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Travel Photography Tips for Photographing Norway

In the video and article  below, our founder, Genevieve Hathaway, shares all her best travel photography tips and resources for planning a travel photography trip to Norway.

In this video I cover great locations, where to go in Norway, travel logistics, how to get around, travel planning tips, photographing people, visiting and photographing the Sami reindeer herders, Polar photography, photographing the Northern Lights and gear to bring. This video is also a great resource for general travel information on visiting Norway.

Northern Sami Inga Eira with one of her reindeers. Eira and her husband Ole help run a local Sami experience called SamiCamp just outside of Tromso. It's a wonderful way to meet Inga, her family, some of their reindeer and learn about what her life was life growing up in a semi-nomadic reindeer herding family. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Best Locations

What kinds of locations you want to visit and photographs you want to make depends a lot on what you like to shoot as a photographer. Norway is a great destination to photograph landscapes, wildlife (particularly Arctic wildlife), indigenous Sami reindeer herders, cultural moments, people, food, architecture. Norway has something for everyone.

A few highlight locations to visit include: Oslo, Bergen, Sognefjord, Flam, Lofoten Islands, Senja Island, Roros, Tromso, Norway’s Arctic region, Svalbard.

Hiking through Utladalen Gorge to Vetti Farm with local adventure guide Torunn and her horse Frysning. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.
Roros is a historic mining town located on the Finnish border. It's one of the coldest places in Norway, routinely reaching -50C! Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Travel Logistics

Norway is an easy country to get around and photograph. As a very tech savvy and enabled country nearly everything if bookable online. It’s also a credit card culture – with very few businesses wanting cash. You don’t need to worry about carrying much cash – everywhere takes credit card. Some of the best times to visit Norway are in the shoulder seasons of the Spring and Fall and during the winter months – particularly February and March. The summer is usually packed with tourists and large cruise ships. Norway’s transportation system is excellent. The roads are well maintained and easy to drive. And there’s a good network of incountry flights and trains that let you easily connect up far apart regions of Norway. I recommend flying or taking the train between regions and then renting a car in each region to get out and explore that part of Norway. For example, you can fly into Tromso, rent a car at the airport and then drive around the Arctic region of Norway.

Nearly all Norwegians speak excellent English, making it even easier to travel through the country – as well as ask locals for their favorite epic lookout locations and most beautiful hikes (this can be a great way to get off the beaten path and photograph new locations). I still recommend learning a few works of Norwegian – it goes a long way in making local friends and starting conversations with locals. People really appreciate when you try to speak a couple of words of Norwegian.

Photographing People

People in Norway are very friendly and welcoming. I find if you explain your project or why you would like to make a photograph of them, they are usually quite open to it. It helps a lot if you learn a couple of words of Norwegian (such as hello, thank you, do you speak English). It usually even breaks the ice more. Planning a project in advance or having a portraiture goal also can make it easier to both photograph people and come away with quality photographs for your portfolio. Also, think in advance how you can connect with them – on a personal level. Are you interested in photographing traditional fisherman? Do you have a relative or friend or even ancestor who was a fisherman. Connections like this can help people be a little less wary when you  ask to take their photo and can help you make stronger portraits. I find a warm smile and being honest about your intentions, as well as what you want to use the photos for, goes a really long way. Also, offer to share the images with your subject. We’re increasingly more connected these days. It’s easy to get someone’s email address and email them the images.

Local mountaineering and kayaking guide Torunn Todal Laberg and her retired race horse Frysning at Ultadalen Gorge. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.
Trine Larsen's family are coastal Sami from the northern region. She and her husband help run a local Sami experience - teaching travelers about the Sami culture and heritage. In this photo she is playing the traditional Sami drum. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Photographying and Spending Time With The Sami Reindeer Herders

The Sami are the indigenous Finno-Ugric peoples living across Sapmi – today Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia. Traditionally Sami have pursued livelihoods in coastal fishing, fur trapping, and sheep herding. But they are best known for their semi-nomadic reindeer herding. Today only 10% of Sami are involved in reindeer herding. In Norway, reindeer herding is legally reserved for Sami people. There are a number of ways to meet Sami families. The easiest is to attend a Sami experience run by a Sami family. Many Sami reindeer herding families are supplementing their income with tourism experiences where you get to learn about reindeer husbandry, Sami culture, traditional food, and traditional music and legends. Many of these smaller Sami experiences are run by one or two families and can be a great way to connect with a Sami family and start a conversation about the kinds of photographs you would like to make. To spend more time with the herds, there are a number of Sami herding families that have started trips to visit their extensive herds in the polar region. These trips can be better if you wish to really get deep photographing Sami culture and way of life, but they also require more time and financial investment.

Visiting a local Sami family and group is a unique chance to get up close and personal with a reindeer or two, learn about their unique biology (did you know that reindeer form their horns by kicking them with their back hooves!), and take a reindeer sled trip through the snowy Norwegian landscape. Featured here is the reindeer experience with Rorosrein in Roros - a wonderful local Sami experience run by Eva Nordfjell. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.
Standoff between a male reindeer and Ole Eira, a Sami reindeer trainer and herdsman. Photo credit: Genevieve Hathaway.

Photographing the Northern Lights

Photographing the Northern Lights in Norway can be relatively easy, you just need a few things:

  1. Clear skies
  2. Little to no light pollution
  3. On the Full Moon, or the days before and after the Full Moon
  4. Interesting scenery/subject matterAfter I recorded the video I realized I forgot to include two important pieces of information for photographing the Northern Lights.

In the northern part of Norway (above the Arctic Circle) if there is any solar flares (even 0.1 KP values) and clear skies plus a relatively strong Moon – you will see the northern lights. Ho much vibrant color there is and how strong the color is depends on how full and big is the moon – the more full the moon the brighter the Northern Lights.

Also be sure to use a tripod. You need to put your camera on a steady surface so you can shot longer exposures. Camera settings to use: you want your aperture as wide open as possible. Ideally f/2.8 or wider. You want your ISO as high as possible but not so high that noise becomes a big issue. I usually try to shoot around 4000 – 5000 ISO. I find 6400 ISO has too much noise for my preference. A lot of this will depend on your camera and the amount of available light on the night you’re shoot. Remember you want to shoot on the night of Full Moon if you can. The more moon light the better the Northern Lights will pop with color. Lastly you don’t want to slow your shutter speed down too far. The Northern Lights are moving so you don’t want I super slow shutter speed. I find usually around 1/8 is good – but you may need to play with a little faster and a little slower depending on the amount of ambient light.

The Northern Lights can happen any time starting at sunset, so arrive at your desired location just before sunset and then wait for the Green Lady to arrive.

Gear

What gear you use is a personal preference and determined often by what you will be shooting. Below is the kit I bring to my travel projects in Norway. In the above video I got into more detail about why I bring each item.

Travel Photography Kit:

  • Sony a7iii
  • Sony 16-35mm f/2.8
  • Sony 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Sony 70-200mm f/2.8
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
  • Lee Filter System
  • Tiffen Circular ND filter
  • Gitzo GT1545T Travel Tripod

Questions, Comments, Thoughts

If you have any specific questions, comments, thoughts or things you think Genevieve missed please include them in the comments below and Genevieve will respond to them. Are you planning an upcoming travel photography trip to Norway and have questions? Also leave those in the comments below and Genevieve will try to answer as many as she can.

You can follow Genevieve and her travel photography assignments, projects and adventures on Instagram:@genevievehathaway

And you can explore more of her travel photography work on her website.

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