Photographing Northern Lights in Lofoten, Norway (Top Tips)

Our photographer had the trip of a lifetime and wants to do it again

By Diarmuid O’Donovan – subscribe to Diarmuid’s YouTube channel

In November 2019, I crossed off one of my bucket list items – photographing the Northern Lights in Lofoten, Norway. I went with a great group of photographers, we had spectacular auroras for three out of five nights and I came back with epic photographs and footage.

Right now, the world is upside down, but once it gets back to normal, I can’t wait to go back to Lofoten.

If you’re planning to go to Lofoten, I hope this helps you.

Photographing Lofoten, it pays to explore for different views

It pays to explore for different views of Lofoten

My 10 Tips for Your Lofoten Photography Trip

  1. Norway’s peak season for the Northern Lights is between September and March. We went in November hoping to get snow on the mountains. We were lucky and had perfect snow.
  2. You won’t see Northern Lights in the summer because of the midnight sun (the sky never gets really dark). In November, we had six hours of daylight, 18 hours of night. Golden hour lasted two hours. A dream come true.
  3. For photographing Northern Lights you’ll want a wide-angle lens, 20 mm or wider. On my Canon EOS R, I was using a Sigma Art 20 mm f1.4 and a Sigma Art 35 mm f1.4 for shooting on my time-lapse slider at night.
  4. Either go by yourself or with other photographers. There is so much to photograph in Lofoten, day and night, you’ll want to do nothing else. Only other photographers will put up with you. We had a great time!
  5. Weather, cloud formations and the Aurora Borealis change very quickly. You can plan based on forecasts and apps such as Photopils and Aurora Forecast, but be prepared to improvise on the spot.
Photographing the Northern Lights in Lofoten, Norway

The Northern Lights put on many shows for us

  1. Most of the classic Lofoten shots are close to each other and very accessible. You can photograph the red cabins where we stayed from a bridge.
  2. It gets very cold, especially at night in November, typically -10 to -15C. Dress for it so you can stay out for hours to get lots of Northern Lights.
  3. Lofoten is ideal for drone pilots. The highway and bridges with the mountains in the background are made for drone photography. You don’t need a license or permit, but here are the rules for drone flying in Norway.
  4. Food is very expensive in Lofoten. Budget double or triple what you would wherever you live. You can save by cooking and not eating in restaurants, but it’s still expensive.
  5. Lofoten is traditionally a fishing village, mostly for cod. The fishing season is January to April, so if you go then, you’ll see lots of fishing boat activity (which you may or may not want in your photographs).
Photographing in low light in Lofoten, Norway
Many hours of low light for dramatic long exposures
  1. Bonus Tip: Try to plan your trip during a full moon. You’ll get moonlight on the mountains while you’re shooting the Northern Lights.
  2. Bonus Tip #2: Bring loads of batteries, chargers and memory cards. We were out 12 to 15 hours every day. The cold depletes your batteries very fast. Put the spares in inside pockets close to your body to keep them warm. We only came back to eat, sleep, back up cards and charge batteries.

We Photographed Northern Lights for Three Nights

Northern Lights are unpredictable. We were lucky and were able to photograph them three out of the  five nights we were there.

Don’t be afraid to leave one location fast to get to another one if the sky is erupting nearby with an aurora. The apps helped us with getting to the best locations.

We had a full moon which gave us better light on the mountains while shooting the aurora. Without the moonlight, we would have had to up our ISO or bracket shots.

Photographing during golden hour in Lofoten, Norway

Short sunrises but two hours of golden hour

Recommendation – Go to Lofoten With a Tour Company

If it’s your first time, and you’re travelling a distance, I’d go with an experienced tour company. They’ll handle all the logistics, getting your luggage there and taking care of bookings for you. If they’ve been to Lofoten, they should be able to point out the best viewpoints too.

Map of the Lofoten islands, Norway

The Lofoten islands reach into the Atlantic, far north of Iceland

No matter how you go, it’s a long trip to the top of Norway. Just from Ireland, which isn’t that far, it took 24 hours to get to our rental.

Make sure the tour is specifically a photography tour. Going with a group of photographers means everyone is in the same frame of mind and is up for shooting at all sort of stupid hours. You’ll make new photography friends, you can give each other tips, and you’ll have someone to take a shot of you in an epic location.

It’s also good to have other photographers to help you keep the morale up. I found my energy levels got down at times simply because it’s hard to photograph all day long. Having company helped.

You’ll likely be sharing accommodation, so you may decide to cook and eat together. It was fun and saved us money.

Lastly, you can also share the costs of of renting a car or van. We had a van which was a bit bigger than we needed, but meant it was easy to accommodate our backpacks.

I know some people try to save a bit doing it themselves, but after I saw everything that went into this, it’s just not worth it. I’d definitely go with a tour company.

We stayed at the red cabins while photographing the Northern Lights in Lofoten, Norway

Great accommodations in the famous red cabins

Our Accommodation? Those Red Cabins You See in Many Lofoten Photos

I had seen many photos of Lofoten with the cluster of red cabins in front of the mountain and never thought much about what those cabins actually were.

As it turns out, they were our accommodation. These now famous red houses are Eliassen Rorbuer at Hamnöy Bridge.

Ours had 3 rooms with 4 single beds and one double with a kitchen and a sitting room. It was very comfortable, and you couldn’t ask for a better location.

We were right by the Hamnöy Bridge with the harbour and a massive mountain outside our bedroom window.

Every time I see these shots now, I feel like shouting, “Hey, I can see my house from here.”

A pano view of the Northern Lights in Lofoten, Norway

It took a pano to capture the beauty of the aurora over the mountains

Plan Your Lofoten Trip Well in Advance

You’ll likely be on a small tour. Depending on the company, these tours can sell out fast, often many months in advance. In my case, I committed in July to travel in November.

That also gave me time to do my research. I watched videos, read blogs and studied apps and Google Earth.

Booking early also builds the anticipation and gives you something to look forward to. The week before we left, I was like a kid right before Christmas.

I was prepared, but when we got there, it was still incredible to me to actually see this in real life, and then to get Northern Lights for three nights. SO EPIC!

Photographing The Eye of the Dragon in Lofoten, Norway

Our longest travelling was to shoot The Eye of the Dragon

Make Sure You Have Enough in Your Norway Food Budget

Compared to most countries in the world, food is very expensive in Norway, and even more so in the far north.

For example, in Bodø, before we got on the ferry to Lofoten, we all decided to get food. My burger in a burger joint was close to €30. A small 250 ml beer was €8.40. A can of beer in the grocery store was €4.40.

So, as a group, we cooked mostly in our cabin rather than eat in a restaurant. Each of us bought what we liked. We would cook and clean up together. That worked very well for us.

Photographing more Northern Lights in Lofoten, Norway

Can’t get enough of the Northern Lights

What I Would Do Differently Next Time

I would go back to Lofoten in a heartbeat, but perhaps with a group that was fit enough and willing to climb a mountain. There are some jaw-dropping locations that would involve some climbing, so you would need good gear like proper crampons.

I would also love to photograph Lofoten from the sky with my new drone.

Vlogging and photographing in Norway, I was like a child and loved every minute of every day. I’ll be back.

Diarmuid O’Donovan

 

Diarmuid is a landscape and underwater photographer from Limerick, Ireland. He is the owner & producer of the Irish Photography Podcast.

Diarmuid shoots with Canon EOS R and one Canon 5D Mark iii, with Nisi filters. He is also a Litra Brand Ambassador.

In 2016 Diarmuid earned a Higher Professional Diploma in Advanced Photography and Licentiateship Panel from IPF.

Diarmuid O’Donovan

 

Diarmuid is a landscape and underwater photographer from Limerick, Ireland. He is the owner & producer of the Irish Photography Podcast.

Diarmuid shoots with Canon EOS R and one Canon 5D Mark iii, with Nisi filters. He is also a Litra Brand Ambassador.

In 2016 Diarmuid earned a Higher Professional Diploma in Advanced Photography and Licentiateship Panel from IPF.

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