Photography in Lofoten
The Complete Guide
Lofoten is one of the most distinctive and unusual photography destinations in the world, contained within the space of a few small islands off the coast of northern Norway. There are beaches and incredible coastline, mountains rising straight from the ocean, and beautiful fishing villages nestled between the peaks or clinging to tiny islands in the sea.
This is the complete guide to photography in the Lofoten Islands, and it includes all the articles and tutorials I have written about landscape photography and travel in the area. The first part contains travel information to help you plan the logistics of a trip to Lofoten and decide when to go. The second part is a photography guide, with information about the best locations and specific advice about making images in the area.
When to Visit Lofoten for Landscape Photography
Lofoten is two different places in the summer and the winter. Before planning your trip, you'll need to decide whether you are visiting for hiking, activities and the midnight sun, or looking for snow, cosy villages, and the aurora borealis.
Lofoten has an unusual climate for its latitude, as ocean currents keep the winters very mild, and this means it's possible to visit at any time of year and still access the landscape. There is more variety in the things you can do in the summer, but photography in Lofoten is just as easy and fulfilling whenever you visit. Here's a summary of what to expect at various times of year.
Spring (March - May)
There is a big difference between early and late spring in Lofoten. If you visit early in the season, you can expect plenty of snow on the landscape and enough hours of darkness that you'll still be able to see the aurora well into April. By the end of May, Lofoten will be turning to summer, with very long days and more colour and variety in the landscape.
If you plan to travel in spring, you'll still have to decide what kind of experience you want. For trying a range of activities (hiking and kayaking are very popular in Lofoten), it's better to wait for Lofoten to open up with more light and less snow near the end of the season. If you hope to capture the aurora, but don't mind that photography will be your main activity in Lofoten, come earlier, near the end of winter.
Summer (June - August)
Summer is the most popular season in Lofoten because it's the best time to hike and experience all the activities the islands have to offer. The landscape is green, and the light is beautiful late at night when the sun is low. The midnight sun starts in June, and the sun doesn't dip below the horizon until August. This is the time to visit for soft light and beautiful colours in the sky if you are willing to adjust your sleep schedule to capture the best light in the early hours.
The disadvantage of summer is that you won't see the aurora but will meet plenty of other guests. Parking areas will be more full, and you'll need to book accommodation and tours very far in advance. However, if you are looking for midnight sun and taking full advantage of the outdoor activities in the Lofoten Islands, this is the best time of year to visit.
Autumn (September - November)
Autumn is another period of rapid transition in Lofoten, with very long days and a green landscape at the beginning, snow-capped mountains and long periods of dark near the end. Like spring, the exact timing of your trip will make a big difference to the kind of experience you have. Early autumn is the best time to visit for outdoor activities and to shoot the landscape in soft, unusual light. Later in the season, you'll find less to do but more opportunity to experience the northern lights.
Unlike other parts of Europe, the Lofoten Islands are not heavily forested and do not transform into a wonderland of autumn colour at this time of year. There are some beautiful trees that turn with the season, but the landscape can look rather brown and dull. For this reason, I think there are better times of year to visit Lofoten for photography.
If you come in February rather than November, you will experience similar patterns of light and dark but with a more interesting snowy landscape.
Winter (December - February)
Winter is the most popular time of year in Lofoten for photographers. There are fewer other visitors, so the islands are relatively quiet. However, you are more likely to meet other visitors at the best photography locations during the best light of the day.
There are fewer things to do in Lofoten in the winter, and in December there is no sun at all (although the days do still get somewhat light). However, the incredible winter landscape and long periods of darkness for aurora-watching make it a magical place to visit.
It's still relatively easy to get around; while you won't be able to reach some of the peaks or distant beaches that you can hike to in the summer, most of the great photography locations are still accessible by car. If you are a serious landscape photographer and winter scenes suit your style, winter is the time to visit Lofoten.
For more information and a longer discussion of the seasons in Lofoten, check out the full article below.
How to Get Around Lofoten as a Photographer
Lofoten's advantage over other photography destinations is how compact and accessible it is. You can drive from one end to the other in barely more than three hours, and it's simple to navigate. There are plenty of great locations for photography for such a small area, and there is enough landscape to explore for even a long trip to Lofoten, and you won't have to waste much time getting between locations.
Driving in Lofoten
The best way of travelling for photography is renting a car, allowing you to arrive at or stay on location at unusual times of day needed for the best light. For landscape photography in Lofoten, especially in winter, having your own car is the only way to reach many of the best locations on the islands.
You can rent a car in Lofoten at one of several agencies in Svolvaer, where many visitors arrive. However, Harstad/Narvik airport has more options and is often cheaper. It's a 2.5-hour drive to Lofoten, but your overall journey may be shorter and have fewer connections to Harstad/Narvik, depending on your route.
The roads in Lofoten are well maintained, and most are cleared regularly in the winter. Some photography spots are off side-roads that can be narrow and made of gravel, but they are easy enough to explore with a bit of attention. Parking areas can be busy in the summer, and some have high fees; in winter, it's often easier to park, and there are also places to pull off the road for a view of the landscape.
Driving in winter is often the most intimidating prospect for anyone visiting Lofoten during the coldest parts of the year. Snowploughs quickly respond to bad weather in Lofoten, but they do not fully clear the road, and you can expect to be driving on ice and snow for some of a winter journey. However, rental cars are fitted with studded tyres for some grip, and it's a safe way to get around if you take sensible precautions and drive slowly.
Buses in Lofoten
It is possible to get around the Lofoten Islands by public transport, and I have met travellers (even in winter) using the bus network to explore. This is a much cheaper option than renting a car, and with some research you'll find connections between the major towns in Lofoten, even in the quieter seasons.
However, I do not recommend exploring Lofoten by bus for landscape photography. Many of the best photography locations are outside the main towns, and you'll find your options seriously restricted without your own transportation. If you visit in summer and focus on hiking and other activities, you might find the bus a budget-friendly and easy way to explore. In the winter, you would miss out on the best photography spots without a car.
Tours of Lofoten
One way to simplify getting around Lofoten is to take a dedicated tour. Some great photographers offer guided visits to some of the best spots, and they'll take care of all the logistics, so you only need to concentrate on your photography during the trip.
Photography tours can be more expensive than independent travel, and many of the most popular spots for tour groups are very easy to research and find yourself. However, they are a simple way to make the most of a photography trip, and you can blend them with some independent travel to get some bespoke advice before you continue to explore on your own.
Lofoten Travel Itineraries for Photographers
Lofoten is probably the best compact photography destination in the world, so it's possible to spend anywhere from 5 days to 3 weeks there and still build an interesting and fulfilling trip. This section discusses the factors you might want to consider when deciding how long to spend in the Lofoten Islands.
If you plan to visit Lofoten as part of a longer trip around northern Norway, you can get a good sense of the area in 2-3 days and would get to visit many of the popular photography locations in 5 days.
You would need to carefully choose the photography locations you visit and would have less time for other activities, but it would be a fulfilling trip if you only had a few days to spare. If you live near the Lofoten Islands and would like a very short break for incredible photography, it's a great destination. The landscape is as otherworldly as Iceland, but the photography spots are more accessible and closer together, with just as much variety.
However, there is a lot to see in Lofoten despite its compact size. With only 5 days, there will be places you'll miss and others you'll want to revisit but won't have time for. Your trip will also be vulnerable to bad weather, and in the winter, it would not be surprising to find cloudy skies and no aurora sightings for your entire visit. I recommend very short trips of 3-5 days only for summer when there are more activities and longer days with good light all night. The time would disappear quickly when the days get shorter, and you will be limited in how much of Lofoten you can see.
If you are coming from further away and want to make the most of your time, there is enough to do for an incredible 2-3 week trip in Lofoten. In the summer, you could try more activities and hike to some unusual spots. In the winter, you'd have a better chance of seeing the aurora and enough time to wait out any periods of bad weather.
A longer trip would give you time to practice your photography and explore the landscape in greater detail. You could access almost all the great locations, revisit scenes in different conditions, and deliberately work on compositions to improve your photography. With several weeks, you could visit Senja and other parts of northern Norway, which has a similar landscape to Lofoten.
Norway is an expensive destination; the longer you spend, the bigger the budget you will need. If you have 2-3 weeks to spend on photography, you could visit many other great destinations, including Iceland or Patagonia. However, if the landscapes of northern Norway suit your photographic style and you have the resources to spare, a long trip to Lofoten would be very fulfilling.
The ideal length of time to visit Lofoten is around 10 days. You could see the best parts of Lofoten and try several activities with a shorter visit, but you'd miss out on opportunities if you were visiting for landscape photography.
On a trip longer than 10 days, you'd capture many more images and have a better chance of seeing the best locations in great light or capturing the aurora overhead. However, this would be a significant investment of time and money, and you'd have to add other locations in northern Norway or revisit many photography locations to fill your time.
Landscape Photography in Lofoten
Approaching Photography in Lofoten
Lofoten is incredibly popular with photographers, so the area has been thoroughly explored, and you can arrive prepared with a long list of potential locations to visit. Some popular spots are barely more than a single composition that happens to work from a particular angle. Others are places full of variety and opportunity where you can easily spend all day.
Most well-known locations are scattered around Reine and Ramberg in the southern part of the islands, and most visiting photographers spend their time south of Leknes. Henningsvaer and Svolvaer are popular with tourists in Lofoten and have plenty of visitor facilities, but you'll have to work harder and be more creative to find good photographs nearby.
Drones are popular and legal to fly in many parts of the Lofoten Islands - the landscape around Fredvang and Henningsvaer is particularly good for drone photography. In most other locations, you'll need wide-angle lenses and have plenty of options from the ground.
The Best Photography Locations in Lofoten
Below is my detailed article on the best photography locations in Lofoten, with mapping links and parking information for some of the most popular spots. Most of the famous compositions are around Reine in the south, though I recommend staying near Ramberg (especially on a short trip), where you'll be able to reach more locations to the north and still get to Reine for photography.
Between Reine and Ramberg, you'll find most of the Lofoten spots which have become recognisable from their popularity on the internet. This includes the scene of red huts against a peak, a quirky image of a single yellow hut, and the Dragon's Eye rock pool on Uttakleiv beach. I recommend investigating these spots to capture your interpretation of some of the most famous scenes but leaving plenty of time to explore outside these areas to develop original compositions with the mountains.