From an article written for the Southern Suburbs Photographic Society Newsletter by Greg & Val Earl
In mid February with temperatures nudging 40 degrees in the peak of the Australian summer, we packed our bags with thermals and goose down jackets in what promised to be the trip of a lifetime.
We joined eight other keen photographers led by Ian Rolfe and Ewen Bell on an adventure into the Arctic Circle, embracing the Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway for a Photography Masterclass on the Northern Lights. After ten days in Norway, our plan was to fly to Iceland for another ten-day Photographic Expedition into the winter wonderland of this volcanic island. The final leg of our journey was to stop over in England to thaw out slowly for a week, before returning home.
On arrival in Oslo, we had the following day free to explore this vibrant city before an internal flight north to Svolvaer. Oslo proved to be fascinating and the day was well spent with cameras in hand. It was school holidays and many children were skating on the pond in the city square – something we found unique. We had plenty of PJ images during the day and a venture into the streets after dark for some night shots of the city as well. We chose to use our smaller Olympus OMD EM1 cameras for the city shots leaving the heavier Nikons for the serious landscape work that was ahead of us. This proved to be a good move both for being less conspicuous as well as comfort. We did notice that the Olympus is rather heavy on batteries with both of us doing a replacement with the spares within a few minutes of each other. Mind you that was after about five hours of constant use.
A short internal flight took us from Oslo to Harstad airport in the north for the start of the Lofoten workshop.
The two-hour drive from the airport to our accommodation in Svolvaer was punctuated with stops along the way to photograph the magnificent snow-covered mountains and fjords.
We were amazed at how we hopped from island to island via a system of tunnels and bridges as we moved through the area. Certainly, an engineering feat that makes our road tunnels in Melbourne appear rather insignificant.
After dinner on our first night in Lofoten we checked the sky in the hope of seeing some aurora activity and much to our surprise it was happening. Without any further delay and some prior instruction from Ewen, we were into it with great enthusiasm. We learnt that shooting at ISO 3200 was the way to go and 30-second exposures were considered quite normal. I think it was at that time I caught the disease. Ewen and Ian labeled me with an acute case of “Auroratism”. There wasn’t a night after that that I didn’t check the sky on multiple occasions at one, two or three in the morning, knocking on our leaders doors at the slightest hint of colour in the sky.
We were also alerted to the latest predictions from NASA, Space Weather Live and other agencies, as well as receiving updates every few minutes to Ewen’s phone from nearby observation stations in Sweden and further north into the Arctic Circle.
Over the coming nights, we managed to capture aurorae on five occasions. Two of those nights were stunning performances with skies filled with activity that were almost scary they were so good. It was hard to know where to point the camera next in order to capture it. According to Ewen, out of his twenty-five or so experiences shooting the northern lights, these two nights were the best he’d ever seen. We were just so lucky and will never forget the experience.
Photography during the day was equally as exciting with snow-covered fishing villages and majestic mountains leading right down to the sea. Our local Norwegian guide Sandro, led us to many interesting locations that the general tourist wouldn’t otherwise see and his wealth of knowledge was a huge bonus.
Our meals were magnificent (if you like fish) and lunch was often fish soup and freshly baked crusty bread. The lunches fitted the theme well as during the day we invariably passed vast arrays of drying racks stacked with cod. More cod than you could poke a stick (or lens) at. I must admit both of us were reluctant to accept the offerings of whale meat or cod tongues when they were on the menu. Our last few days in Norway after the workshop were spent in the city of Bergen and that too was fascinating and packed with heaps of photography. The entire group opted to do a day tour titled Norway in a Nutshell where we travelled into the mountains by train, bus and sea. This was a great way to see another aspect of this magnificent country.
We left Norway behind and flew to Iceland for part two of our journey.
This part was called a Photographic Expedition and was as much a discovery tour as anything else. Neither Ewen nor Ian had been there before so we really didn’t know a great deal of what to expect other than what they had researched beforehand. Loaded with heaps of anticipation and plenty of memory cards, little did we know that we were going to be in for such a treat.
Once again we had a local guide, Dui, a professional photographer and cinematographer, with loads of experience working for local TV networks. Iceland is very different from Norway and is one huge volcanic island dotted with glaciers and lava flows. The weather here was much more volatile and likely to change three or four times in the day. Our clothing kept us as warm as toast, thermals, snow boots, waterproof pants and coats in various layers. Crampons (spiky attachments for our boots) were a must in order to manage on the slippery ice, which was virtually everywhere. The temperatures most days varied between -4 and +6 degrees and anything above +2 really felt on the warm side.
The highlights of Iceland would have to be the glaciers, waterfalls and the black beach littered with glacial icebergs, and the odd aurora thrown in to top it off.
A most wonderful trip and workshop, certainly the best we have been on. I’m sure the others in our group would agree. Ian and Ewan are planning to revisit both Norway and Iceland in 2016 and we have already placed our names on the list.
Our last leg of our trip was spent in England with a few days in London and the rest of our time in Dorset. We were warned that London would be cold, grey skies and rather dreary. How wrong was that. We were met with blue skies, 16 degree days and hosts of golden daffodils in the parks and gardens.
Having done the obligatory icons and Monopoly board locations in London we bussed down to Dorset and met up with Ian again who was there visiting family. The next few days were simply magnificent with the lovely little coastal villages, thatched-roof cottages and more daffodils.
A highlight was the early sunrise shoot at Corfe Castle and the return after breakfast to explore the historic village. What Ian doesn’t know about British history probably hasn’t been written.
Well, this is just a brief summary of our marvellous photographic adventure to the other side of the world. A trip that we will never forget for the truly magnificent scenery and for these little Aussie turkeys an experience of how life is in the lands of snow and ice.