Far above the Arctic Circle is an archipelago of islands with landscapes that seem to come out straight from a fairytale. This is a place where it feels like time stopped many years ago and where Mother Nature is still the undisputed Queen: These are the Lofoten Islands.
There is nothing quite like walking through old fishing villages and staying in some of the famous rorbuer (the typical fishermen’s houses), as you explore some of the most incredible beaches on this Earth and witness spiky mountains diving straight into deep fjords. On these islands, you can gaze up at the magical Northern Lights dancing over your head while listening to the crashing waves of the sea.
And while you are living all of these experiences, be sure to have your camera close by, because I am 100% sure that you will want to capture every single part of these Nordic landscapes! In this Ultimate Travel Photography Guide to the Lofoten Islands, I'll give you an overview of where they are located, as well as when the best time is to visit for photography, what you should pack for your trip, the top locations for photography as well as some useful tips to make your vacation go as smoothly as possible.
Let’s start by taking a map of Europe. Head up north and place your finger on Norway. Now, continue to move upwards and you’ll find a small archipelago of islands in between all of the fjords at the northwestern part of the country (along the coast, of course). These are the Lofoten Islands!
The main cities in the archipelago are Harstad (located in the northern part), Svolvær (located in the central part), Leknes and Reine (both located on the southern part).
The population lives mostly on fishing and tourism. During summer, the Lofoten Islands are a great place to hike and to view the Midnight Sun, while in winter they are one of the best places on Earth to see the Northern Lights dancing in the sky.
There are two main ways to arrive on these islands: the first one is by boat from Bodø, a city along the coast, while the second one is by plane.
There are two airports on the Lofoten Islands – the major one is in Evenes (Harstad/Narvik), where you’ll find daily departures from Oslo, while the minor airport is in Leknes, with departures from Bodø.
The Lofoten Islands are beautiful any time of the year. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
You can’t go wrong by visiting the Lofoten Islands, no matter what time of year, as each season has its own peculiarities and something unique to offer in terms of photography.
As a matter of fact, you should actually visit Lofoten multiple times during the year, since the landscape changes completely from one season to another!
This is the best time of the year to visit the Lofoten islands. Why? To start with, there is snow... a lot of snow! Everything is covered in a pristine layer of white. The lakes are frozen and roaming around the spectacular landscapes will leave you nothing short of breathless.
During winter in Lofoten, you'll also have a better than normal chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis. The high latitude of the place is what makes it so perfect for Aurora hunting. The temperatures never become too frigid, since you are pretty much always by the coast, so you can actually stay outside hunting the Northern Lights for hours on end without freezing your toes off.
Best of all, the sun never goes too high above the horizon during winter in Lofoten, so you can keep shooting all day without having to deal with harsh light.
Winter is a wonderful time in Lofoten. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
During spring in Lofoten, you can expect to find melting snow pretty much everywhere. Life is returning once again to the Lofoten islands!
If you’ll be there in early spring (late March until mid-April), then you will still have a chance of witnessing the Northern Lights. However, during the later part of the spring season, you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights anymore as the night gives way to hours upon hours of daylight, with the advent of the Midnight Sun. This means that the end of spring is a great time to undertake longer day hikes!
At the beginning of spring, it is possible to see the Northern Lights. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Summer is by far the best season in the Lofoten Islands for hiking and staying out in the wilderness! During this season, the Midnight Sun phenomena means that you won’t see any darkness, so get ready to pack all your camping gear and enjoy long sunsets and sunrises from the peaks of mountains.
In early summer, you will also have the opportunity to photograph wildflowers in the mountains, while in the latter part of the season, the days will become shorter and you may even experience some light snowfall!
During the autumn season in Lofoten, you can enjoy the leaves of the trees turning from green to yellow and red – the classic colours of fall foliage. However, the Lofoten Islands are not home to many forests, so don't expect to see an explosion of autumn colours!
In autumn, the days will become shorter again and, with a little bit of luck, you’ll be able to spot the Northern Lights dancing through the skies during the night!
During autumn, you may see the first snowfalls in Lofoten. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Packing for an adventure in the Lofoten Islands will highly depend on the kind of trip that you'll be making. However, there are many general tips that I can give you which will no doubt be useful at some point during your planning.
Pack appropriately for your trip to the Lofoten Islands. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Let’s cover the basics first: the clothing. In the Lofoten Islands, no matter the season you decide to be there, it is going to be pretty cold. You should always keep in mind that you are above the Arctic Circle and you should dress accordingly.
Of course, if you are planning a summer hiking trip in the mountains, then you will benefit from dressing lighter than during a winter Aurora-hunting trip. However, the temperatures (especially during the coldest hours of the day) will always be quite low.
During summer in the Lofoten Islands, the temperatures can range from about 2-3°C (approximately 35°F) during the coldest mornings to a maximum of 20°C (70°F) during the warmest afternoons. For a summer photo tour, I suggest the following packing list, consisting of layers:
Light hiking boots that are comfortable to wear and not too heavy;
Light, long hiking pants;
A light jacket.
This way, you can add or remove things rapidly while you are on the move, without sweating too much or getting chilly from the cold.
Rain should be taken into consideration too, so the more waterproof things that you have, the more dry you will stay during your trip.
Things will be a little bit different if you decide to visit the Lofoten Islands in winter. Don’t get me wrong, the weather of the archipelago is influenced by the gulf current and you will hardly find temperatures below -8°C (20°F), so it’s nothing crazy, but my point is that even during the day (which, in winter, is really short), temperatures will barely rise above freezing point. This means that you’ll have to deal with steadily cold temperatures throughout the day.
For the winter, I suggest bringing the following items:
A heavy jacket that should keep you warm and protect you from wind and snow;
A few warm fleece sweaters;
A thermal underwear layer;
Thermal pants for when you want to stay out for hours in the night chasing the Northern Lights;
Some heavy boots that won't let in snow, water or dust and which will keep your feet warm;
A scarf, wool cap and some big gloves to keep your hands warm!
It's always cold in the Lofoten Islands. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Traveling to the Lofoten Islands can be demanding in terms of camera gear, so let's go through what is absolutely necessary to bring, versus what is recommended and what is not going to be useful at all up there.
A weatherproof camera is essential in Lofoten. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The Lofoten Islands are one of those places that have no mercy for your equipment, especially for the most delicate pieces of gear like your camera.
I suggest that you bring a weatherproof camera (generally all the full-frame cameras and some of the best APS-C ones are weatherproofed) that can resist the snow, rain, dust and all the harsh conditions that these islands will throw at you.
These kind of cameras are often the most expensive ones, being in the high-end part of price list for all of the manufacturers. However, they are worth the investment, as you won’t have to spend every second worrying about whether you are getting your camera wet or dirty.
If you don’t have one of these cameras, then you can still make up for that by paying a lot of attention to your gear when the weather conditions are bad. Consider purchasing a rain cover for your camera, which should protect it a little bit from dust and water.
A wide-angle lens is great for capturing stunning foregrounds in Lofoten. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Weatherproofing also applies to the lenses, except that in this case, even if you take the best and most expensive ones on the market, they will still be fragile when it comes to putting them to work outside with bad weather conditions or if they are exposed to some kind of dirt.
The only way to protect your lenses is by trying to avoid getting dust or water on the front elements as much as possible. You should also minimise lens changes, to prevent getting water into the rear elements. In other words, you just need to pay a lot of attention to your gear, treat it carefully and everything will be fine!
I’d say it is fundamental to have at least one lens in the range of 14mm to 30mm; you'll have plenty of amazing foregrounds during each season in the Lofoten Islands and you’ll often find yourself shooting huge mountains from a close distance.
If I had to travel to the Lofoten Islands with just one lens, I would take a wide-angle, without a doubt. If you visit Lofoten during the Aurora season, then I highly recommend that you take a wide-angle lens with a bright maximum aperture (minimum f/2.8), so that you won’t have to raise the ISO too much when shooting at night.
Get down low to highlight textures in the ground. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
With this lens and the wide-angle one you’ll be covered for around 90% of the photos that you'll likely want to take up there. I would bring something that can go from 24mm to 70mm, or even to 105mm, which would be even better. As I was saying earlier, the less you change lenses, the less chances you have to get some dirt inside them or the camera; so, a standard zoom like this would be my way to go while traveling around the islands during the day.
A standard telezoom lens is great for daylight photography. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
It’s entirely up to you whether you decide to bring a telephoto lens with you or not, because it depends on the way you shoot and the kind of subjects that you generally like to photograph. If this were up to me, I would bring it without even thinking about it. In fact, I always have my super-zoom (150-600mm) when I travel to the Lofoten Islands, just in case there is a beautiful mountain peak that I'll want to shoot. However, these kind of lenses are expensive and really can generally be quite heavy, so you need to decide if it is going to be useful to bring along or whether it will be more weight on your back.
The photo below was taken on a beautiful winter morning at 600mm.
A telephoto lens will allow you to zoom in on abstracts like mountain peaks. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The weather won’t have mercy, even with your tripod. I have seen too many people investing loads of money on cameras and lenses, only to put them on tiny, unstable tripods and then travel up to the Lofoten Islands to lose everything after the very first gust of wind.
My point is: when you travel to a place like this, a good and sturdy tripod is a fundamental piece of gear to bring. You will put it in saltwater and sand. You'll even face gale force winds with it, so don’t try to save money on a tripod because you will likely regret it later on!
Carbon fibre tripods are generally the better option for photography in Lofoten, since they are lighter (but still sturdy) and they get less cold when you stay outside for a long time. The downside is that they can also be a lot more expensive. A lot of manufacturers these days make the same tripods in both carbon fibre and aluminium materials, so choose which you think will best suit your needs: the choice is between saving some weight and saving some money!
A sturdy tripod is an essential piece of gear. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
As a landscape photographer, I have found myself using Neutral Density (ND) and Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters many times in the Lofoten Islands. I find them crucial to being able to express my creativity. Why? Because they give you many ways to make your photos more interesting by playing with movement and long exposures: you can capture the movement of the clouds, experiment with the motion of the waves when you are on a beach, and even make a long exposure of rivers or moving chunks of ice in lakes.
There are endless ways to get creative with ND and GND filters, so my suggestion is to have at least a small selection of them in your backpack.
Filters allow you to be more creative with your exposures. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The most important accessory that comes to mind when travelling in the Lofoten Islands is a collection of spare batteries. Right now, I travel with seven (yes, you read that correctly) spare batteries in my backpack.
The cold temperatures in Lofoten will drain your batteries in no time, even without using a lot the Live View mode or flash. Your batteries will also drain quickly when shooting longer exposures or photographing the Northern Lights at night. As such, be sure to always have at least a couple more batteries with you than you would normally need, because you are going to use them!
Together with the batteries, it is a good idea to have a remote shutter release to avoid shaking your camera when you have it on your tripod and a couple of lens cloths on-hand.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring a headlight if you are planning to stay out until dark!
Now for the most interesting part... here we'll go through all of the most popular photography locations in the Lofoten Islands. I’ll tell you exactly when is the best moment to be at each of the locations, so that you can be at the right place at the right time... always!
Hamnøy is one of the most picturesque places in Lofoten. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
You may have heard about this location a few times. Just a few, maybe a couple times. Jokes apart, this is by far the most popular and famous spot of the Lofoten Islands! It embraces the spirit of the Lofoten Islands almost perfectly, with its red cabins, the mountains behind and the sea all around.
Winter is the best time of the year I would recommend that you be there; the contrast between the snowy landscapes, the sea and the cabins is just incredible!
Hamnøy is definitely a sunrise location. The sun will rise from behind you and you will get the golden light all over the mountain and the cabins. It's a once-in-a-lifetime view.
You'll be able to take the classic shot from the bridge that connects Hamnøy to Sakrisøy and then Reine. Be sure arrive early in the morning as sometimes, the place can get quite busy!
This is not the only composition by the way: you can also take a walk inside the village (which, at the moment, is actually an hotel) and try to play around with contrasts between the cabins and the mountains.
Winter at the fishing cabins. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Sakrisøy is not far from Hamnøy and the fishing cabins there are yellow! Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Sakrisøy is the village next to Hamnøy. It’s barely a 2-minute drive between the two locations.
Like Hamnøy, it’s a beautiful spot to capture the tiny cabins with some huge mountains in the back; the only difference here is that the “rorbuer” are not red, and that’s also a peculiarity of this spot.
In winter, you'll get the mountains in the back covered in snow (and with a bit of luck, also the cabins) while in summer, they may have some patches of green vegetation.
The best time of the day to be there is during twilight and sunrise, so that you will get the first light of the day hitting the mountains like in the photo above.
To get this composition, you can park the car in the free parking spot that is in front of the Sakrisøy Rorbuer reception and then walk back onto the road for about 100 metres.
Reine is beautiful in winter. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Reine is the main city of the southern part of the Lofoten archipelago and without any doubt, one of the most picturesque. It’s just 5km from Hamnøy and 3km from Sakrisøy; you've probably understood by now that everything is quite close around these parts.
The main viewpoint of Reine is from the bridge that you will find as you enter the town. You'll recognise the spot easily, since there are always some cars parked there with tourists going around. This is the point from where you can take the 'classic' picture of Reine. Be sure to arrive before sunrise if you want to photograph the light on the mountains!
The best time of the year to photograph Reine is during winter for the snowy and dreamy landscape, but in summer you can take a trail to a spectacular viewpoint from where you can see Reine, Sakrisøy, Hamnøy and all the mountains around from above. The name of the hike is 'Reinebringen' and the starting point is close by the parking spot on the bridge. In winter, this trail is mostly inaccessible due to the steepness of the path and the slippery ice on it.
The Reinebringen hike should only be attempted during summer. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Haukland beach is one of the most beautiful places in the Lofoten Islands. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
I’m talking about these two beaches together since they are really close to each other and the road that leads there is the same. You will find them close to Leknes in the southern part of the Lofoten archipelago. They're just a 15 minute deviation from the main road.
The first one you’ll see is Haukland (in the photo above), which is probably also the most famous of the two. At this beach, there are a lot of foregrounds such as sea waves, sand textures and rocks to play with, which is perfect for using a wide-angle lens. There is also a huge mountain that goes right into the sea, so it’s popular for a reason.
To take the shot, you just have to park the car at the parking lot and get down to the sea level by following the path.
The Uttakleiv eye. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The second beach is Uttakleiv, which is located on the other side of the tunnel that passes through the mountain that you can see in the Haukland shots. Again, you will have a lot of fun at this beach if you have a wide-angle lens with you!
There are two main options for composition at Uttakleiv from the parking lot: the first one is to go on the rocks and play with them as a foreground (perhaps in combination with the waves); the second is to go down on the beach and to photograph the round boulders that you see in the photo below. If you go on the rocks, then be sure to search for the 'Eye of Uttakleiv' – a natural rock pool with some incredible colours inside – which is visible only at low tide.
Northern Lights over Uttakleiv beach. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
In both places, I’d say that autumn and winter are the best seasons to be there; you'll have hours of darkness during the night so you'll have a good chance of capturing the Northern Lights in the sky.
If you are not interested in night photography, then summer is also a great option to go hiking in the area!
Sunset is the best time of the day for photography at Haukland and Uttakleiv. If you have to choose between one of the two though, then go to Haukland, as it is possible to get a sunstar there with some dramatic skies!
Incredible foregrounds abound at Skagsanden beach. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Skagsanden is probably the most famous beach of the entire archipelago and again, one more place where you’ll have a lot of fun playing with a wide-angle lens. Reflections, sand textures, waves movement are just a few examples of subjects you can use when you are there; the compositions are endless!
I just love this place in winter; it’s not about the daylight, it’s more for what can happen there at night! Since all of the best compositions you can take in this place are pointing towards the north, it’s one of the best places to see and photograph the Aurora Borealis if you want to include some beautiful Arctic landscapes too.
It's also a great place to photograph the sunset, since the sun can go pretty wild with the colours on the clouds and the mountain!
The Northern Lights are also beautiful at Skagsanden. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The textures in the ice are stunning near Fredvang bridges. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
This is the last spot on this list, but not for its beauty! You’ll find the Fredvang bridges halfway from Leknes to Reine. You can’t go wrong since they are visible from the main road.
It's a lot of fun to get down by the seashore to find compositions using cracked ice in the foreground (like in the photo above), waves or some snow textures (like in the photo below).
The Fredvang bridges are also a popular place for drone photography, since they can be used as a strong leading line that takes the eye to the beautiful mountains in the back. If you have a drone, then be sure not to miss this spot because you are going to love these shots!
There’s not a specific time of the year that I would recommend for photography at the Fredvang bridges, since it’s always a beautiful view, but well.. winter has its charm, right? That’s just my opinion though. Oh, and the sun goes down right behind the mountains, so sunset is the time of the day to be there.
Sunset is a beautiful time to photograph a sunstar near Fredvang bridges. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Take not of these useful tips to ensure a smooth trip to Lofoten! Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The official spoken language of the Lofoten Islands is Norwegian. However, almost everybody there speaks English fluently, so you won't have to worry too much about communication if you are able to speak English.
In Norway, the local currency is the Norwegian Krone. There's no need to change your money though before you arrive – just take a couple of credit (or debit) cards with you. You can literally pay for everything with cards in Norway (even the most irrelevant things), so I never bring any cash with me. All I take is a couple of credit cards; a main one and another one, in case the first one does not work for some reason.
You won't always need cash in the Lofoten Islands. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Phone connection is available pretty much everywhere in the Lofoten Islands. The whole archipelago is really well connected and 3G or 4G are always available along the main road.
All the hotels and restaurants have good WiFi, so even if you are not able to connect to the 4G network, you will still be able to connect to your hotel’s WiFi or during meals at a restaurant.
The Lofoten Islands are one of the best places on Earth for photography. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
In the end, the Lofoten islands are one of the best places on Earth for landscape photography; perfect for Northern Lights hunting during the winter season and great for hiking during the warm season. I hope you've learnt enough from this guide to get started on your own photography trip to Lofoten, no matter what time of year that you decide to travel in!
Discover the enchantment of this stunning archipelago with this 7-Day Winter Photography Workshop to the Lofoten Islands!