Wednesday
May282014

Happy accidents make great photos

Sometimes when on a photo journey, you have to just be open to the unexpected. Those happy accidents that happen when things don't go according to plan. Because sometimes, those happy accidents lead to memorable experiences and amazing photo opportunities. Kvalvika Beach was just that for us.

Yesterday, we set out for the day ready to climb Reinebringen Mountain and shoot the Midnight Sun from the summit. It's supposed to be an unbeatable view of the town of Reine and the fjords from high above. We didn't make it. Sadly, the climb proved to be more than my wife and I were prepared to handle carrying all of our equipment.

Determined not to be defeated, we came up with a new plan. We would watch the Midnight Sun at Kvalvika Beach, a hidden beach reachable only by a 3 km, 750 foot high hike through a mountain pass. After all, 3 km isn't far, we've done longer and steeper hikes.

The Journey

We located the trailhead. It started out a bit muddy, but a clear trail that someone before us had placed numerous boulders and wood boards to hop across as we made our way. About 30 minutes into the hike, it began to get a bit rocky. And then more rocky. And steeper. We were scrambling up the rocks, carefully watching our footing. About an hour, we reached the summit of the climb.

We still couldn't see the beach. We continued the path downward, still not seeing the final destination. The terrain became steeper and more rocky. Scrambling moves became the norm as we maneuvered down the rocks. Still, we did not see the beach. We balanced our packs and ourselves, grabbing the rocks with our hands and we climbed down. Finally, we reached a ledge and as we made it over to the edge, we were rewarded with the white sands and bright green grassy dunes several hundred feet yet below us. Our target was in sight.

An iPhone shot of Kvalvika Beach during the Midnight Sun.My wife scrambles her way through the rocky terrain on our way to Kvalvika Beach.

When we finally reached solid grassy terrain, we came upon a surprise - a family of sheep resting just off to the side of the trail. Two adults and  two lambs. They tolerated us moving a bit closer and even posed for a photograph before we continued on to the sandy beach.

New Friends

One of my favorite things about my job as a travel photographer is meeting people along the way. Our trip to Kvalvika Beach was no different. Though still several weeks out from the peak tourist season, we met a handful of others along the way: A family from Germany visiting for the afternoon before heading back the following day, a Swedish photographer camping at the beach waiting, like me, for the best Midnight Sun,

The cabin in the rocks currently inhabited by young travelers Alla and Andrew. And then there was Alla and Andrew, a Polish couple who had just completed their exams at university and was touring Norway on foot and by h. Alla and Andrew invited us to share their campfire, chat for a while, and visit the small cabin they were staying in. Hidden among the rocks edging the beach, we can only assume the cabin was built by the surfers who frequent the beach. With its round door, it felt like something out of the Hobbit, and inside it was complete with a bed, stove, warming oven, supplies, food and spices, everything a weary traveler would need. Alla and Andrew left their own mark by taking something (food), and leaving something behind.

Together with our new friends we watched the Midnight Sun. I photographed the stunning beach setting in the deep light provided by the lowered sunrays.

After awhile, we said our goodbyes to Alla and Andrew and wished them well. We were glad to have been a part of their journey, just as they became a part of ours. And we began our ascent up the rocky mountain pass and within a few hours, we made our way back to the trailhead and to our car.

Had we been successful in original plan to climb Reinebringen, we may have captured some stunning images. But alas, we left ourselves open to the happy accident that was, for us, Kvalvika Beach.

Tuesday
May272014

Chasing the Midnight Sun

Waiting for the Midnight Sun to touch the tips of the mountains behind me.

The past few days exploring the Lofoten Islands has been a true delight. We arrived just ahead of the tourist season and found our first days on the islands to be quiet ones. Few people travel about, many of the shops and restaurants not yet open for the season. 

As a photographer, I am constantly chasing the light, looking for the perfect natural lighting conditions to showcase the setting I see. I've found it a unique challenge here that the sun never sets.

The Lofoten Islands are situated in the Arctic Circle, and during the summer months, the sun never sets. They call it the Midnight Sun. The sun lowers below the mountaintops, but never reaches the horizon. Instead at its lowest point, it skirts along the horizon lighting up the sky with deep oranges and yellows. Beautiful.

It's always important to my work to understand where and when the sun will make its first appearance of the day and its last. It's at those moments, "the Magic Hour," that the light is filtered and bright enough to highlight my subjects. With the Midnight Sun, the "Magic Hour" lasts through the night.

In a few weeks time, the island will be filled with vacationers from Norway, Sweden, Germany, and beyond, who come here to enjoy the fjords, the mountains, and the quaint fishing villages. But for now, it's quiet. it's me, my wife, and my camera, and the midnight sun.

An iphone photo capturing the lovely town of Hamnøy. I plan to return to this location to shoot it in various lighting conditions.

 

Saturday
May242014

Norway: The journey to the journey

Our latest photo journey brings us to the Lofoten Islands, Norway. And let me tell you, getting here has been a journey all on its own.

We left our home in Minnesota with our backpacks and camera equipment. Four planes, a boat, and more than 24 hours later, we arrived in Reine, in the Lofoten Islands. As the ferry boat pulled closer, the fjords seem to grow right out of the Atlantic. While there are other ways to arrive in Lofoten, I recommend taking the ferry. I love the sense of excitement that builds as we get closer to our destination. You can't beat it. Our arrival was greeted with rain. Which is just fine, because after the long trip, a bed and a pillow without the guilt of not being out shooting in the light, were just the ticket.

My wife and I have been enchanted by the Lofoten Islands for years. But this is the first chance we've had to visit. We are most excited for the spectacular views offered of the fjords and the fishing villages that dot the coast. As we continue our journey, we'll post more snapshots of what you can expect to find in my new Norway gallery coming soon.

 

Sunday
Jun302013

Taking the road less traveled

A snapshot of the rows of lavender. You'll be able to smell the levender through the images I'll soon make available to purchase.Imagine fields and fields of bright purple under a deep blue sky. With every breath you experience the true scent of Provence. We arrived in Provence just as the lavender is at its peak, which happens sometime between late June and mid-July. The large bushes of little purple and mauve flowers are springing with color.

On this leg of my expedition, I must leave all the main roads, and take the roads less traveled. It's along the narrow (really narrow) curvey dirt roads that I will find the vantage points that will really show Provence as it was meant to be seen.

I've learned a thing or two

The thing about traveling and getting to know new places is there is so much to learn about the local culture and customs, and just way of life.

Lavender is a primary driver for the economy in much of this area of France. From Valensole to Gorde to Sault, lavender production, the sale of lavender products, and the welcoming of tourists to see the lavendar fields are a way of life.

The area is also active in beekeeping. It is a win-win. The bees pollinate the lavendar, increasing the essential oils it can produce. The sweet nectar from the lavender produces some of the best honey. The loud buzzing (like a freight train!) as you enter the fields is a reminder that I'm just a visitor, and I do my best not to disrupt the natural give and take of the plants and bees.

But lavendar isn't the only sweet treat to find. As you move closer to Gorde, you'll find cherries, grapes, olives, tyme, and so many other sweet spices. I enjoy seeing the local food production and partaking in its yumminess.

I'll post photos for purchase from this region soon. Check back!

Thursday
Jun272013

A town that time forgot: St-Cirq-Lapopie

I wasn't sure what to expect when we headed south from Giverny to the Midi-Pyrenees region of Southern France. But when we rounded the final bend around the bluffs to St.-Cirq-Lapopie, I was mesmerized. 

The entire village is perched on the side of a steep cliff. The buildings cling to the rocks and their facades blend in to the natural stone as if camouflaged. The most prominent is a church, which sits tall above the rest of the village. I wandered the single main street that meanders down the steep hillside and was captured by the quaint shops, brasseries, and galleries.

I'm not usually a morning person, but during my stay in St.-Cirq-Lapopie, I was excited to rise before sunrise each morning, and climb the hills to capture the beautiful village being cast by the first light of the day. But it was actually a happy, and lucky, surprise at sunset that I am most proud of. During an overcast day, I sat one evening in wait of a sunset I was sure was not going to happen. My hope had been to catch the light of the sunset bathing the town just before it lowered below the hillside. I had almost given up. When suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds, just for a moment. I had my camera ready, and I caught it. It was like a sunburst winking at me, just for a moment. And then it was gone. But the photo captured it forever. (Sorry, you'll have to wait to see that shot until I return home! For now, enjoy these snapshots)

Me in front of the gate to the village waiting for sunset.

 

 

 

 

St.-Cirq-Lapopie is a quiet, out-of-the-way place, but has a fair number of visitors each year, see The Guardian's recent article featuring the town. It is at least 30 kilometers of winding, narrow backroads from anywhere else. But so quaint, it was named one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France ("The most beautiful villages of France"). I agree-it is a designation much deserved.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the wonderful hotel that we stayed at. Set just across the river from the village, with a beautiful morning view, the Hotel Saint Cirq is as charming as it is relaxing.