For many photographers, a landscape photography trip to Norway is a dream come true. Whether you go in midwinter for the aurora borealis, or during the summer months to experience endless daylight in the Arctic Circle, Norway offers some truly incredible lighting conditions all year round.
But as amazing as Norway’s light may be, for me it’s the scenery of this country that’s the main draw: there are few places on earth more stunning than the rugged mountains and crystalline fjords of Norway’s coastal regions.
Planning a photography trip to the fjords of your own? I just got back from an amazing midsummer landscape session in Norway and am eager to share my tips and experiences.
Prepare for Everything
If there’s a single take-away piece of advice that I can offer from my experiences shooting landscape photography in Norway, it’s be prepared for every possible eventuality. Whether it’s the weather, the light, or the photo opportunities that present themselves; when it comes to Norway my recommendation is to always expect the unexpected.
You might get lucky in that your trip coincides with a week or two of uninterrupted sunshine (and in the far north, where during the summer months the sun never fully sets at all, it will be quite literally uninterrupted). But for the most part, the Norwegian weather is extremely unpredictable. And when I say unpredictable, I mean that in just a few minutes it can go from blazing sun and a sapphire-blue sky to relentless sheets of the wettest rain you’ve ever experienced. And back again.
Shooting the Norwegian landscape is a bit like doing photography in the San Francisco Bay Area, only with the extremes racked up to ten. And while Norway is a huge country, spanning a very extensive longitudinal range, the climatic-arc basically goes from cold, to very, very, cold. So don’t expect too much light t-shirt weather even in the warmest seasons. Sure, summer temperatures are well above zero at least, and there was a reasonable amount of sunshine when I visited this time, but we’re hardly talking August in Naples.
What to Take
Given the degree of unpredictability, the key to a successful Norway landscape photography trip is layering your clothes; carrying just enough gear to be certain your can deal with most shooting situations while not being overly laden down; and making sure that all your equipment is fully protected from the elements.
For landscapes, you will clearly need to bring a decent wide angle lens. But you may also find that a fairly long telephoto comes in handy too: for example, for picking out details on the far shore of a fjord, or capturing close-ups of wildlife undisturbed.
High altitude mountain air can cause a lot of glare when the sun comes out, so you’ll likely want a good set of filters. Meanwhile a tripod and remote control will be essential for keeping the camera steady when the wind gets up.
Weather-sealed cameras and lenses will provide extra peace of mind. And whatever equipment you take with you, it will need to be housed in a sturdy and waterproof bag.
Considering the frequently harsh weather conditions, and depending on the amount of hiking you plan on doing, a photography trip to Norway is probably not the best time to try out a new and unfamiliar piece of kit.
What to Shoot
Obviously the main attraction of Norway’s coastal landscape are the fjords themselves: deep sea-inlets formed in glacial valleys – typically flanked by steep reptilian mountains. With their icy waters ranging in color from stunning turquoise through to deep emerald and misty black, the fjords are a landscape photographer’s dream.
As with most Scandinavian countries, the Norwegians have a particular affinity with nature, and most families have access to a waterside summer house, to which they’ll decamp the moment the long winter finally breaks. With their brightly-painted wooden designs and simple jetties jutting out into mirror-like waters, these can make for lovely photographic subjects.
Head a little further inland and you’ll find some pretty stunning scenery too: jagged mountain ranges and incredible gravity-defying rocky outcrops; rugged and unspoiled tundra; ancient forests; green valleys; gushing waterfalls; quaint riverside villages; picturesque wildflower-filled meadows. The country also offers an abundance of whale-watching opportunities, and there’s plenty of wildlife to be snapped on land too if you know where to look.
Work the Light
Even if you’re not visiting during the darker months to witness the incredible Northern Lights, Norway still has fantastic light. Summer skies somehow seem bluer than back home, and even when conditions are more overcast this can often bring its own magic to a scene. Indeed, who can resist the fast-moving drama of golden sunlight breaking through moody clouds.
And for those hooked on twilight and the golden hour, the risk of twenty-four-hour daylight is that you never stop shooting. In fact, in the summer, the light is often at it’s best very late at night or very early in the morning. And of course, the further north you go, the more this problem is exasperated: in midsummer it never gets dark at all, staying at a soft twilight between about 11pm and 4am. So if you really want to photograph Norwegian landscapes under the best conditions, you might need to adapt something of a nightshift routine during your stay.
If you are more into sunsets than twilight, though, then you are in luck, as the sun goes down extremely slowly at this time of the year, dragging the sunset out for literally hours rather than minutes.
Bear in mind though that Norway’s coastal weather conditions alter very fast – even in the summer months – and the mist and fog can suddenly come rolling in unannounced. Depending on your luck (and your shooting style) this can either turn out to be a major frustration or a blessing.
Certainly, if you’re visiting Norway for just one week, hoping to capture the fjords in idyllic sunshine, but are instead greeted by seven days of dreary mist, the trip could be a bit of a disappointment. But if you’ve otherwise been lucky with the weather overall, and just encounter an occasional bout of heavy precipitation or period of nebulous gloom, this can actually add some real dramatic variety to your photos.
Norway has a small population and a lot of space. It’s also an expensive country to travel around. These two facts combine to make for a relatively private photography experience. Indeed, in many locations – even some quite well-known ones – you’ll likely have the place to yourself a lot of the time.
Sure, the most popular scenic destinations can get a little busy in peak periods, but there are rarely the long photo-op lines that are so often found at the most popular Instagram spots in the US or Italy for example. This, along with the friendly Norwegian people, make Norway a really enjoyable place to shoot in.