to extend the same invitation to a few other members of the forum where we congregate. Two accepted, Luka, whom I had no met, but turned out to be a charming fellow and a great photographer (I knew that already from the Net) and another chap who never showed up.

Luka was to meet Boris in Sweden, and drive with him to Bodö in Norway, where I would join them late in the day to take the night ferry across to Lofoten, an archipelago off the Norwegian coast, North of the polar circle.

Well, it didn’t happen that way. Boris drove Luka to Bodö, with time to kill until my plane came in. So what would a couple of ‘togs do, but shoot some pics? Boris, ever the perfectionist, climbed up a small hillock, failed to notice an ice patch, slipped and fell. To make a long story short, he had a nasty leg fracture, and went back to his native Germany for an operation, 6 weeks off his feet, and a metal plate in his leg for months…:-(

But, with nothing we could do to relieve Boris’ plight, Luka and I went on the night ferry, and to the Lofoten, where we landed in the small town of Reine at some 5 a.m. How to describe the Lofoten? Basically, 4 worlds tell the story. Mountains, bad weather, fish, and bright colours. Is this not a clear description?

Well, with prevalent weather, clarity is not the most obvious feature of Lofoten scenery. Though, close up, you notice how bright the colours are, even in foul weather:

Then, it is impossible not to mention the mountains, volcanic in origin:

And lastly, the fish. Mostly cod, it is hung out to dry in vast quantities, with the heads hung seperately. Beautiful, it may not be, appetizing, definitely not. But that can make for interesting pictures nonetheless:

Now I have maligned the Loften weather. Though it is a very wet place, with no soul living there without a waterproof overall, boots and headgear, even to walk your kids and push prams, there are spells of sunshine, and then, even with just a few rays, the Lofoten magic begins to show, that makes it one of Europe’s great landscape photography destinations. The sun was beginning to outshine the foul weather on these fishing houses, or this 300-year old church.

The Lofoten live from fishing, and some tourism in the summer months. This is a reminder of their Viking ancestry, when their sailors pretty much spanned the world, from landing in North America to conquering Russia, all the way from the Baltic to the Black Sea:

The fishing activity happens to be very colourful, with litterally tons of photo opportunities, from the large:

to the small:

and all sizes in-between:

No fishing activity of course without a lighthouse…

And the fish. Always the fish….

Those of you who are true landscape photographers will have noticed that I talk about landscapes, but have yet to show a single true landscape picture, meaning one where there is not a trace of human interference with nature. Well, fact is, the Lofoten are a treasure trove for landscape shooting, including magnificent vistas of great fjords

Now, so far, I haven’t mentioned any equipment, and I know that there are gear fiends out there among you, with serious cases of gear lust. My main equipment was Canon 5D II with Zeiss ZE glass (the great Distagon 21 f:2.8, the delightful Planar 50 f:1.4, its longer sibling Planar 85 f:1.4), and a sturdy but light  Velbon tripod (530 Sherpa Pro). I made almost no use of the 85, the Lofoten lending itself best to “normal size” focal lengths (35mm to 50mm).

But Boris had said never to go on a trip without a second body, so I took my diminutive Sony NEX 5 (the original, not the upgaded 5N) and two Zeiss lenses, the 35mm Biogon C f:2.8, a lens that is both a great performer if you just push contrast a bit, and a small, light, and not overexpensive (by Zeiss standards) package, and the fantastic ZM 50mm Planar f:2.0. In this post, I have mixed Canon shots with NEX pics, and I don’t think that they reflect poorly on the Sony midget, which started my love story with that product line, moving up the fun-tastic 5N, and now the great 7.

And non-photo equipement matters. As you could see from the weather, it was both cold and wet. I came with essentially ski equipment (long trousers, jacket, boots, gloves, wollen headgear, full-body underwear), and, without it, no way could I have stuck it out during the long stationary pauses that are required for long-exposure photography in the cold. Of course, it is not the sort of equipement that emphasizes mobility, but one does not need to trek in the Lofoten. A rental car is all one needs, and the shooting spots were always with a few dozen yards from the road.

There is one caveat about going to the Lofoten. Did I talk about the weather? Well, if you have a rental car from the Continent, you need a ferry to take you back, and ferries and bad weather don’t mix too well. On the day of our return, things didn’t go well. My Canon started by failing. I learned later that the shutter had died, with only 10.000 clicks on a camera that should withstand more than 10 times that. For shame, Canon! Then, the weather forecast said “storm warning”, and we conferred with Lilianne, the congenial and well-informed owner and host of a delightful Bed-and-breakfast, in Reine, called “det Gamle Hotellet’, where we had stayed. Our ferry was cancelled, and she suggested we try others, from other Lofoten locations, or the small commercial airline. As we got to the diminutive airport, that shut down too, and we raced down the islands to whatever ferry we could reach that hadn’t cancelled yet. Well, raced is not totally true, because we still took time to stop for some photos; We are ‘togs, right? And the NEX 5 saved me from losing those opportunities, and demonstrated that even a very small cam costing less than an arm and a leg can really perform when fitted with great glass.

Finally, we managed to get onto the only ferry that still sailed, the large one from Hurtigruten -thanks, guys!- and, after a rough crossing, we were back on the mainland. I parted ways with Luka, who had been just a wonderful partner, eager to show and teach, accomodating as a travel companion, and a warm, friendly fellow.

I will definitely go back to the Lofoten, maybe this time in summer, which must look very different. But, beware, it is also fast becoming a popular retreat sort of place, and while there was no-one there that got in our way, summer months are much more crowded. Relatively speaking, of course, because the Lofoten are in fact very sparsely populated; But its people were unfailingly warm and friendly, and food was a lot better than I had imagined. That is, if you like fish!

It was my first experience with a dedicated multi-day photo trip with a partner, and it was so good that I can’t imagine why more of us aren’t doing this. Well, I can imagine, actually, but it is still a great way to carry out our favorite hobby…

Did I mention I didn’t eat a lot of cod, lately?