The Lofoten Islands Are What You Think Norway Is Like

Oslo is like a big European city. Even lovely Bergen has McDonald's, an IKEA, TGI Friday's, Burger King, and it's a lot like any other beautiful, clean European or Scandinavian city. But Norway's Lofoten Islands are like another world. It looks like what thought Norway would be like but better. It's not that easy to get to (at least from the US), so when we went (last month) there weren't many tourists yet, but it's as much of a different world as any place I've been — even more so I think than Iceland (which I loved) but this is a different level (and not so dependant on waterfalls).

BEHIND THE SCENES: Here's a behind-the scenes of me taking the shot at the top of the story. Taken around 11:30 pm at night. We had great clouds and virtually no wind that day.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite shots from the trip, but I also wanted to note that my wife Kalebra shot with nothing but her iPhone X and she shot absolutely lights-out the entire trip (check out her Instagram page at this link). I think it's cool to see how we were together the whole time, shooting in the same places, and she got such different shots than I. During the trip she began to control seagulls with her mind and she got them to line up, fly in particular formations, and do things that only Seigfried and Roy had been able to do with animals up to this point.

It's probably the most Instagrammed spot in Norway — the classic shot from the bridge overlooking the fishing village of Hamnøy, taken with a 10x ND filter to make the water silky. I needed a 10X plus a 3X, but I never thought it would be that bright all the time, so I didn't bring one. Lofoton rookie mistake.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Shooting from the bridge is a bit precarious (the railing is pretty thin), so I screwed my camera strap into one of the four holes on the Platypod, so if the wind blew it off in either direction, it would fall into the harbor or back on to the hard concrete on the bridge. I'm doing a long exposure, so I'm holding my cable release.


I thought that was just a saying. An exaggeration to make it a more interesting for the tourists. I was wrong. Take a look at the shot below, taken around 1:15 AM in the morning, literally steps from our hotel. I'm standing out there shooting all by myself, and the harbor in Svolvær is filled with the sounds of bad Karaoke (a Katy Perry song no less), and I'm wondering why people are singing karaoke at breakfast time, and then it hits me — it's still night. The bars are still open and still serving, and people are still singing even though it looks like 8:45 am. The sun never sets — it never goes below the horizon line which is both good and bad (more on that later).

Here's the scene just outside my hotel, at about 1:45 am in the morning. Glassy still water makes for great reflections.
It took three different airlines (Delta, SAS, and Wideroe airlines) and five separate flights (and a few long layovers) to get there. Totally worth it!


Well, the bus ride was a last minute bonus. Our short 20-minute prop-plane flight from Bodo to Svolvær couldn't land at Svolvær airport due to visibility issues, so they diverted us to a different airport where the airline put us on a 3-1/2 hour bus ride back to Svolvær. If there's anything you want after 5-flights, it's an unexpected 3-1/2 hour bus ride in a bus the size of a small rental car shuttle. But we survived the trip, and everybody (my awesome wife, our 12-year-old 'travel ace' of a daughter, and me) kept their sense of humor throughout, but when we finally got to our hotel room, we sacked!

This is why it takes forever to get anywhere in Lofoten. You have to pull over every 3 minutes to stop and take photos. My daughter never complained one single time about mom and dad jumping out of the car to take photos. We were so proud of her attitude throughout, especially since Norway was not anywhere on her list of places she wanted to go ever.
This is the opposite side of that shot I took from the Bridge in Hamnøy.
BEHIND THE SCENES: To get the shot above I perched my Playpod on a short I-beam holding up the guardrail along the highway, so I could do a long exposure shot of the harbor you saw in the previous shot (BTS shot here by Kalebra).


The Norwegians speak English like they were born in Ohio, and we never met a single person there who didn't speak it well. Not even one. If you asked someone if they spoke English, they'd giggle and said (and incredulously) , "Of course." I always thought Stockholm was the best European city for speaking English like a native, but I think the Norwegians have them beat. Also, everyone, we met there were friendly, courteous, and helpful. If you've never been to Europe before, this would be a great place to start because you'll feel right at home (well, until you look out the window anyway).

As you're leaving Svolvær heading toward the airport, this charming little fishing cabin waits quietly on its own little island. It's like they put it there for photographers.


When we checked into our hotel (the Lofoten Suites hotel in Svolvær — great hotel; wonderful location, and the restaurant just off the lobby, the 'Restaurant Du Verden' was outstanding. I think we ate there half a dozen times. Excellent service, too), our very kind woman at the front desk told us about a great shopping and restaurant village about 30-minutes away by car called Hellingsvær. So cute — great little shops, galleries, a museum and some nice restaurants, too. Below is a gallery of a few shots from there.

There's this gift store / gallery in Henningsvaer…

…called Engelskmannsbrygga and it was so beautiful inside, with such great natural light, that while Kalebra shopped I walked around taking photos and they were totally cool with it. Photos. Not video. There was an adorable sign posted in the glass blowing part of the studio/gallery that let you know their feelings on both (see below).

Here's a few quick snaps I took (Below) from the gift/stop gallery. Not sure they actually belong in this photo story, but I'm including 'em anyway.


The sun doesn't cross the horizon line at this time of year in the Lofoten Islands, so while it never gets dark, the sun does change position in the sky, and that's wonderful for taking photos late at night (this was taken around 1:00 am on our drive back to town from our day in Hamnøy. We would stay up so late shooting, that would often wouldn't even leave our hotel room until 3:00 pm or 4:00 p.m. because we knew we'd be shooting until at least 2:00 am. It's great because from about 10:00 p.m. on, the light is really lovely. Not sunsetty nice, but the sun is low in the sky, so the shadows are soft for hours (not just minutes like back home). It's awesome for photographers.


So you have hours of flattering light, and it's all falling on some incredible scenery, and at night very often the water is dead still and glassy (like you see below), but there's a catch. The Lofoten Islands still carry on as usual, which means the restaurants all close around 10:00 pm, and so do ALL the gas stations and convenience stores and well…everything. There's no place to get water or gas, or use the restrooms (outside of the occasional public restrooms at parks), so after 10:00 pm you're just out there on your own. Little traffic and absolutely nothing is open. Nuthin! It's different once you get to Bergen or Oslo (where even some McDonald's are open 24-hours), but out in Lofoten…well, buy supplies before you head out.

It's wild to be able to just pull off the road, 1:00 am in the morning, with still glassy water; set-up your tripod, take a shot and jump back in the car. I love it!


Just another short drive (2+ hours) from our home base in Svolvær, which is a nice central location for exploring. We also considered basing out of Leknes, which is another airport serving the Lofoten Islands, but we did get to visit there, and unless we missed a whole part of the city, it was more like an industrial city without the quaintness of Svolvær, so I'm glad we stayed where we did.

Anyway, we made the drive down. It was a bit windy, so the water wasn't nearly as still until you got right into the little harbor as I did here. There red fishing huts, which used to be used by working fisherman back in the day, but today are furnished nicely and rented out to tourists, are everywhere, but they add such a lovely charm. The tall wooden tee-pee-like structures you see on the water edge are for drying Codfish, and you'll see them all over. Don't make the mistake my wife did of rolling down the window to take a photo. It took 30-minutes to get the fish smell out of the car (plus, dead drying fish heads don't make an enticing picture no matter how beautiful the light is). A few clouds would have helped this shot (like we had the previous day), but that nice blue sky does set off the red nicely on the cabins.

Another of the many quaint small fishing villages that dot the Lofoten Islands landscape. This one's called Nusfjord. Excellent restaurant and a nice bar nearby.
I stopped and took this pano on the road to Nusfjord. It's right before you get there, you turn, and this is the view. I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have and I shot this pano at f/2.8, rather than f/11 or f/16 which would have been a far better choice (note the out-of-focus mountains on the far right). Doh!
Since I got my Playpod I don't use a tripod as much anymore, so I wanted a super-lightweight one if I was going to haul it around, so I took my Gitzo traveller tripod and a RSS BH-40 ballhead. Here it it getting the pano you saw above.
I took a lot of panos. Here's one now (handheld from the bridge overlooking the fishing village of Hamnoy)l
We took a three-hour day cruise out to Trollfjord — it's "the thing" to do when you stay in Svolvaer — you can't get away from it, everyone's pitching you on taking one. To their credit, it has beautiful views, and tjhey serve fish soup once you get there (I avoided since I'm not a fish guy).
It was raining. The clouds looked angry, but not enough to where we couldn't pull off the road for a second to get this lone rowboat with some still glassy water.


…but when I do, prefer Dos Equis (I hope somebody gets that joke). Stay color my friends.


This was as low as we ever saw the sun get – it's about 1:15 am in the morning, driving back from Nusfjord. Kalebra was particularly taken with the weird "extra sun thingy" to the far left of the actual sun. We could see it everywhere we went — like some sun reflection anomaly.

If we saw still water (which we did a lot), I'd pull right off the road, and that's what we did here (bts shot following). If we had the clouds from the day before — ooooh, this could have been sweet, but for a shot taken after 1:00 am, I'm not complainin'.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Just me, my Platypod, a camera and my 16-35mm f/4 lens, on the rocks.


If I had it do to over again, I'd do things differently. (1) I wouldn't do five straight flights. I would have given up a day and stayed in Oslo (though everybody told me to get out of Oslo as fast as you can; they said besides a very modern opera house, there's nothing there). (2) I would have gone to Bergen first — I would have liked it better because I wouldn't have been spoiled so much by the Lofoten Islands.

Bergen itself is no slouch — it's a modern, clean, beautiful city with an old section with lots of charm and lots of tourists. It's SUPER expensive (we had lunch there — Kalebra had Fish Soup and Muscles, our daughter had a Salmon plate, I had a hamburger – we had soft drinks [no liquor], and it was $170 US. Yeouch! The food was delicious, and the restaurant was charming, but $170 is a lot for lunch. Everything is expensive in Norway (everything!), but prices in Bergen stood out to me.


…a few hours outside Bergen are more Fjords and beautiful scenery. We were pretty beat (and our body clocks a bit messed up), so we didn't get to do much shooting outside of Bergen, but we did get a chance to pull the car off the road now-and-then, and that's when I got this shot after 10:00 am at night in the Hardangerfjord area. There was a lot to see there, but we got there too late, and it was storming so, we headed back into town (some things are open late in Bergen).


You can take a Funicular up the side of a hill to a touristy area with a beautiful view over Bergen. It was kinda chilly up there, but there were some gift shops and snack bars and a nice restaurant, so we hung out for a while. Worth checking out (and here's the view).

The view overlooking Bergen, Norway.
Just driving around and doing some long exposures. Again, I needed more than just a 10x ND Filter, but that was all I brought.
I saw this woman sitting alone on a dock, so I did a long exposure of the water (not long enough for it to be as silky as I wanted), and I did a 2nd exposure of just her and her Icelandic flag. I think she was homesick.


Here's a shot my sweetie took of me after dinner in Hamnøy at the Krambua Restaurant. It's like the only restaurant in town…but it was great! Way better than it needed to be, and very friendly staff. It's like 11:00 at night here but look at the light outside the door to the left. I still haven't gotten over how bright it was all night, every night. They say in Dec/Jan it's the opposite. Night all day and night.

There's much more to see in the Lofoten Islands, and towns and villages we didn't get a chance to visit. If you're into hiking, there are some absolutely insane views all over, but with me being scared of heights, I stayed pretty close to ground level the entire trip. If I got the chance to go back, I'd go straight to Lofoten; get a rental car; stay in that area the whole time and put lots of water and snacks in the trunk for those late night/daylight photos shoots around every corner. I do hope you get the chance to visit there, soon. :)

Camera Info: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and a 16-35mm f/4 lens. Platypod camera support with an Oben BE-117 ballhead on top. Gitzo Traveler Tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead. Canon remote shutter release. Black Rapid Camera Strap and ThinkTank Photo TurnStyle 10 V2.0 camera bag.

Created By
Scott Kelby


Photography by Scott Kelby

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.