Tips on Photographing in Arctic Norway
While the term arctic photography sounds quite special itself, when it comes down to basics it mostly means that you will be photographing places where weather is hard to predict and temperatures can drop quickly in less than an hour.
Since the early start of my passion for landscape photography I’ve been drawn towards northern Norway and I can’t help but to return as often as i can each year.
The landscapes are shaped by harsh weather and even if you’re at the “warm” Lofoten Islands, the strong wind can be quite a challenge. Preparation is important if you want to have fun up there and there are some essentials that you really want to have in your photography bag.
Inform yourself about what to expect
While I love being spontaneous, when it comes to the arctic weather it’s a very good idea to know what to expect. The changes can be drastic even within only a few kilometers drive.
If you plan to take pictures at Lofoten Islands (and their moderate climate) in winter and then decide to take a drive towards Finnmark, the temperatures might drop over 20°C during your drive. It’s not too comfortable to shoot in your clothing for -5°C when it suddenly freezes over to -30°C…
It’s also a good idea to check where you have medical facilities- often you will have to drive over 100km to find an hospital if anything goes wrong.
Be prepared for weather changes
For the good and for the bad, you can easily be surprised by the changing weather that didn’t even get predicted in your weather app. It’s not without a reason that the locals will laugh and tell you to look out of the window, when asked about the weather forecast.
Some clothing I use and always have with me is a light down jacket, an extreme down jacket that keeps me warm up to -35°C and an insulated windstopper hardshell. Always with me are some rain pants, rain protection for my camera gear and uncountable cleaning tissues for my lenses and filters.
Bring more batteries than you would normally do
There is nothing more annoying than running out of battery while shooting the northern lights in a crispy cold night and the colder it get’s, the quicker your batteries will drain out. For this reason i stopped using a battery grip and always try to keep at least 2 extra batteries close to my body in my jacket’s pockets. The same applies to the batteries of your phone and shutter release, etc. so another important tool to bring is a portable power pack for your phone, tablet and GPS device.
Don’t give up too quickly.
As the weather often changes very quickly, even if you have the feeling that your shoot might be a total wreck because of heavy rain, chances are big that at some point that one gap in the clouds might show up. It’s not a good feeling to presence that decisive moment in the rear mirror of your car while driving away.
Bring the sturdiest tripod you can handle
When guiding tours in the arctic I often get asked why I carry around such a heavy tripod. Often only one day later, everybody is jealous about my tripod- the wind can be very strong and that’s not even talking about a real arctic storm- those make you put the tripod away and shoot handheld as even the sturdiest tripod might be flying away like a feather.
Recommended Reading: Essential Equipment for Landscape Photography
When you shoot seascapes, take your time to read the waves
I have learned this one the hard way, loosing over 5000$ worth of gear to the arctic ocean. If you sit down and look at the waves for some time, you get a feel for the energy and don’t risk as much as when you go straight into the water. Always keep in mind that there might be a freak wave coming and those can be double as high as all the other ones coming before.
Check out local tide tables
Even if this tip isn’t useful only for the arctic, in this area you can find many locations that change completely in the transcourse of the tides. Sometimes a place invites to shoot dynamic wave actions with higher tide but reveals beautiful tidal pools with low tide. You don’t want to loose any of that just because you thought there is no beach when you check out a place at high tide.
Due to the weather changes that I have talked about already, the longer you stay- the better.
My own experience is that if you plan a trip of let’s say 5 days and are not lucky with the weather, you might be heading home frustrated and without those images you had in mind. Every extra day gives you a bigger chance to see some of that magical arctic light that made you leave everything and head to the north…
Last not least: if you can, bring a spare camera as backup
I’ve learned it the hard way, if you really settle out to capture striking images, at some point you will get into the zone. This is what I call when you forget everything around you and immerse in your passion of photography. All the great tips you read will be gone and with a little bit of bad luck on your side, you might be loosing all your gear within seconds. Having a week of your trip left, but only a crashed camera is something very frustrating and if you are out there in the field you won’t easily find a camera store around…