Photography in The Lofoten Islands During the Midnight Sun
Ever since I spent July in northern Norway a couple years ago, I’ve become obsessed with midnight sun photography. It’s just such a fascinating thing. I mean, the sun literally doesn’t set for about 2 months in the Lofoten Islands. And from a photography standpoint, the app PhotoPills says that at the end of June – the month we visited on this trip – golden “hour” starts at 10pm and runs until 3:30am. I’d argue that it’s closer to 8pm – 5am.
I mean, the light is just unreal basically all night.
What I love most about photographing the midnight sun isn’t just the light; it’s the absurdity of having these places to yourself.
In most popular travel destinations, the iconic locations are often swarmed with self-takers and tourists. But how many tourists decide to go out and take pictures at 2am?
The result is a perfect bit of solitude at some of the most visited places in the Lofoten Islands.
In this blog post, I’m going to walk you through some of the highlights of the photography workshop we ran in Norway. It was incredible.
Midnight Hike in Brensholmen
Before my workshop participants arrived, I wanted to scout out a photography location that I hadn’t been before. Brensholmen is a town basically straight west of Tromso. Just outside of town, there’s a small hike up to a beautiful view of the coast. I thought it would be the perfect place to watch the midnight sun hover over the horizon.
I wasn’t really planning on taking pictures. But, it was such a fascinating thing to be able to photograph into the sun at 1 in the morning that I couldn’t resist.
I also go my drone up. And I know it’s getting old, but how often can you fly a drone and capture beautiful landscape imagery at 1am? At the end of it, I think my drone image of this boat heading out on a midnight cruise is my favourite photo of the shoot.
After taking some pictures directly into the midnight sun, I decided to take a longer lens out of my camera bag and try to capture some details of the landscape and sea. The next image was made using the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. I also used a hard grad ND filter to hold in the light on the sky.
Sheep on a Beach with James Popsys
After sleeping from about 3am to 11am, I woke up to greet the participants of my workshop.
I also scooped James Popsys up from the airport. If you don’t know James, go check out his photography channel on YouTube. He’s a character, great photographer, and just a good dude to have around. I asked James to join this trip as a space opened up by a cancellation. He was awesome to have on the trip.
With James and the squad, we rolled down the famous E6 highway to the Lofoten Islands.
If you follow James’ channel, you know there are a couple running jokes. One of those jokes is that James never uses a tripod. The other is that he loves sheep. On our first shoot in The Lofoten Islands I did catch him using a tripod – so that might be an exaggeration. But, a group of sheep on the beach did seem to gravitate to him – so I’d say that theory has been proven.
As it was out first photo shoot out on the islands, we decided to take things pretty easy. I wandered around with some of the participants to make sure they were getting good images. And, honestly, the light wasn’t anything to write home about, so we were pretty chilled.
Eventually, though, we got a really brief window of good light and I managed to capture an image I really like. The below photo was taken at f/11, 0.5seconds, iso100, @34mm. I used a 4 stop medium grad ND filter.
An Epic Window of Light
Honestly, on these photography tours we often spend a lot of time driving around chasing light. Sometimes it works out really well, and other times you spend a whole day driving around in the rain. On the second full day of the tour, we were doing the later.
It rained for the first 2 or 3 hours we were out exploring, and it was starting to look like the evening could be a bust.
Then, almost out of nowhere, the light really started hammering through the clouds and left the whole Reine area of the Lofoten Islands bathed in soft light and colour. It was phenomenal. For a solid 2 hours we ran around capturing images. I think it might have been the widest variety of images I’ve ever captured in such a short period of time.
It all started with some moody light where I was trying out James’ skill of taking pictures without a tripod.
Then, just as I was prepping to take moody pictures to compensate for the lack of good light. This happened.
And from the same spot I photographed the above picture, I pulled out a long lens and captured the below photo. If you look at the top image, can you see the cabin from below?
Panning to the right, again from the exact same standing point, I found this beautiful scene and the light pummeling through the scene beautifully.
James had spotted a series of cliffs not far away that he was dying to photograph, so we popped in our van and headed just south of Reine. Sure enough, there was another photo to be made.
And, seriously, have you ever seen clouds like this?
After that, we thought that the light might die on us. And, as we drove back across Reine towards Hamnoy rain started to hit us pretty heavily. But, while we were there we thought it was probably clever to see if we could capture an image of the classic view from Hamnoy Bridge. And, as we set up tripods in the rain, that incredible back-light came back.
If that wasn’t enough, as we drove home the light decided to come out for us again at Skagsanden Beach. I’m not really a fan of the photo I made, but you can’t fault the light.
The Coolest Soccer Field in The World
With the weather not looking great for the next couple days, we chose to do some exploring.
In photography, it’s pretty easy to get hung up on the idea of “good light” and the right weather. I think we often get stubborn and choose specific places we want to photograph rather than just wandering. But, wandering often leads to the best images.
So, we wandered.
Eventually, our wandering took us to the town of Henningsvær which is one of the more popular destinations in the Northern Lofoten Islands for tourists. And while it is beautiful, the reason that we came here was for the football field. The pitch is stuffed down onto a small slab of earth surrounded by the sea. The only way to get a real appreciation for it is via some aerial photography. So, I got my drone up.
After leaving Henningsvær, we started to make our way back to Leknes in a light drizzle of rain. But, James spotted a cabin on the drive in, so we hunted it down for some photos.
And while this location isn’t obviously spectacular, it does make for some beautiful photos. I think all the participants got a really cool image here.
The Stupidest Landscape Photography Challenge in the History of Ever
I’m going to drop the video of this landscape photography challenge below because it’s a little bit ridiculous.
Essentially, I’ve started to find a lot of fun in these challenges. I think it forces me out of my creativity box and makes me re-work my thinking. However, a lot of the challenges I’ve done recently have been pretty basic. So, I asked the participants in the workshop to come up with something borderline means. And, yeah, I got one.
The challenge was to make a photo of a seascape with my feet in the water. Seems simple right? Of course, the kicker was that I had to do it with a 10-stop ND filter.
Of course, being the competitive person I am, it wasn’t really enough to just take a photo, I wanted a good one.
So, I painfully stepped down the rocks and into the sea near Reine to grab an image. I spent about 10 minutes in the water screaming like a small child. It was painful, but I do think the image kind of works.
What a Send Off!
On the 7th day of Christmas – err, the photography trip – we were rewarded with about 8 hours worth of golden hour.
It wasn’t perfect We did have to wait through little downpours of rain. But it was pretty spectacular.
As it was the last day of the trip, I basically asked all the other photographers which area of the Lofoten they wanted to spend their time in. They all chose the south. So, we headed down to the Reine and Hamnoy area once again.
I should have known we were in for a treat when at 630pm as we headed south we already stopped to take photos at a viewpoint near Ramberg. The light was sort of shooting through the clouds and hitting the hills in a really crisp and dreamy way. We couldn’t resist a photo.
As we headed south, we stopped in Sakrisoy which is actually one of my favourite places in the Lofoten Islands for photography. It’s right next to the classic views of Hamnoy, but I feel like there’s way more to work with from a composition stand point here.
And, again, the light didn’t disappoint.
There was a point, though, that the light almost got a bit frustrating. Not that it wasn’t beautiful, but it was just in the wrong place.
I found a beautiful scene of some cabins along the water, but there was a massive wooden fish rack totally blocking the scene.
So, I got a little bit creative and decided to use the structure to work as a frame for my image. I dialed down the aperture to about f/4 for this image to help blur hour the frame, and push the eye’s focus onto the cabins and the light.
And, it wouldn’t be a photography trip to Norway without going to the classic viewpoint of Hamnoy at least 3 times. So, once again we headed down.
I think I made the mistake on the last trip of believing that the only really powerful image of Hamnoy is from on top of the bridge. In reality, there’s a really beautiful couple images too be made from lower down. In fact, we climbed just below the bridge onto the rocks for the image below.
It works really well because of the direction of the lines on the rocks that lead the eye into the cabins and then up to the mountain.
While we were photographing Hamnoy, the weather turned on us and it started to rain again. So, we decided that with 3 or 4 really nice images in the bag from the evening we’d start to make our way home.
Then, on the way home, the light decided it wasn’t done being epic.
Somewhere near Ramberg, we pulled off at the side of the road and wandered down to the sea to capture one last seascape on the Lofoten Islands before calling it a trip.
If you’ve been following the YouTube channel you know that I did something crazy this week. Nothing’s finalized, but it looks like we’re going to be based in Portugal from next year onward, which is exciting.