Norway's Lofoten Islands 2017 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Mar 09, 2017

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets...” — Edward Bulwer-Lytton
I arrived at the Evenes airport in Norway—two days earlier than our Lofoten landscape photography tour start date. Trip leaders typically arrive a day or two early to get things organized, go over logistical details between co-leaders, and have at least a day to recover from jet lag before meeting the group. The sun was just sinking in the sky, and during my taxi ride to our hotel, the snow blanketing the horizon-to-horizon birch forest was beautifully backlit. Wow, I thought. This trip is going to get off to a great start!
Then I refer you to those famous words penned by novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. 
All during the night the wind howled, the windows rattled, and the driving sleet and rain pelted the hotel until morning. I thought the roof might blow off. When I opened the curtains in the morning there was a thick overcast. The nearby snowcapped mountains had disappeared. And the snow was totally gone.
Despite my apprehension of dicey weather, the group arrived in good spirits and we soon embarked on our westward journey into the heart of the Lofoten archipelago.  Photo opportunities of sweeping panoramic vistas of tiny hamlets juxtaposed against towering “Yosemite-like” granite cliffs allowed us to score our first exciting images. Because the days are short on the Arctic Circle in February we could be out during the "blue hour" when village lights glow warmly in the cold blue landscape, and still return to our hotel for a hearty breakfast.
Though the weather remained overcast for several days, the cloud ceiling was high enough to reveal the mountains that we used as a strong background for much of our photography. Whether we were shooting villages or wave swept beaches, marshlands or tranquil harbors, the mountains remained with us throughout the tour.
But we were lacking snow.  During our time there were numerous news reports about the extreme warm weather in the Arctic, totally unseasonable for this time of year. This was happening throughout the Arctic and record high temperatures had been recorded in various locations earlier in the winter. Due to a fluke of geography, Lofoten sticks out into the Gulf Stream where it “experiences one of the world’s largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to its high latitude.” So extreme changes in weather are expected here. We were hoping for one of these extreme changes—we wanted snow. And for the last half of our trip, snow we got! In some of our shooting locations, 15 inches of snow fell over two or three days. Our winter wonderland had arrived.
The Lofoten archipelago is comprised of four large islands and an almost countless number of smaller islands, islets and rocks—and we visited many of them. This is a Viking land and there is evidence of human settlement that extends back almost 11,000 years. These days about 25,000 people live in the archipelago. Marauding Vikings no longer dominate the economy, and tourism vies with fishing as the main industry.
Unlike earlier times when boats were the main mode of transportation between the islands, these days a series of impressive modern bridges and lengthy tunnels that penetrate mountains and also connect islands under the sea, link the entire archipelago from east to west. What would probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the US—possibly billions of dollars—services both the fishing and tourism industries, and may also act as a strategic connection if needed for natural emergencies or for the military (Lofoten still remembers its invasion during WWII). This incredible infrastructure was paid for by the bonanza Norway has received from North Sea oil.
One of the really unique aspects of our trip to Lofoten is our use of traditional fishermen’s “rorbuer” cabins throughout our trip. These cabins, historically used by fisherman, now accommodate the growing number of tourists who frequent the archipelago. Most are built on stilts on rocky shores where you can sleep with the gentle sound of the sea lapping below your floorboards. You can see some of these cabins in the accompanying slideshow. They are the red and sometimes yellow buildings depicted in the images. And our trip participants love them.
Even without the photography—and notwithstanding that ever-changing weather—being in Lofoten in the winter is a magical experience. The area ranks among the most spectacular mountain/sea landscapes in the world, with cozy villages nestled below towering granite cliffs reflected in quiet harbors, the trappings of a vibrant cod fishing industry, and the ambience of unspoiled nature on all sides.
Then, of course, there is also the photography!