Norway 2012

We are pleased that you have found the travelogue from our trip to  Tromsø  in Northern Norway in the winter of 2012. We spent five wonderful nights in the fjords and highland of Tromsø area and the main focus was on photographing and observing the Northern lights at their peak activity in 2012.

We booked our trip through Dionys Moser’s travel agency  Fotoreisen CH which is specialised in tours for photographers and the whole trip was perfectly organised to photographer’s needs. Dionys had put a lot of effort in location scouting, the groups consisted of a maximum of 8 people per mini-bus and he and his team, Michael and Carmen, were perfect in analysing weather- and aurora forecast. We can really recommend Fotoreisen CH for trips that cannot be organised by yourself or if you don’t have enough time for location scouting like in our case.

A special thanks goes to Carmen Moosmann, who was a perfect and very friendly guide during this trip.

Many thanks also to Stephen Gingold for proof-reading and suggestions!

If you would like to see more photos, then please visit our Norway photo galleries. You find links to individual galleries in the daily reports below.

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We welcome your comments on the our travelogue main page or in our Photoblog if you enjoyed reading the travelogue.

A last word about the colours of the Northern lights. My eyes perceived the Northern lights as a dark to light green that only turned into a bright green if activity was very strong. The colour has never been neon green but camera sensors usually record it exactly like this. I decided not to over-process my images regarding saturation and contrast – I intentionally even reduced the green saturation of the Northern lights by minimum 25% – to keep a more natural look. There was a real colour spectacle and star explosion going on in the sky that I tried to capture with my camera. I’m aware that my photos don’t look as striking as many other photos but they are more authentic and show nature as realistically as possible. This is nothing special for me as a photographer – it is just consistent with my personal ethics of nature photography that I try to follow for all my photos.

I now hope you enjoy reading about the magnificent Northern lights that we experienced and that we can take you into a completely different world.

Sandra Schaenzer & Gerhard Schoening
SA*GA Photography

It was a long day ahead of us as we had  to change planes twice in Copenhagen and Oslo. We took an early train from Basel to Zurich Airport where me met the other people of the group in Terminal 1.

I had volunteered as the group leader for the group check in and greeted the people while Gerd collected their e-tickets and passports. Soon after, the Lady for the group check-in arrived, we had to align our luggage and were checked in. Board cards were handed out to everybody and we finally could proceed to the security control and wait for our plane to take off to Copenhagen.

It was a short 1:30 hour flight to Copenhagen where we had some time to stroll through the transfer area before we boarded the plane for the short 50-minute flight to Oslo.

In Oslo it got very hectic. We had to continue on a domestic flight and therefore pick up our luggage from the belt, run upstairs to the departure hall to the baggage drop-off …. and found another 100 people queuing already! Well, I was the leader of the pack and talked to the check-in Ladies who were first a bit reluctant and wanted us to rebook on a later flight. We made clear that we are a group of 25 and this would not be possible. All of a sudden, it was possible, we dropped off our luggage on a special counter, rushed through the security check and reached the gate just in time. We were all quite relieved that we caught the flight and ground staff reassured me that the luggage will be in Tromsø as staff is now aware that we are a traveling group.

And indeed, all our luggage arrived safely in Tromsø where we landed shortly after 6:00 pm. We were greeted by Dionys and Carmen, went to the mini-buses and drove to our home for the next five nights: The CityLiving Hotel in the city center. The rooms are spacious with a large bed, a sofa, TV, free Wi-Fi access, a table with two chairs, a clean bathroom and a small kitchenette where you can prepare small meals.

There was not much time to settle as the Northern light prediction was good for tonight and so we met again at 8:00 pm and set off to a beautiful fjord at Ersfjordbotn. The fjord is surrounded by steep mountains but unfortunately, the lights of the village are reflected on the mountains in a bright orange hue. Well, shooting in RAW means that we could easily correct it in post-processing!

We went on a pier and the first Northern light appeared shortly after, a weak one but it was for all of us the first Northern light we have ever seen and so everybody was fascinated by the dark green line that appeared at the end of the fjord. The light became stronger after a while and we could take the first photos of Northern lights. We kept on waiting until almost 2:00 am while weak Northern Light occasionally appeared and we happily shot away.

We arrived back in the hotel around 3:00 am and fell into our pillows very satisfied.

Highlight of the day: the first Northern light

Photo gallery: The magic of Northern lights, part I
The magic of Northern lights, part VII

Preview photos:

We had a good sleep but weather was bad when we got up. Gusty wind and wet snow showers – no nice conditions for a short day trip.

The team organised a little workshop about post-processing techniques for Northern lights and Dionys showed some interesting slideshows of the other locations he offers trips to. Promotion is a necessary thing, isn’t it? 😉

We started early enough to catch the blue hour around the harbour and parked the mini-buses nearby. It was a nice stroll along the snow-covered boats while the light turned blue and made a nice contrast to the warm lights of the old harbour houses. We spent all our time in this location while others went over the bridge to take photos of the Arctic cathedral. We eventually all met there and drove about 30 kilometers to a high valley on the way to Sommerøya. The valley is still not far away enough from the coast to have no light pollution but the trees and the nice mountains made a good background.

We got some nice medium strong Northern light and suddenly noticed a completely green leak in the clouds – strong Northern light! Everybody packed up his stuff quickly, we went back to the mini-buses and we drove a couple of kilometers until we were surrounded by Northern lights in a picture-perfect setting. The light was all over the sky and we happily took lots of photos. Every photo looks different though even if the background or foreground did not change much because the Northern lights moved across the sky all the time.

The high valley is not far from Ersfjordbotn and so we went back to the Fjord and hoped for better conditions than yesterday. We were not disappointed and the green Northern light was all over the fjord and we were able to shoot some more very nice photos.

The sky was clear now and it turned pretty cold so that we decided to drive back to the warm hotel around 2:00 am.

Highlight of the day: the Northern lights over the fjord

Photo gallery: The magic of Northern lights, part II
The magic of Northern lights, part VIII

Preview photos:

We slept well, got up and bought some breakfast and drinks in the supermarkt next to the hotel.

The weather was sunny and nice and so we took the opportunity to take the aerial tramway Fjelleisen up to the Storsteinen mountain which is a popular tourist destination and offers a great view over Tromsø, the surrounding fjords and mountains.

It was windy and cold on top but we still took some panorama shots of the whole bay. We used the shift function of our 17mm TSE-lens as well as our 135mm tele lens for the traditional panorama. The light was quite harsh – it must be a dream to be up here in early morning or early evening light! However, we quite enjoyed our 90-minute stay over Tromsø and admired the view over the fjords to the mountains.

We started early for our night trip to capture the blue hour again. I decided to walk over the bridge to our meeting point near the cathedral because I preferred to take some landscape shots in beautiful evening light to the cathedral. I was quite happy about the soft light over the fjord and the harbour and happily grabbed some shots. The light is just beautiful in the evening or morning hours!

I met Gerd and the other people from the group shortly after sunset and we set off to the – in my point of view – most attractive location of this trip: Lake Nakkevatnet near Sjursnes. Looking at the tranquil scene – even without Northern lights – was just a feast to the eyes. And finally no light pollution – the icing on the cake!

We had to wait quite long tonight for the Northern lights and if they appeared, the were gone very quickly again. Completely different in comparison to the previous days! Michael, a very friendly doctor from Lucerne, and I made our way through the hip-deep snow for a better location and we were rewarded with some very strong but short Northern lights. Gerd had problems with his zoom lens and we found out later that all photos have not been focused precisely and most of them ended up in the garbage bin! I also had a problem when I switched to my 17mm TS-E and happily shot away – until I realised that the lens was slightly shifted and all photos were out of focus, too! Shock, horror!! I managed to grab some shots with the Zeiss 21mm afterwards but the Northern lights were already very weak in comparison to the shots I missed.

So we had been in this picture-perfect location and we both messed up almost all photos – we were very frustrated on the drive back to Tromsø! I desperately hoped to come back to the lake on one of the remaining days…

Highlight of the day: Nakkevatnet lake

Photo galleries: The magic of Northern lights, part III
The magic of Northern lights, part IV

Preview photos:

It was Gerd’s birthday today but there was not enough time for a special lunch so we decided to catch up for a nice birthday dinner when we would be back in Switzerland.

We set off for a 3-hour trip to the area of Skulsfjord which is also very attractive from a landscape point of view. We came across a flock of reindeer looking for food in the snow shortly before the junction to Skulsfjord. No coincidence that they were already waiting for the bread that Carmen had with her and they quickly came closer 😉 We were all excited to meet the guys and happily took some photos of these funny looking animals. We spent half an hour with the reindeer before we continued our drive to the village of Skulsfjord. It is a typical picturesque Norwegian fishing village with neat red wooden houses located around the quiet fjord. Lot’s of photo opportunities here as well but not enough time. Well, in the end we booked this trip for seeing the northern lights and not for sightseeing at daylight 😉

We drove back to Tromsø to have some rest before we started the night trip. Weather forecast was not too good and it indeed was very overcast. We still drove the long way out to Sommerøya that is nicely located at the coast of the ocean. There is a long illuminated bridge crossing the fjord and many people were attracted by taking photos of the bridge with the moon and Northern lights above it. I wasn’t as I see myself as a pure nature photographer and I try to exclude any human element if ever possible – it is simply the philosophy of my photography, full stop! This is the crux of a group trip, even if it is a group of photographers: you always have to make compromises. But fair enough, the Northern light was not only visible over the bridge and we were able to take some photos of the beach, the sea and some mountains in the background! Great and we had lots of fun.

After a while, we changed our location once again and climbed on top of a hill at the end of Sommerøya. I was just able to grab some shots of the snowy landscape, the ocean and the stars with some hints of Northern light until the clouds were increasing and it was overcast soon after.

The weather forecast was not very promising and we decided to go back to Tromsø – what a luxury of a bit more sleep tonight!

Highlight of the day: the Reindeer

Photo gallery: Norway – Wildlife gallery

Preview photos:

We slept well and were up and running for our last day of this trip in Norway. Why does time run so fast when you are on holiday?

Weather forecast for the night was good and so we only made a short 2-hour trip around lunchtime. We drove about half an hour to a small place called Tisnes where we found nice ice structures and snow shapes in a bay. One kilometer further, people can make a stroll over to a shipwreck but we decided to stay on the beach for some landscape photography although it was the worst time of the day for it now. It indeed turned out to be a very good decision as Gerd spotted a great flock of seabirds flying in. He took his camera with the 300mm lens attached and slowly approached the place where the birds had settled. He managed to take some really cool photos rather close to the birds as well as in flight when they took off after a while. We later found out that he saw Purple Sandpipers and that they are local breeders at the Norwegian coast. What a nice encounter!

Weather and aurora forecast were brilliant for tonight and so we set off early towards the area of Lake Nakkevatnet. We first stopped in the valley and waited for the clouds to clear. After almost two hours, the sky opened up and enormous Northern lights covered the sky from one side to the other forming a huge arch. What a spectacle! Michael and I went through the deep snow further into the plain and were able to grab shots with a clean foreground. Just beautiful and we all were very happy already – and the night has just started!

We simply could not stop shooting but had to move on to the lake location. I was very happy about it because we both messed up our photos two days ago in this location and I had hoped to return to the lake. Well, after this night, I was about to delete all other photos that we took previously because we were rewarded with an incredible firework of Northern lights that lasted over three hours. I was warm all over except that my feet got cold but I didn’t really feel it – the movie going on in the sky was just too fascinating and breathtaking and I simply forgot everything around me!

Michael and I changed to a location where we could include a small stream and had a clear view over to a mountain that almost looked like a volcano with a cone. What a beautiful and terrific setting and we both were all alone in the silence as all our other fellow travelers were in the buses, warming up or sleeping! The Northern lights were dancing all around us over the whole sky while intensity and colour changed constantly – it was just marvellous!

The group moved on at 2:00 am and we made another stop to take photos of snow-covered fir trees and Northern lights. The location was okay but not perfect for a decent photo: the trees were too much high upon a hill and a proper composition was not possible without tilting the camera too much. Anyway, it was a good sight and an enjoyable stop!

We continued and suddenly stopped when we spotted an enormously bright Northern light. We were lucky from a location point of view as there was a snow-covered plain in front of us with nicely shaped mountains in the background. This was the strongest Northern light that we have seen during this trip, almost as bright as daylight and dancing all over the sky. We even saw a couple of coronas forming above us!

We were all stunned and very excited – the only sound you could hear was the shutter noise in the dark. Amazing, amazing – there are simply no words to describe this!

We finally happily drove back to Tromsø where we arrived at 4:30 am! We both were too excited to go to sleep immediately and so we surfed a bit in the internet and eventually packed one of the bags for tomorrow.

What a night!

Highlight of the day: the Northern lights in the setting of Lake Nakkevatnet

Photo galleries: The magic of Northern lights, part V
The magic of Northern lights, part VI

Preview photos:

It was a very short night with just four hours of sleep but who cares after such a magnificent night with this firework of terrific Northern lights?

We packed the rest of our stuff, exchanged email addresses with Michael and Peter & Barbara, who we got to know as a very nice couple from the western part of Switzerland, and went with the mini-buses to the airport.

There is not much to tell about this last day which was just a travel day. Check-in was quick but the plane arrived late and we took off with a 90-minute delay. We only had to change planes in Oslo and at first, the steward told us that we have been re-booked to a later flight but in the end it turned out that our flight to Zurich was late as well and we were just able to board the plane in time.

The flight was quick and quiet, we grabbed our luggage and caught the train to Basel where we arrived at home around 10:00 pm.

It has been a remarkable trip, that we will always remember! It was way too short but very impressive and spectacular. I could have spent many more days watching and photographing the Northern lights and we hope to return to Norway next year.

We hope you liked reading our travelogue and we thank you for your interest – Sandra & Gerhard.

Norway photo galleries

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