Norway's Lofoten Islands 2016 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Mar 22, 2016

Trump, Rubio, Kasich, Clinton, Sanders. The news we read in Norway on the internet about the US presidential primaries during our Lofoten Islands tour had me looking at every piece of rural coastal real estate we passed—and wondering if Norway might actually be a great place to live if things get any crazier in the States? (It would be!)
Setting off from Evenes, our group traversed the archipelago to get to our first photo hub, Reine. The day started bright and sunny, but as we headed southeast virtually every fjord and valley seemed to have a different weather system influencing it. We went from sun to fog, to snow, to sun, to rain and back again—all during our four hour drive.  After 40 years of leading tours I can safely say Lofoten has the most varied weather I have ever experienced in a single day!
The photogenic beauty of Reine is the spectacular mountain scenery that rises abruptly from the sea. Juxtaposed with this natural beauty are the charming fishing villages (fiskevӕver) that occupy the islands and cling to the slopes of these snowy maritime peaks. These villages seem to be in perfect harmony with their environment and are a treat to explore with a camera.
From our traditional red fishermen's rorbuer cabins—warm, cozy and with a hint of cod aroma wafting in from the town’s omnipresent fish drying racks—we set forth on our daily photo quests.
In Lofoten, cod is king and one of the world's largest seasonal fisheries takes place here between February and April. Hundreds of thousands of cod (probably millions) can be seen hanging on "hjell"—the towering wooden fish drying racks.  Amazingly, these racks of drying cod are quite photogenic. The fish hang to dry for up to 16 weeks based on optimal weather and wind conditions. The final product is called "stockfish" and when it is reconstituted with water or broth it creates a dense and flavorful fish for cooking. It is used extensively in Italian cuisine.
The cod migrate from the Barents Sea to the archipelago to spawn. Hundreds of boats net these enormous shoals of fish. When they are processed, little is wasted. The cod livers are rendered for oil, just as they have done in Lofoten since the Viking days. The heads are also dried, ground and exported as cheap fish meal for both human and animal consumption. A typical cod contains upwards of four million eggs. Eggs from "hunntorsk"—female cod—are processed into a popular "caviar" spread and sold in tubes like those used for toothpaste. You can find this spread in virtually every grocery store in Norway.
I'll spare you most of the details of the impressive salmon farming operations we saw but, with 1.5 million tons of salmon farmed annually in Norway, you quickly get the picture that—like cod—salmon is a very important commodity in this country.
From Reine we drove to Lofoten’s "Lands End" at the village of Å. To me, the pronunciation of Å sounds similar to the grunting rush of air escaping from an American football player's lungs just as he being tackled. Along the way we stopped at several photogenic villages and shot iconic waterfront scenes of fish houses, boats and wharves. The region is so charming and picture-perfect that you might be convinced it was created by CGI movie magic.
Our next hub was the bustling "city" of Leknes where we also stayed in another classic waterfront rorbuer several kilometers out of town. On the previous day and throughout our repositioning drive we experienced rain, a low cloud ceiling and lots of flat light. But due to the cheerful and gung-ho attitude of our group, we were out and about and able to spend quality time shooting as breaks in the weather permitted.
The scenery in Leknes is quite different from what we saw in Reine. Picturesque beaches and coastal wetlands are the primary features here. We spent many hours creating images of moody seascape and waves breaking on the rocky shores—all amid  a backdrop of Lofoten's ubiquitous snowy mountains. For a couple of days there were no breaks from the overcast skies and our hope for photographing aurora borealis was diminishing. However, as luck would have it, on one afternoon the hour-by-hour weather forecast predicted a two-hour patch of clear sky that coincided with a moderate aurora forecast. (Yes, there actually are aurora forecasts based on solar activity monitored at numerous international data collection stations.)
Changing our schedule to accommodate an early dinner, we hustled out to a north facing beach and set up our tripods and cameras. Typically the aurora will initially appear in the northern sky, so it came as a surprise when darkness fell, the clouds parted and we saw a hint of the fabled lights coming from the south. A quick readjustment was in order. Our spirits soared as a shimmering curtain of light danced across the sky. This was not a "killer" aurora by any means. But, for most of the group who hadn't seen them before, it was a great experience as well as a good photo shoot.
I used this trip and the unique landscapes of Lofoten to do something I seldom do—experiment with black-and-white images. Though the skies were frequently overcast, they were often textured and dramatic. And that drama is easily enhanced in Photoshop. While I am not a fan of overly Photoshopped images, I do think that the monochromatic landscapes that our fickle weather provided were perfectly conducive to experimenting with black-and-white images. I've included a few of them in the short accompanying slide show.
If our US political system gets any weirder, a lot more cod and many more black-and-white images may be in my future!