Any tour guide with even half a conscience will recognise the gut-wrenching feeling of lying in bed listening to the wind howling and the rain pounding outside. If it happens once or twice on a tour, the guests will likely sympathise but night after night and I start to stress. Arctic Norway is never going to be straightforward in winter and that’s why we go, but a constant near-gale south-westerly with all that it brings, isn’t good news.
You would think that even in these days of meteorological uncertainty, snow above the Arctic Circle could be relied upon in February. Alas no. The normally snow-laden Lofoten Islands in northern Norway were bare this year; naked; bereft of their white mantle; lacking in the wow factor that I’ve become accustomed to. Still, there’s no point in griping (although I’ve always found it helps), one has to do one’s best. Continue reading “Languid Lofoten”
Lofoten in winter…and some!
The look on his face said it all. Fixing the icy strap to the front of his icy bucket, his eyes rolled as he climbed back in the icy cab of the monstrous snowplough before pulling my little tin box of a van from the snowdrift in just a matter of seconds. I wanted to explain about the fantastic light and the need to seize the moment; I wanted to tell him that the bus stop was the only place to pull off the road but I decided just to shake his hand and offer a sheepish “tack”. Bloody tourists.
The Lofoten Islands are part of Norway’s rugged northwest coastline, hanging out into the sea catching all manner of weather full in the face. If you don’t like weather – all sorts of it – don’t come here. It’s a roller coaster: snow that stings your face one minute, sun that blinds you the next. But then that’s the deal and if you accept the terms, this can be one of the most exciting landscape photography locations anywhere. Saw-toothed snow-cloaked mountains rise vertically from the sea; secluded coastal inlets cosset sandy beaches lapped by aquamarine waters and most of all, arctic light. At times, arctic light like I’ve never seen before.
Any landscape photographer worth their salt (that’s me out then) will tell you it’s all about light and that’s because it is. I told our tour group this as we travelled the blizzardous road from the airport to our base in Reine but at the time, even I didn’t expect four days of such intense photographic drama and sublime light.
This tour booked up quickly, no doubt due to the potential for some spectacular aurora photography. We weren’t that lucky in the lights department if truth be told, but the drama that unfolded each day more than compensated. I don’t think I can remember as productive a short period in a very long time.
I hope you like the images and they offer a glimpse into one of the rising stars on the landscape photography circuit. Lofoten smells of fish (obsessed with cod, the Norwegians) and fried cod tongues are definitely not for me but then, I can live on a diet of light, drama and mood – real fuel for the soul. This place is straight up my photographic street. Don’t expect fancy hotels and cosy coffee parlours but do expect drama.
My thanks to our hardy group who were deprived of sleep but still managed to maintain good humour and in a separate incident to the bus stop drama, the energy to help dig the van out of a ditch after a near miss with a 40-tonne Scania. Bagman Alex, Arla, Jackie, John, Kin, Dangerous Mel, Paul and Pauline – all top people and damned fine photographers. We’ll be doing it all again next year if you fancy joining us for a winter bout of wild and wonderful. Book here.
There’s something about bears…
Bear photography in Europe, or more specifically in Finland, as this in my opinion at least is by far the most reliable location, is a bizarre, even surreal, experience. Locked in a small wooden hide for 14 hours overnight is on the face of it a dreadful prospect, and yet it’s strangely addictive. I’ve done up to eight consecutive nights in these hides in the past but the most recent trip was a quick ‘3-night-blitz’ so although my ageing back might not agree, this was a relative walk in the park.
Some of the animals I recognised from previous years and it’s rewarding to see bears that I first saw as tiny cubs now developing into young adults. I also caught up with ‘Greedy’ a big male that I first photographed for the Tooth & Claw book back in 2006. This time around this bear was very much in his prime.
I think that in spite of their universal popularity, there are certain places/species that any keen photographer should cover at least once. Norway’s sea eagles qualify and Finland’s bears qualify too. To be lying half-asleep in the half-light of a Scandinavian summer with only a thin sheet of plywood separating you from a bear squelching about in a bog, is an experience you will never forget. Problem is, it is addictive. There’s just something about bears.
My thanks to Julie, Alan, Russell, Robin and Charlie for their company on this trip.
Does a suicidal gannet constitute a ‘Wildlife Workshop’?
In the second of our special reports from Arctic Norway, correspondent John Cumberland philosophises about philosophy in a philosophical manner.
Location: Still in Svalbard, still August ’11
Floating about in the Zodiac, before Pete’s ‘cold shower’ moment, I was deeply moved by the pinky – brownie – diffused – ethereal light, which softly bathed the nearby icebergs. The serenity, the calm green water, the rich brown hills overlooking the enormous fjord, the crisp stripes of mist which wreathed around and in between them, the shafts of pale golden light sneaking between the peaks, our home, the M/S Origo, conveniently moored at the ‘golden mean’ for a perfectly composed shot. It was a landscape photographer’s heaven.
“This is an excellent landscape workshop” I commented to Pete. In a miffed tone he snapped: “This is a wildlife trip, we start landscapes in the autumn,” (it had been a while since we saw our last polar bear; he was tetchy). Now, we all love Glen Affric in its autumn finery, there is no doubt that it is a beautiful place, but this landscape, rather, icescape, is something else.
Pete twitched. “Fast starboard” he assertively instructed Captain Dan, our Zodiac driver. “Now slow, very slow”. We all strained to see what he was focused on. All I could see were kittiwakes. Now I like kittiwakes as much as the next man but they were hardly cause for the intense concentration that Pete was now displaying. He reached over the side (no, not yet, that was later) and promptly plucked a dead gannet from the water, holding it up triumphantly. It has to be said that it was a healthy-looking dead gannet, but definitely dead. You could tell. Yes, nice but dead.
“It’s a visual metaphor for life and death in the Arctic” said a philosophical Pete. “You should photograph it with its head pointing towards the hills.” (The word ‘metaphor’ was heard several times during this trip. I think it is part of the ‘Philosophy Module’, which comes free with Northshots photo-tours. Excellent value!)
I think by this time we’d spent too long at sea. As various members of our team leaned precariously over the side composing the dead gannet shot, Swedish Captain Dan (not a man renowned for his humour) piped up. “It reminds me of the Monty Python dead parrot sketch”. We all looked at Dan, then at each other.
‘Why is it here?’ asked one of our team.
‘It came here to commit suicide’ said an authoritative Captain Dan, even more surprisingly. Again, we looked at each other and pondered.
We saw what he was getting at. After all, it was a ‘Scandinavian Gannet’ and they do that kind of thing in Scandinavia, don’t they? It’s the long, dark winters. S.A.D. syndrome they call it…and too much Schnapps. They commit suicide. And so do their gannets.
We returned to the Origo with dead gannet pictures in the can. Pete was happy we’d seen the potential in a sopping wet dead bird, Dan was satisfied that his suspicions of our madness had been confirmed and we all enjoyed coffee and chocolate brownies. The gannet had not died in vain.
This was John Cumberland, Northshots News, The Arctic. Again.