This year’s trip to the Lofoten Islands in Norway was full of challenges. Without challenges we don’t learn or improve what we do. So, I do love a challenge, but on the very first day the islands were hit with a massive storm that even got the locals talking. I was warned by several to stay inside whilst the 70 mph winds snapped telephone poles like they were toothpicks. The Norwegians are used to severe weather so when they recommend to stay inside it’s a good idea to heed the warning. If I were on my own I could always find something to do such as process images from my last trip, post images to Instagram or even write my next newsletter, but I had six photographers on my photo workshop just itching to get out and explore the islands with their cameras. It was a good opportunity to review everyone’s images they brought with them, catch up with old friends and get to know new ones.
The next morning the winds had subsided to leave beautiful mirror reflections in the fjords. As we set out in our van, another challenge presented itself in the form of a large hole in the side glass window left by a piece of flying debris or ice. Luckily, one of the guys had a roll of duct tape. First law of the universe: You can never have too much duct tape. Duct tape can fix just about anything and it certainly fixed our window. We made it to Reine to capture some of the best conditions I’ve seen in the 6 years I’ve been going there.
Over the next few days the weather proposed more challenges with rain and gale force winds. I made this image of the red house in the rain, which I think works much better as the dull conditions creates a monochromatic, feel making the red house stand out. I had to place a rain cover on the camera and keep wiping raindrops from the lens. Even in bad conditions, the beauty of Norway shines through with simple, graphic images like this.
One evening during a full moon rise, we returned to our base in time to capture the blue hour, that time about 30 minutes after sunset when the lights come on and the ambient light transforms to a deep blue to contrast with the warm illuminations before the sky turns black. This cabin was built a few years ago and I’ve been wanting to make a blue hour shot of it ever since, but the opportunity hadn’t arisen until now.
All the elements were there: snow, full moon (though not exactly where I wanted it), lights in the cabin, and unfortunately, gusting winds that nearly blew me off my feet several times. There is only one place to stand to get the apex of the roof perfectly in line with the mountain and it happens to be right next to the road. As I was heading for the spot, a car pulled up and stopped. As two photographers got out of their car with photo backpacks my opportunity looked to be fading away. Not deterred, I swiftly jumped the guardrail and placed my tripod in the prime spot. The light levels were dropping quickly, I had to do a test exposure for the moon and one for the cabin. I had to increase my ISO to obtain a faster shutter speed because of the wind, but the difference between the exposure of the moon and the cabin was too great so the moon would burn out. This was an opportunity to use the double exposure feature of the Nikon D850. I made one exposure for the scene using the 70-200mm lens at 70mm, then one exposure for the moon at 200mm placing it exactly where I wanted it. This took several attempts to get a sharp image in the blustery winds, but my persistence paid off.
Photographing the Lofoten Islands is such a dramatic experience in itself, but there is one thing that every photographer wants to capture, the aurora. With such challenging weather conditions during the week, it looked as though experiencing an aurora might not happen until the very last evening. Skies were clear and the predicted aurora activity was high so we set off for a popular beach with high hopes of capturing an aurora. When I say popular, there were more tripods on that beach than sun beds on a Spanish beach in the peak of summer. The display was good, but in my experience, not great and then it was over. But at least everyone captured it and for most, this was the first time.
As we were pulling into our base someone shouted ‘the lights are on!’ We quickly pulled in by the fjord, jumped out to see the sky erupting with green swirls. It was changing by the minute, and then it morphed into a large curve right to the mountain peak. I switched to a vertical position and managed to fire off a couple of shots before it changed again. I wanted to take in as much sky as possible so I used my 14-24mm lens set wide open at f/2.8. I would normally use a high ISO starting around 3200, but with the full moon light illuminating the landscape, I was able to shoot at 2000 ISO. As the aurora was changing very quickly, a relatively short exposure of 6 seconds did the job. Within minutes the frenzied sky calmed to a green haze then clouded up. Everyone was ecstatic to experience and capture such an impressive aurora. I’m glad I’ve been able to experience the Lofoten Islands over the past 6 years, seeing the best of it and now unfortunately it’s a victim of its own success. I’ve been exploring other parts of Norway that are just as beautiful and have far less visitors…for now. Watch our YouTube channel Landscape Photography iQ to see our videos about my travels in the Arctic. To see more images of the Lofoten Islands click here. Thanks for reading my blog.
Content-aware fill is such a useful tool in Photoshop as it will save you so much time removing unwanted, distracting elements from your photos. In the early days of Photoshop we would use the clone tool to remove things, but sometimes the results were patchy at best, especially with subtle gradation of tones. Then came […]
Originally published in N Photo magazine. When you’re 1200 feet above your shooting location, it’s essential that you know the lay of the land…or in this case, the ocean. Funny the things you think about when cruising 1200 feet high over the Great Barrier Reef in a helicopter with no door. Am I strapped in […]
Originally published in Amateur Photographer Magazine November 2013. Tom Mackie shows that there’s more to a building than its exterior. He offers tips and techniques on how to create great images of architectural interiors. When you think of striking architectural images, it’s usually exteriors that spring to mind, but it’s often a building’s interior that […]