#140. Lofoten Shtunk?

By philberphoto | Travel Photography

Mar 01

What’s not to love with the Lofoten?

Well, to begin with, the weather. Especially in February, when the key question is: what’s is going to be worse, the cold, the storm or the snowfall? Or all three? It seems like the Lofoten are the world’s centre of storm-suit usage. In the immortal words of Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”: “Lofoten Weather Shtunk!” (for those not privy to this special language, it means “Lofoten weather stinks”, pronounced with a mixture of animus, a lot of aggression, and spite)._DSC3902-1_CF-1

As you can see, the weather was really bad, starting with the first early morning!

Then there is the fish. Lots of fish, hanging outside to dry. Basically, “Lofoten Fish Shtunk!” The smell has one advantage though. As we exited the cabin in the morning before breakfast, one whiff of Lofoten fish removed any lust for said breakfast.

By saying “we”, I mean Boris and I. Readers of DearSusan will remember my friend Boris, the German perfectionist, with whom I went to Patagonia last year. We had already attempted to shoot the Lofoten together, but a nasty fall on a treaturous ice patch had sent Boris off to hospital instead. Ice Patch Shtunk!

He knows this remote corner of the world (an archipelago just off the Northwest coast of Norway, north of the Arctic Circle) well, having spent many family summers there, and it would be his first shoot in winter garb.

Another goal was to see and shoot aurora borealis, for which the Lofoten are a very good vantage point. That is, with a bit of luck, clear skies, and a lot of patience. Did we come back with shots of the elusive phenomenon? Not one, despite there being a few during our stay. What can I say, other than “Wimp photographers Shtunk!”. Fact is that we were out shooting roughly 11 hours each day, and didn’t have the energy left to stay up much of the night.

Interestingly, for such a remote part of the world, the Lofoten are getting to be quite popular for the twin attractions of photography and aurora borealis. Boris and I actually met quite a few photographers on the way there and during the trip, but only once did that hinder our progress (Intrusion into another photographer’s picture Shtunk!). And once, Boris saw at least 15 of them litterally lined up facing his favorite vista. But otherwise, we were free to shoot as we pleased.

Now those of you familiar with my previous expeditions with Boris know that he is both a perfectionnist and a hard-core fetishist. In Patagonia, I uncovered his fetish for waterfalls and cascades, as he shot many dozens of them. Here, it was for hilltops. Boris just loves great vistas, for which he can use his favorite wide angles, as long as they are absolutely clean of anything human, and offer good composition. So hilltops are to him as attractive as waterfalls, providing they also offer him a good foreground. I am actually debating whether to call him a foreground fetishist, or merely a foreground fanatic. At any rate, for Boris, Picture without foreground Shtunk!

This was Boris’ favorite vista, fortunately not from a hilltop:


It feels like he must have taken me there no less than 10 times, either for sunrise or sundown, in his quest for perfect light. He also took to a hilltop close-by, which needed serious work and equipment to get to, which is why I didn’t go. That and also the fact that, not sharing Boris’ perfectionism (I am only his padawan, remember), I was soon looking for other places of interest while he went off one more time to his vista or hilltop for one more shoot.

The result, as it showed up on my screen when I reviewed my shots, is interesting. While not considering myself a fetishist at all, it just happens that maybe 40% of my interesting shots for the whole trip came from just one spot, either shooting to the left


or to the right


It feels like I must have shot that place at least 12 times! And always with pleasure and a feeling that it was worth doing. Could I be a closet fetishist?

As you can see, we were doing quite a bit of sunrise photography, meaning at least 45mn before sunrise. I had thought that, the Lofoten being so far North, sunrise would be late-ish and sundown early, leading to short, comfortable days. Not so. Because the sun doesn’t rise very far over the horizon, it moves very slowly, thus granting us very long sunrises, stretching all the way from 7:30 to 9:30, and the same in the evening.

Actually, we stopped at 9:30 not because the light went bad, but because the only place where Boris could get a capuccino within 50km of our cabin opened at 10:00. And, for Boris, you guessed it, Day without Capuccino Shtunk!

Another interesting factoid came up as I reviewed my shots (I came back with around 1000 for 8 days of shooting, and Boris 2500, because he shoots each place of interest with countless variations of lenses, filters and apertures) is how I should have been careful of good pictures. Good Pictures Shtunk!

Because, in the Lofoten, unless the weather is seriously not cooperative, it is just too easy to get good pictures. Something like this:


This explains why it is getting to be a popular destination for photo tours, as, weather permitting, no-one will come back without good pics.

But Boris and I were definitely not out to get good pics, and I should have been more ruthless about not feeling too easily satisfied with my work. But overall, it is still a spot where a landscape photographer’s keeper rate will be higher than average. All the more so as the spots are very close totgether in the Reine area, and rarely more than 100m from the road, which keeps travel and setup time to a minimum.

So what is there to shoot in the Lofoten? Well, obviously, for Boris, great vistas especially when you are in the area West of Reine. But that requires both good weather, which we had lots of, and wide angles lenses, which I didn’t have. Boris, with his Leica M9 had an 18mm. I had one also ( a Zeiss ZM), but it only yielded 27mm when mounted on my NEX.

Fortunately, the Lofoten have tremendous colours on offer. Not only at sunrise and sunset, but also during the day. Actually, in winter the sun never really rises, so even mid-day light remains usable. Here are a couple of examples.



Now some of you may remember that, in Patagonia, I badgered Boris to stop so I could shoot dead trees, which, he said, were a fetish of mine.  This time, I badgered him for broken houses and broken boats. Though, of course, nothing says you can’t get a broken house and a nice sunrise, too. This one, in Hvalfjoerd._DSC4418-1

DSC03742-1_CF-1 DSC03741-1_CF-1

So, do you think I really am a fetishist? Well, just maybe, because I ended up shooting other broken things, too, like barrels…


Now, until then, Boris would say: “Dead and broken things, Shtunk!” (he is an engineer, after all…:-)  But he fell in love with the broken barrel lost on the beach, and shot it maybe 100 times on the afternoon we found it, producing amazing images. Next morning, where do you think Boris was headed? Towards the barrel of course. Except that as we arrived, there was an overweight female tourist with a compact camera that had just walked all around the barrel, trampling and spoiling the virgin snow that Boris had hoped to have, like the previous afternoon. Fat cows, Shtunk! As it was I who had requested a stop on the way to shoot something else, and thus prevented Boris from getting there ahead of said fat cow, I wasn’t too pleased with myself. Neither was he with his padawan, although he was too much of a gentleman to show it.

Just as he was, providing he’d had his morning fix of capuccino, even when I took pictures he would never care for, like this one, because of the mailboxes.


In the second half of this Lofoten narrative, I will talk more about serious matters, like food, equipment, logistics, and also the difference between destination shooting and opportunistic picture-taking, and what shooting together with someone else means.

And, for those who want to see Boris’ great work, go to http://wild-places.com/

  • […] In addition will find some larger images of our trip in this Fred Miranda thread and an interesting and funny travel report, written by Philippe, on Pascal’s Dear Susan blog. […]

  • pascaljappy says:

    A MA ZING ! “100 fois sur le métier remettrez votre ouvrage” certainly works for photography. Those really are beautiful pictures. Can’t wait to visit myself … Thanks Philippe (also for the giggles 😉 ).

  • kilted1 says:

    Wonderful series . I really enjoyed your shots. I like the third from the top best.

  • philberphoto says:

    Thanks, David! Actually, the shot you picked out is my favorite as well, and by quite a margin. I would even put it in my all-time Hall of Fame. Yet, when I posted it in another thread, no comment singled it out. I am therefore pleased to see it resonate not only with me.

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