Norway's Lofoten Islands 2018 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Mar 13, 2018

I’ve come to think of our winter trips to Lofoten, Norway as “patterns shoots.”  Along with abundant impressive coastal and mountain landscapes, we are regularly in the field searching for patterns—patterns of sand on the wave-washed beach, patterns of jumbled ice frozen along the shore, patterns of the aurora borealis as it dances across the sky.

The islands in the Lofoten archipelago are linked together like a giant chain, connected by bridges and tunnels that allow for a relatively quick transit between them.  As one of the trip leaders I am constantly watching local weather patterns— one island may be socked in and overcast, while the adjacent island may not be under the clouds but sunny.  This is of utmost importance when selecting a site with a clear sky to shoot the aurora at night.

Photographing in Lofoten, NorwayPhotographers are not the only people interested in the Lofoten weather patterns while we visit in the winter.  Cod fishermen are also cognizant of the patterns of the Gulf Stream water temperature as the major spawn of the coastal cod commences when it is in a range between 4°C and 6°C (39°F and 43°F).  A 1°C (roughly 2°F) drop in water temperature below that range prior to spawning can delay it substantially.  Why is that pattern interesting to photographers?  The cod fishing industry is very photogenic and if the timing is right an additional photographic dimension is added to an already subject intensive shoot.

The weather during our trip was great for photography.  Snow was on the ground, we had varied light clouds and temperatures, and on three clear nights we enjoyed lengthy shoots with relatively strong aurora borealis.  One day we had close to white-out conditions that left the mountains sparkling white the following day.  Alas, the cold water temperature and the timing of our trip precluded the shots of the cod fishery—but on the upside we did not have to experience the cod odor that permeates the islands during the height of the catch!

Aurora borealis in Lofoten, NorwayIn former years the transient fishermen lived in small shacks along the rocky shore.  These days they tend to live on their boats during the fishing season, while the locals commute from home.  Those “shacks” (rorbu) have been significantly upgraded for tourism and are some of the most intriguing, comfortable and unique accommodations a photographer can enjoy in the Scandinavian North Country.  Our groups love them!

So what made this trip special this year?  We had an enthusiastic and easy-going group.  We enjoyed three nights of photogenic aurora borealis.  The roads were usually ice-free, which made the logistics much easier—and driving a bit safer as well—for the two tour leaders, especially after dark on our aurora quests.  The food at the hotels and restaurants was excellent—deliciously prepared and plentiful.  Snow enhanced the landscapes and acted as a colorful reflector of our rosy-pink sunrises on the mountains. 

Overall, Lofoten is high on my list of great places for a wonderful winter getaway, offering “moderate” temperatures (for a setting above the Arctic Circle in winter), wonderful shooting, awesome landscapes, the potential for good aurora borealis viewing, and enough grocery stores for a group to get their daily fix of junk food—at least for this group, anyway!

Related Tags:  lofoten, norway