I experienced one of the photographic highlights of my life capturing the beauty of the midnight sun on my recent trip to the Lofoten Islands in Norway. Here are three tips on how to make the most of your next summer journey north of the Arctic Circle.
I visited Norway a couple of weeks ago with my family and some friends. We traveled around the country, immensely enjoying the beautiful scenery, weather, and friendly people. While I enjoyed the parks and beaches of Oslo and cruising around the fjords of Stavanger, the highlight of the trip was without a doubt the stunning landscapes of the Lofoten Islands. My photographer friend and I had been eagerly awaiting the four days we were going to spend in Reine, one of the charming towns in Lofoten, and had grand visions of what we assumed would be a photographer's paradise especially given that the sun would never fully set during our stay. Then the rains came.
Weather is both a friend and foe of landscape photographers and we learned first-hand that Mother Nature can be cruel. We spent the first three days of our Lofoten stay experiencing some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the world through a veil of gray, as overcast conditions and rain snuffed out any hint of possible sunlight and color. However, just in the nick of time, the sun looked to reclaim the sky on our last night on the islands and we set off that evening in photographic pursuit, hoping for the best. Long story short, we came back to our rented Rorbu cabins at 4:30 AM the next morning, weary but exhilarated, having spent the night chasing the midnight sun with a treasure-trove of images in hand.
1. Plan Ahead
Planning is the key to successful landscape photography, especially when traveling to remote destinations. It's easy to romanticize the idea of heading off into the great unknown and fortuitously finding the perfect shot, but the reality is it takes work to put yourself in the right place at the right time and get the shot. Prior to my trip, I had conducted extensive photo research to create a list of images I liked, map out the locations, and note focal lengths of the various pictures to determine how best to optimize my lens selection when packing.
I used a combination of 500px, Google Maps (check out this great article by Alex Armitage on making full use of Google Maps for trip planning), and Instagram for photo research. I also spent time browsing for Lofoten photography videos on YouTube, watching Mads Peter Iversen's excellent Norway photography series on repeat. I made a list of all of the images I liked from my research and cross-referenced the locations on Google. Additionally, I noted driving and hiking directions for the various locations. The final step was using The Photographer's Ephemeris app to figure out the best time to photograph each location based on the position of the sun and direction of the light. I made particular use of the gray secondary map pin as a reference for sightline checks to see if a distant mountain would be blocking the sun at a given scene.
At the end of all of this planning, I had a detailed list of potential images. I categorized them into groups based on geographic clusters and ranked them in order of which ones I found most photographically desirable.
2. Follow the Light
When I shoot sunrise and sunset, it is rare that I'm able to shoot more than one location at a time. In areas with multiple spectacular photography locations, I usually have to pick the one that I think has the most potential for a given lighting scenario. In Lofoten, for the first time in my life I didn't have this issue. As the sun never sets during the summer months, you have hours of potentially beautiful light. I find that golden hour light starts to get good when the sun is seven to eight degrees above the horizon, with the light becoming more desirable as the sun dips lower (vice-versa during sunrise). In Lofoten, this meant that the hours between 10 PM and 4 AM were perfect for landscape photography, with the sun hitting it's low point of one and a half degrees above the horizon around 1:30 AM.
Six hours of continuous beautiful light is remarkable. The key is to follow that light. My buddy and I already had a list of potential compositions we had made before the trip and we had added several more during our first three days in Lofoten. We set out on our last night and started driving east from Reine, chasing the sun. Our first stop was at a beautiful overlook point in Reine. There was still significant cloud cover, but we could tell it was clearing and we knew exactly where the sun would shine out. If the sun peeked out, I knew there was potential for a beautiful sunburst, so I placed myself in position on the overlook bridge and set a small aperture to create a crisp, pronounced effect.
We continued east, stopping at various locations on our list and following alternate paths as light filtered through the clouds. This journey took us to beaches, small towns, and fjords. Though the extensive pre-trip planning was key to a successful night of photography, I had a great time seeking out new compositions, with new possibilities revealing themselves seemingly around every bend.
3. Look for a Different Perspective
Having seen plenty of beautiful drone footage from Norway, I brought along my DJI Mavic Air on the trip, hoping to put it to good use at some point. I was able to unleash its full potential at the Fredvang Bridges around 2:30 AM. Using The Photographer's Ephemeris, I knew that the sun would be illuminating the bridges and the peaks south of them. We drove north, found a good spot to pull over, and I launched the drone.
I was familiar with the location from viewing images online and was hoping to seek out a different composition than the ones I had seen. Fortunately, seeking out new compositions is easy with a drone. As I slowly panned over the bridge, I noticed the reflection of the mountain in the water below. Panning further east revealed my shot, with the bridge acting a perfect leading line curving towards the mountain, beautifully reflected in the still water. The entire scene was bathed in golden light.
When you have hours of beautiful light, you have the gift of time. Spend it wisely but also use it to explore. Whether you fly your drone or hike up a mountain, it's always rewarding to seek out new vantage points and compositions.
A bonus tip I'd like to conclude with is to photograph the midnight sun with good company if you can. It was a lot of fun sharing this once in a lifetime event with a good friend and it made the experience richer than if I had been by myself. Plus, if you're with someone else it's much easier to capture joyful midnight sun silhouettes!
What are some of your favorite midnight sun experiences? Anyone planning on heading to Lofoten or a similar destination this summer? Share your thoughts and images in the comments below.