Some Things I Learned about Nighttime Street Photography at Times Square

One of the most fruitful and perhaps easiest places to practice street photography is Times Square. It’s full of people at all times of the year and so many of them are taking pictures, that cameras are pretty much ignored. For photographers, this disregard gives us relative impunity to move around and shoot at will.

Whenever I have a morning business meeting in New York, I arrive the night before. This gives me a chance to hit the pavement in search of some cool steet scenes. It was with this expectation that I showed up at Times Square one evening.

Some of the things I’ll write about here I already knew. But others I discovered.  A few of the pics I snapped are embedded.

Lens Selection I brought my Olympus E-M5 behind the Oly 17mm 1.8 lens. Of course this provides the same field of view as a 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Some consider this a traditional length for street photography.

I really wanted to put this into practice, to see what it would be like to get close to people with relatively wide glass, as opposed to shooting with a 50mm or even larger. This focal length would force me to get close, in order to get shots where the people are front & center in the composition.  A side benefit of this lens is the incredibly small size. The entire camera + lens fits into one hand, ...and I don't have large hands either.

Scope it out One of the things about Times Square is the large crowds. There are just so very many people out and about, that it’s not really feasible to plant your self in the middle of the sidewalk. I mean, you could, but it would be rude and awkward and you’d constantly be bumped as you’re trying to get off some shots.

So I walked around Times Square a bit, to scope out what might be decent vantage points. One of the learnings is to first reconnoiter an area to get a sense of the layout, the venue; to find decent photographic vantage points.

Choose a Spot Another learning regarding relatively large crowds; it’s pretty difficult to chase after a composition, get the camera set and snap a photo, all the while moving and scoping out the possibly unfolding scene. It’s actually easier to let the scene come to me. In other words, people on the street are constantly moving, so if you simply stand still, the flow of humanity will come past you.  

With this in mind, I parked myself in a fixed spot - the entrance of an office building and that's why you may notice the same Times Square sign in the background of most of these pics. The fixed location offered several advantages. Since it was night, perhaps around 10 or so, no one was using the entrance and it gave me an uninterrupted vantage point for shooting. I made no effort to minimize myself behind the entrance wall; that’s getting too close to the creepy, hiding photographer kind of thing. But it did let me position myself just out of the ever moving mass of people criss-crossing Times Square. 

Constant Light Further, since I was positioned in a fixed spot, the light was more or less consistent. This let me us a relatively small range of ISO and shutter speed selections. Had I been moving around a lot, I might have constantly been adjusting from ISO 400 up to 2000 or 3000. As it was, I used mostly ISO 1000 and shot a few at 800 and even 400.  In fact, the sharp photo above, was shot at ISO 400.  

Aperture Using a prime lens with a wide aperture gathers quite a bit of light, so it can minimize the need for high ISOs. And compared to shooting tele, shooting with wider glass tends to let in more light, so bringing the 17mm lens was a good choice for these nighttime efforts. I also have the marvelous Olympus 12-40 Pro Zoom, which I believe offers sharper images than the 17mm. However, being able to maximie the light & shutter speed with the f1.8 glass trumped shooting with the sharper, darker zoom.

Fixed or Zoom? And most importantly, if I had brought a zoom lens, whaddya think I would have been doing? I wouldn’t have been able to resist temptation. Yup, I would have been busy constantly moving the focal length in & out and may have missed perhaps many shots.

Dialing it in As it was, after a few test shots, I dialed in ISO 1000, f1.8 and of course, the 17mm choice was fixed. On aperture priority, this yielded shutter times between 1/50 and 1/1000, depending on just how the many advertising lights in Times Square impacted the scene at any given moment. This was fast enough to stop the motion of people walking slowly on the sidewalk. And since I maintained a fixed position, once dialed in, this combination of ISO and F-stop let me focus just on the scene.

The other factor which I did change from shot to shot was the exposure via the EV dial. On Olympus, this is the front dial, right underneath the index finger, making it real easy to dial exposure compensation up or down at will.

Combined Benefit All of the things I’ve mentioned combine to provide another benefit. Too many choices = too much temptation. Using a lens with wide aperture, using a fixed focal length lens, shooting from a fixed spot with relatively constant lighting …setting all of these up before shooting precludes having to dial in different settings for each individual shot. It becomes much easier to focus solely on composition, to focus simply on shooting.

Capture a Story It turns out there’s a sweet side benefit of shooting from a fixed location. As different people constantly stream into the same spot, from the photographers perspective, they’re streaming into the same composition and updating that composition with new faces, postures, expressions, etc… An evening of shooting the same composition yields sort of a storyline. It becomes real interesting to compare many similar shots made unique by the different people captured within basically the same compositional framing.

Anyhow - to recap a few of my practices and learnings:

  • Lens selection …35mm, wide enough for city scene
  • Scope it out …check out the photo shoot area
  • Choose a spot …pick a spot and let the photo come to you
  • Constant light …fixed location may minimize changing light
  • Aperture …wide aperture for night pics
  • Fixed or Zoom …fixed focal length to preclude experimental zooming by photographer
  • Dialing it in …test and set up settings for the scene
  • Combined benefit …focus solely on the scene & composition
  • Capture a story …fixed location shots create a story line

I enjoy the drama of low light and especially night time photos. Being able to practice this while shooting live on the street is doubly challenging and interesting. If you’re not already doing some of this, maybe this might motivate you to get out.

I hope to see ya out there too…

Backroads Indiana

The road less traveled is almost always more interesting, especially for photography. And sometimes we're traveling real light, without even a full-on camera, just the iPhone. That's the theme of this story. 

Near Richland

Near Richland

At the very least, driving such routes is usually much slower than the highways, giving us travelers a chance avoid a possibly frenetic pace and may even reflect. At best, for us photographers, we'll have a chance to find some interesting compositions. 

Such was the case on a recent drive from Cincinatti, Ohio to Indianapolis, Indiana. I had the choice of a major interstate highway (72) or a country highway (52) running parallel to the interstate.   I chose the country. 

I think this was near Rushville

I think this was near Rushville

The wide angle view of the iPhone lends itself to the broad, big farm, countryside vistas in the U.S. Midwest. It nicely mimics the sweeping views the human eye perceives, at least my eye.

Near Rushville

Near Rushville

After a while, some of these panoramas begin to look the same. It's at these times, I wish I had my 'real camera', an Olympus OM-D E-M5, with me to better capture the nuanced differences from one scene to another. 

On Rte 46 over the Whitewater River in West Harrison

On Rte 46 over the Whitewater River in West Harrison

But iPhoneography it is for this trip and the idea is to see what interesting scenes the camera phone is able to capture.

Faraway farm Near Arlington

Faraway farm Near Arlington

Color iPhone shots convert nicely to B&W. I like to use Snapseed for post processing and the B&W conversion in this editor gives some pretty good results. 

Near Posey

Near Posey

Try it sometime. Travel with only your mobile phone camera. Use it as a self challenge to see what you can create. You might just be surprised. 

 

 

#iPhoneography #B&W #midwest #travel #travelogue #snapseed

Key New Features of Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Olympus just announced the updated E-M5 and it seems packed with new features.  Let's distill the highlights of the announcement and new spec sheet.

EM-5 Mark II image from www.olympus-global.com

EM-5 Mark II image from www.olympus-global.com

Olympus is strongly headlining the updated stabilization technology - apparently updated even beyond the tech in the E-M1; "The powerful 5-axis VCM image stabilization is even more advanced than ever before." 

With this tech, Olympus is advertising a full 5 shutter speed steps of compensation.  I'm kind of enjoying how they're actually get a little 'chippy' when describing the benefits of in-camera stabilization vs. the in-lens stabilization other vendors offer.  I'm loving this head-to-head competition, which they specifically call out in this press release;  "It powerfully compensates for camera roll, which cannot be corrected with in-lens stabilization..."  

Yes, Olympus includes the perhaps most highly anticipated feature, 40M Hi-Res Mode.   Strangely, it's listed under the 'other' category of their press release.  The press release describes it this way, but actually there's more.

"8 images are captured with 16-megapixel image information while moving the sensor by 0.5 pixel steps between each shot. The data from the 8 shots are then combined to produce a single, super-high resolution image, equivalent to the one captured with a 40-megapixel image sensor. This feature is perfect for capturing fine arts and landscapes, and other scenes where high-resolution photos are required. It maximizes the resolution of Zuiko PRO and Premium lenses, making image quality possible that surpasses that of full-frame DSLR cameras."

What's more?  While the press release advertises 40megapixels, it turns out this is only for JPEGs.  RAW files (Olympus ORFs) are actually captured at 64 megapixels.

The press release devotes the most space to describing new or updated movie capture features, touting "cinema-quality movies in hand-held shooting."  If the image stabilization is as good as claimed, and it's already good on my original EM-5, then it makes sense that it could dramatically improve hand-held movie making.  Imagine riding a bike and filming as you ride or shooting movies from a moving vehicle.  I'll be eager to see some clips from the new EM-5.  Here again, it does seem Olympus is calling out Panasonic, the vendor about which we've heard white a lot in the movie area for the last several years.  Is this an attempt by Oly to one-up Panny's capabilities in the m4/3 movie making arena?

EM-5 Mark II image from www.olympus-global.com

EM-5 Mark II image from www.olympus-global.com

Additional features and improvements --

WiFi is also included in the E-M5 and provides a number of features. It syncs with mobile phones for geo-tagging via the phone GPS, photo sharing and for remote control.  Wireless shooting allows control of both movie and still modes with, what seems to be, a pretty full range of control; shutter speed, aperture, exposure, ISO, white balance, art & scene modes, countdown timer, shutter release and so forth.  One of the best parts of image sharing appears to be the ability to simultaneously sync up to 4 remote devices.  So now when my wife asks to have a copy of the shot, I can simply link her mobile phone to the camera and she'll get a copy of the pic instantly.

For shooting sports or wildlife, sequential shooting in RAW format works 5 fps and is touted to work until the card is full. Olympus claims the number of capture frames won't drop, so apparently they've improved or increased the size of some buffers. 

The shutter is now faster at 1/8000 sec, but it gets even better.  In a node to the silent shooter desires of street photographers, the E-M5 II show offers a silent shutter mode, which apparently turns off all sounds in the camera, yet still shoots as fast as 1/6000s.  An anti-shock mode, which reduces shutter shock, is compatible with both the sequential shooting, and silent modes.

There seem to be no less then 6 customizable function buttons.  I've pretty much customized all of them on my original E-M5, so I'm eager to see this on the new model.  The LCD has been updated as well, with a vary-angle model, allowing the screen to be seen when holding the camera at odd angles, even selfies.

Overall, it looks like Olympus really provides a massive upgrade to the original EM-5.  As a user of that camera, I'll be eager to try this new one.

Below the Ice

Photographing objects within the ice using the E-M5 and Voigtlander - the what, where and how

Photographing what

None of these photos show objects or bubbles on top of the ice, instead all photographic subjects of all pics shown here are several inches below the surface.  The ice itself was clear enough to provide sort of a lens into the subsurface formations, though it also reflected light and was tricky to deal with.

Photographing where

We finally had a couple of nights with temps in the low double digits here in New Hampshire, the thermometer hovering around 10 or 11°F.  Add that to the nights which had already been under 32° and the river has begun to freeze over. 

Horizontal bubbles are pierced by blades of grass growing up from the bed of the river. The small bright circle is not a reflection, but another air bubble a couple of inches above the large one.

Horizontal bubbles are pierced by blades of grass growing up from the bed of the river. The small bright circle is not a reflection, but another air bubble a couple of inches above the large one.

This afternoon I walked down to the river and found ice 2 - 3 inches thick. I know, because it froze almost completely clear and I was able to see air bubbles and debris right through the ice by which to judge the thickness. A few inches is plenty thick to support the weight of an adult. The Army Corps of Engineers says just 2" of ice are adequate to support the weight of a person.

The shadow of my camera lens darkens the area around these bubbles a couple inches below the surface. The silhouetted reflection of the camera on a small tripod is visible in the smallest bubble, as are the colors of dusk settling in over the river. 

The shadow of my camera lens darkens the area around these bubbles a couple inches below the surface. The silhouetted reflection of the camera on a small tripod is visible in the smallest bubble, as are the colors of dusk settling in over the river. 

One of the many unique properties of water is that ice becomes exponentially stronger with thickness. For example, if 2" of ice supports a 200 lb. person, 3" doesn't just support a 300 pounder. In fact, The Corps says 3" is enough to hold the weight of a snowmobile and 10" enough for an 8 ton truck. 

A horizontal bubble a couple of inches below the ice surface with vertically rising air bubbles trapped on their journey upwards.

A horizontal bubble a couple of inches below the ice surface with vertically rising air bubbles trapped on their journey upwards.

When I bent down to examine the ice and saw several inches of thickness, I was not worried about falling in. What I did see though was clear, black ice with bubbles and bits of grass and other river debris deeper down.

One common 'scene' was horizontal bubbles which had formed a couple of inches below the surface and vertical bubbles consisting of tiny spiral needles. These spiral bubbles seem to have frozen in time & place as they rose toward the surface and provided an incredible sense of perspective to these mini-scenes.

It pays to look closely, from different angles & perspectives. Unless I had bent down to examine the thickness of the ice, I would have never noticed these formations.  As with all photography, which recommends we get closer to our subject (zoom with your feet), my zooming was done by getting down on my knees to examine the ice closeup.

Photographing how

Since I went down to the river in the late afternoon and the winter light was low, I thought I'd try the Voigtlander with the .95 aperture.  These shots were all taken with that lens on an Olympus OM-D E-M5 in this gloaming light. Sunset was at about 16:15 and the river lies beneath a large embankment, which gives a large area of indirect light.

As with many of us, I use various tripods, depending on the situation.  Two of them are very small travel units with fixed, not telescoping legs. One of those is genuinely tiny - it actually a plastic fold-out unit, small enough to fit in almost any pocket. Given it's light weight, it only supports the E-M5 with a very small lens, such as the Oly 17 or Panny 20.

As you can see in the setup shown here, I used my other small tripod which provides quite a bit of heft & weight and nicely counteracts the weight of the beefy Voigtlander. In fact, even with the weight of this full metal lens, I didn't need any weights on the tripod.

The nice thing about this setup, is how it places the lens perpendicular to the ground / ice and the lens just an inch or so from the surface if the ice itself.  And since the subjects, the air bubbles, were themselves 2 to 3 inches under the surface, this effectively placed the lens 3+ inches away.  I'm impressed the lens was able to focus on subjects so very close; I'll have to check what the closest focus distance is for this lens.

The close placement of the lens to the surface also minimized extraneous light from disturbing the shots and let me easily position the camera over any desired subjects. For some of the shots, I even had to tip the back leg of the tripod up to get the correct angle.

One minor problem was the shadow created by the lens, as it's pretty wide and obstructs quite a bit of light.  This results in a large dark circle over the ice, as seen in the second ice pic in this post.  I've cropped most of the much brighter, area outside of the lends shadow, away.

This was only an issue on some of the shots, depending on lens angle, amount of light in that area of the river, etc...  In fact for some of the shots, since I used the self timer to activate the shutter, my hands were free and I could position myself to completely block the brighter light with my body.  Crude but effective.

Another minor issue was the cold.  Usually when I use the E-M5 in the cold, it's on a strap around my neck and warmly secured underneath  my jacket until I pull it out for a shot.  This was different as the camera was out in the cold for the entire 30 minute shoot.  I did only use a single battery, but the camera registered a flashing red battery icon.  

I did have charged batteries in my pants pocket to keep them as close as possible to my body and hence the warmest possible.  However, I didn't need them, the red flashing battery lasted 30 minutes and that was good enough.

---

Given the close focusing nature of the Voigtlander, it should be possible to use it for other sorts of close ups and the wide aperture should let in plenty of light, even with the lens physically blocking some of it at close proximity.

I'd like to try these same shots with a macro lens to see if that changes the perspective. Perhaps it's possible to get closer to the formations in the ice with a macro?

 

Trans Siberian Orchestra with m4/3

Shooting a concert with micro 4/3 - the Olympus OM-D E-M5 

I like how everything works to isolate the blond head of this rocker, even the other one is silhouetted and the audience is partly hidden

I like how everything works to isolate the blond head of this rocker, even the other one is silhouetted and the audience is partly hidden

We saw the TSO tonight and what a show!  As always, TSO puts on a spectacle of incredible music, showmanship, storytelling, flames, smoke, lasers and more.  Playing everything from Bach to Zeppelin, they wowed us for 2 ½ hours at the TD Garden in Boston. 

I really liked the interaction between gazing crowd and rockers flaunting all they've got 

I really liked the interaction between gazing crowd and rockers flaunting all they've got 

This time I brought my camera, an m4/3 Oly and put it to the test in these somewhat demanding conditions. 

For the photographically curious, all shots are from the single vantage point of our seats in the balcony, so the point of view doesn't change across all of these compositions. I don't know how far it was from our seats to the stage, but it was some considerable distance, perhaps 40 yards / meters.   

One of the rockers is this woman, who's profiled so dramatically against the lighting rigs

One of the rockers is this woman, who's profiled so dramatically against the lighting rigs

To reach across that distance, these were all shot with an Olympus 45mm 1.8 lens mounted on an OM-D E-M5. This little lens is really great, it's sort of a mini-telephoto, but the lens itself is downright tiny.  The entire camera + lens setup is almost, but not quite small enough to fit in a coat pocket.

Given the interaction between crowd and stage, it's possible to overlook the guy up on the rig

Given the interaction between crowd and stage, it's possible to overlook the guy up on the rig

I was particularly excited that the camera could shoot so well from such a distance and do so in alternating dark & super-bright circumstances.  

Straight light beam lines contrast the freedom & wildness of the dancers

Straight light beam lines contrast the freedom & wildness of the dancers

The OM-D is not new and it's well known as a tool which renders colors well. But capturing the myriad colors and ever changing brightness generated by the concert lighting system is quite a nice test. It's a testament to the ability of this sensor and this glass to reproduce this color and these details so nicely. 

As you may discern from the variable sizes of these snaps, these are all cropped down. All were processed using Apple Aperture, my favorite post processing tool. Too bad it's going away. I really hope the replacement is equally powerful and easy to use. 

One of my favorite shots;  the musician bowing, as if in abeyance to the crowd, upward lights symbolizing their gaze

One of my favorite shots;  the musician bowing, as if in abeyance to the crowd, upward lights symbolizing their gaze

One of my favorite shots in this series;  the musician bowing, as if in abeyance, to the crowd, upward lights symbolizing their gaze.  This composition doesn't render especially well on mobile  phones in portrait orientation, it's a bit too dark.  Perhaps I should have brightened up the rocker a little bit, to emphasize his figure a bit more, but I tried not to radically change any of these pics.

Almost of these shots were enhanced with sharpness, some with a tiny bit of definition, many with a white balance adjustment and all were cropped down in some fashion.

While I first began shooting at ISO 650, I quickly realized that's way too high.  It would expose too much.  Having some aspects of a composition in the dark, lends them a sense of mystery. Shooting at lower ISOs let me expose for the bright spots, leaving parts in the shadows, so I reduced the ISO to 400. 

Before the end of the concert, I'd further reduced it to 200, the lowest setting on my OM-D.  Most of the shots here were taken at ISO 200 with a shutter speed of 200 using spot metering.  The exposure compensation I dialed individually for each shot, depending on how nice the contrast looked through the view finder.

Part of the climax, most musicians are on stage, lights are going crazy

Part of the climax, most musicians are on stage, lights are going crazy

Of course I was also thinking of the dramatically reduced noise I'd get with ISO 200 vs 640.  The low noise levels may not be readily discernible in these reproductions, as they're a) JPEGs and b) reduced to 1500 pixels for web hosting, so they're a bit different from the original RAW files.

I particularly like how the yellow highlights a few audience members, connecting them to the guitarist

I particularly like how the yellow highlights a few audience members, connecting them to the guitarist

Now that I've seen what the 45mm lens does, I'd really like to try the put the Oly 7mm 1.8 to the test under these conditions. I supposed, given similar seats, I could really get some close up shots of the performers, though I wonder if it'd be too close to also include some of the scene. 

Some I processed as B&W, mainly because I felt that color detracted from a few individual compositions.

Not sure why, but these audience members seem frozen in time, as if characters captured in a painting 

Not sure why, but these audience members seem frozen in time, as if characters captured in a painting 

Perhaps it's the very white, almost coherent nature of the lights upon the audience, but they do seem sort of frozen in time, similar to scenes I've seen in some old paintings.

Sometime I'd really enjoy shooting a concert with the ability to walk around, perhaps with a press pass or similar access, so I could get really close to the action.  This spectacle features too many pyrotechnics for that to work, but for a bit more mellow show, that'd be quite a photographic adventure.

 I have to say the Olympus made it reasonably easy to get some shots with which I am quite happy.  ...and ultimately, I take these for myself. Olympus marketing won't want to hear this, but I'm not sure how the improved E-M1 could have made this experience much better.

 

 

See sandtosnow.net/blog for other photography commentary

Autumn Through the Small Lens

I usually travel with my 'real' camera, an  Olympus OM-D.  Not today. 

I prefer to travel ultra lite, especially on short overnight business trips. Typically I bring my Oly with a small, lightweight lens. Usually this is the sweet little Oly 17. Not quite wide angle, but wide enough to capture enough of a scene for compositional context. ...and the 35mm equivalency of that lens is sort of a classic length anyhow. 

image.jpg

Today I decided to really travel light and forgo the 'real' camera, instead depending on my new iPhone 6. This thing is a really great camera.

 These foggy, early morning, grapevines caught my eye as I passed a vineyard on the way to the airport this morning. Sure, I edited this shot with Snapseed on my first flight. But the image the iPhone 6 captured was good to begin with; it shows nice detail and clarity.


With each new iPhone, I keep saying how much the camera has been improved over the previous model. ...and each time I ended up quitting that camera and moving back to the 'real' one. 

This time might be different. The sheer quality Apple is squeezing out of this tiny little sensor is phenomenal. I'm so  grateful the Apple product team did not succumb to the megapixel race. With the processing and hardware tech around this sensor, the images it produces are better than many real cameras were just a few years ago. 

This encourages me, and I'm sure many others, to use this as a first shooter. In fact on this trip, it's my only one. 

While we're at it, here's another autumn shot from the iPhone, also tuned a little by Snapseed. Look at the rich color and detail. That's not Snapseed making those attributes, merely enhancing them. It's just good image quality from a good camera. 

image.jpg

As you can tell, I'm thrilled with the IQ this produces.

But what do you think? Tried the iPhone 6 yet?   

Norway 8 - The Rorbuer

Our Norwegian home was a rorbu - a cabin;  refurbished from raw, working, fisherman's hut to tourist cottage.

Some of the robuer where we stayed in Reine, the right most rorbu is on stilts. Those are fish (drying) racks in the foreground.

Some of the robuer where we stayed in Reine, the right most rorbu is on stilts. Those are fish (drying) racks in the foreground.

Traditionally, rorbuer (plural) consisted of just a couple rooms; a working / storage area and sleeping quarters. Fishermen often stayed 2 or 3 to a cabin, perhaps sleeping head-to-toe to maximize sleeping space. 

In this rainy view, you can still make out the stilts on which this rorbu has been built

In this rainy view, you can still make out the stilts on which this rorbu has been built

Nice views even at night

Nice views even at night

The basic layout of a rorbu hasn't really changed too much in probably hundreds of years. Even today, they're typically refurbished without the level of luxury one might expect of a nice hotel room. The one we occupied was well furnished; simply, yet beautifully, in wood - wooden floors, wooden walls and otherwise rustic wooden furnishings. It was simple and functional in an attractively and uniquely Scandinavian way.  It was fundamentally cozy, comfortable, traditional (I suspect they all are) and offered stunning views around Reine Harbor.

 
Drying racks and walkways to the stilted rorbuer

Drying racks and walkways to the stilted rorbuer

Rorbuer are usually situated partly on the rocky shore and partly on stilts in the water, the latter to enable docking of the fishermen's row boats. Many of them are covered with two kinds of roofing materials; slate shingles and grass. The latter is so traditional, I even noticed one local guy had gone to the trouble of constructing a tiny little grass roof over his mailbox. 

 
Sod roofs and slate shingles are the norm

Sod roofs and slate shingles are the norm

What about this word, Rorbu?   It seems bu is Norwegian for little house, though it may also be an alteration of the word bo - to live.  The word is used in similar contexts, such as redskabpsbu -  tool shed.   

 
Our domicile in Reine

Our domicile in Reine

As for the first syllable, it's ro as in rowing, a reference to the fact that all early fishing was conducted from rowboats. Apparently in Norwegian there is the concept of 'rowing fish', which is present in modern Norwegian in the phrase 'ro fiske' - I heard locals might even use a phrase like 'Lets go row some fish,' even though they may indeed head out in a motorized boat. 

 

But why fishing cabins built for overnights?  Why not just return home in the evening? 

Apparently, the winter fishing in the Lofotens is so rich with Cod and other species, that fisherman would travel from far away to participate.  They'd supposedly row their open boats for weeks to get to the islands and Lofoten became a destination.  

Fish drying racks are not old-fashioned relics, but are in use today and found everywhere you find rorbuer

Fish drying racks are not old-fashioned relics, but are in use today and found everywhere you find rorbuer

It's said that in an effort to support the burgeoning fishing industry in the early 1100s, King Øystein Magnusson had cabins built in Kabelvåg (formerly Vågar)  for the migrant fishermen. I suppose this is some sort of an indication of just how long rorbuer have been around and how important fishing was to the Lofoten.

The rowboats are beautiful.  We saw them stowed underneath many rorbuer.

The rowboats are beautiful.  We saw them stowed underneath many rorbuer.

Why does it seem all of the cabins are red?  National color of Norway?  No, apparently red fish oil paint was the least expensive and therefore the most used color.  At some point the burnt yellow (ochre?) came into use as well.  Today, it seems all rorbuer are either red or yellow and I'm guessing the colorations represent more of an upholding of tradition, than a need to paint inexpensively. 

Gorgeous wood work on these rowboats.  Hard to imagine putting out to sea, The North Sea, in these little things.

Gorgeous wood work on these rowboats.  Hard to imagine putting out to sea, The North Sea, in these little things.

As we drove around, it seemed every village, no matter how small, offered tourist rorbuer. For those wishing to stay in The Lofoten, it seems picking the village / area where you'd like to stay is the defining factor, not the availability of rorbuer. 

 

Our time in Norway and especially in Reine was so delightful, we're already scheming about going back.

 

Some Links about rorbuer

Norway 6 - Ferry To Moskenes

Nothing says adventure like putting out to sea.  Monday afternoon was that time and we were finally ready for the final leg to our actual destination. 

A view from the ferry in a roughly southern direction, having left Bodo 20 minutes ago

A view from the ferry in a roughly southern direction, having left Bodo 20 minutes ago

From Bodo, a 3+ hour ferry ride brought us to Moskenes, the southernmost ferry port on the main chain of the Lofoten Islands.

Yellow dots show Moskenen, the southern Lofoten ferry port. Topo overview from Apple Maps, detailed map from Norgeskart.no

Yellow dots show Moskenen, the southern Lofoten ferry port. Topo overview from Apple Maps, detailed map from Norgeskart.no

There is actually ferry service to some outlying, inhabited islands, such as Sørland, not connected by road to the main island chain.

Just leaving the port of Bodo, the ferry sailed past this hamlet, a tiny enclave called Kvalvika

Just leaving the port of Bodo, the ferry sailed past this hamlet, a tiny enclave called Kvalvika

Immediately upon entering the passenger area of the ferry, we got a sense of just how cold North Atlantic travel is, compared our more southern latitudes. Rescue gear on these ferries is quite a bit more serious than the life vests or even rescue rings we're used to seeing.  

On break.  I wonder if that's his dry-suit hanging over the railing?

On break.  I wonder if that's his dry-suit hanging over the railing?

Instead, we were greeted by full-body, dry, survival suits.  I guess the idea is that, as the ship is sinking, you need to allocate time to get yourself completely zipped into one of those things!  I just read where the waters in the Bering Straits was 12º F, so I wouldn't necessarily want to test the temperatures around Norway.

Rocky desolation - the ferry leaves Bodø harbor passing right by many, seemingly uninhabited, rocky islands.  

Rocky desolation - the ferry leaves Bodø harbor passing right by many, seemingly uninhabited, rocky islands.  

While the ferry ride itself is pretty average, the departure from Bodo is scenic and the view arriving in the Lofotens is spectacular

A classic and beautifully simple Norwegian scene - this house on the rocky bluff overlooking the fjord.

A classic and beautifully simple Norwegian scene - this house on the rocky bluff overlooking the fjord.

Given a late evening arrival in early September, we figured the sun would be setting at a similar time to our native New England.  We were wrong.  This far north of the Arctic Circle, early September sunrise & sunset times are more like New England summer time sunsets.  Although the ferry didn't arrive until 9pm, the sun was just setting behind the mountain chain which makes up the Lofoten Islands.  

Sunset over the the mountains which comprise the Lofoten Island chain - this was the view from the ferry as we approached Moskenes.

Sunset over the the mountains which comprise the Lofoten Island chain - this was the view from the ferry as we approached Moskenes.

As the ferry got closer the islands, this produced dramatic silhouettes of the mountains.  Despite a bitingly cold, north sea wind, many people were on deck taking photos.  What a great way to celebrate our first arrival in the Lofotens; beautiful sunset,  shadows hiding much of the detail, leaving us with tantalizing glimpses of what was to be enjoyed the next day.

Norway 5 - In Bodø

Norway 5 - In Bodø

It's a total visceral experience to hear the throaty whine of military jet engines, watch fighters scramble off the Bodø peninsula, scream across the fjord and realize that powerful, bone penetrating noise is being generated miles away!

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Norway 4 - To Bodø

In the spirit of making the journey itself interesting, we decided not to fly the Oslo-Bodo leg, though we could have flown from Oslo to Bodo in less than two hours.  But Sara had never been on an overnight train, so we decided to take a train from Oslo to Bodo.

Sara was thrilled with the overnight accommodations, she wasted no time texting about the experience

Sara was thrilled with the overnight accommodations, she wasted no time texting about the experience

For Sara, this was the realization of a bucket list item.  The idea of our own cabin for an overnight  trip was sort of romantic.  Of course the cabins were tiny, with small bunks ...the the single kind.  How romantic is that?  I think my summer camp bunk, built for a kid, was larger than the one in the train cabin.

An Apple maps screenshot showing our final destination in Reine on the end of the Lofoten Island chain

An Apple maps screenshot showing our final destination in Reine on the end of the Lofoten Island chain

As you can see, Oslo to Bodø is not a short jaunt.  Bodo (not marked) lies directly across the bay from our final destination at Reine (red pin). This leg of our journey had us departing Oslo at 16:00 and arriving Bodo at 9 or so the next morning, with a change in Trondheim to get on the sleeper car. As you might imagine of the Scandinavians, trains are clean, efficient and depart with hair-trigger accuracy.  A few hours north of Oslo, I saw this lake (or fjord?) and just had enough time to snatch & click the camera for this moody, dusk scene.

It ended up being quite a bit of time on the train in order to fulfill a bucket list wish.  But, the spectacular early morning views approaching Bodo along Skjerstadfjorden made up for the long train bound hours. This capture from OpenStreetMaps shows the fjord along which the train approaches Bodø.

OpenStreetMaps showing the fjord, Skjerstadfjorden, which the train skirts on approach to Bodø

OpenStreetMaps showing the fjord, Skjerstadfjorden, which the train skirts on approach to Bodø

One things about photography and trains - it's really difficult to snap photos from a moving train. You never know when scenery will flash by next, what nearby obstacles will impede a distant view, if the reflections in the window are too strong or the dirty window too dirty.  I tried nonetheless. After all, digital photography is about nothing if not experimentation.  And, despite constantly changing light, reflections, etc... I got a few that I like.

This is tidal water and it's out

This is tidal water and it's out

Since it carries the word 'fjorden' as part of the name, I expected to somehow be riding around the edge of steep, glacially carved walls jutting up from the water.  Instead, the train skirts around a gently, even pastorally sloping shoreline of Skjerstadfjorden.  It was actually more delightful than dramatic.

 

In the next post:  Spending the day in Bodø

Norway 3 - BeBopping Around Oslo

After an early morning jog along an already busy harbor, we headed to the old town area.  Still jet lagged on Sunday, cramped & fraught with sciatic pain from sitting most of the previous day, we spent Sunday on foot, be-bopping around the city. (No one uses that turn of phrase any more, but maybe I can reintroduce it ;)  We hoped to use some sightseeing to stretch our legs & backs and also get some exercise before the overnight train ride to Bodø.

This night view of Akerhus was actually taken on our last night in Oslo, a week after first visiting the fortress.

This night view of Akerhus was actually taken on our last night in Oslo, a week after first visiting the fortress.

There we found an old fortress, built upon a bluff, which must have conferred some defensive advantage in the days when cannons benefited from elevated positions.  It turned out to be Akershus Fortress, a landmark fortification constructed before 1300 AD to stand guard over Oslo. 

Fortress guards seem to be both ceremonial and functional, yet there's no separation between tourists and patrols.

Fortress guards seem to be both ceremonial and functional, yet there's no separation between tourists and patrols.

To us, the strange thing about the fort is the dual historical-tourist and active-use nature of the installation.  Signs appeared to identify it as the headquarters for the Norwegian military, not just the military of 300 hundred years ago.  It appeared to be the current headquarters of The Ministry of Defense.  Strange then, that they'd let us tourists walk around the place.

View from Akerhus across Oslo Harbor

View from Akerhus across Oslo Harbor

So we walked boldly in, as if we owned this Norwegian Pentagon.  Perhaps the best aspect of this fort is the striking position (pun intended) it occupies above Oslo harbor.  The views across the harbor are stupendous, made all the more so by the surprise of finding this  place.

Sara peers through an opening in the old fortress wall

Sara peers through an opening in the old fortress wall

Akerhus Fortress turns out to serve many functions:  museum, national, historical symbol of Norwegian seat of government, erstwhile prison, church for the military, burial ground for royalty, current military HQ, site of official events/dinners for visiting dignitaries and military museum.

Map from Norgeskart - find it at kart.statkart.no

Map from Norgeskart - find it at kart.statkart.no

Note:  For accurate, interesting and above all, detailed online maps of Norway, visit the fabulous Norgeskart.  The site identifies the maps as being in beta status, but I found them accurate and full of details I was unable to find anywhere else online.  They seem to be available in Norwegian & English and possibly other languages as well.

After walking around Akerhus, we followed the meandering harbor edge around to the Oslo Opera House.  What a magnificent structure!  Some architects went crazy designing this place, creating an enormously striking piece of work.  In fact, the structure has been awarded prizes celebrating the unique architecture.  

Dramatic lines & angles lead the eye on a visual smorgasbord that's a special feast for photographers 

Dramatic lines & angles lead the eye on a visual smorgasbord that's a special feast for photographers 

To paraphrase the Visit Norway site, the Opera House is itself a work of art. More than a just place to hear music, the opera house is destination for both tourists & locals.  Dramatic, modern lines, all cut in stone & glass are a feast for the eyes and fun to explore. No two sides, angles or walls of the building are the same.  

Opera house from across the harbor

Opera house from across the harbor

From across the harbor, it seems that if parents let go of their child's stroller, it would roll down the angled slope, right into the water.  However, several cleverly designed breaks in the stonework, which don't detract from the overall slope, preclude this from happening. 

Plenty of locals seem to visit the Opera House as a Sunday afternoon hangout

Plenty of locals seem to visit the Opera House as a Sunday afternoon hangout

The layout invites you to walk right up to the roof, from where you have sweet views across the old-town part of the city.  Undoubtedly, the architects intended the opera house as a modernistic backdrop to the hundreds-year old buildings around it.  

Dramatic lines lead the eye and the visitor right up to the fantastic roof-top viewing area

Dramatic lines lead the eye and the visitor right up to the fantastic roof-top viewing area

In fact, one of my favorite scenes shows the reflection of a very old hotel in the modernistic windows which make up one of the opera house walls.  What a cool juxtaposition of old & new.

Modern windows mirror the old

Modern windows mirror the old

Some want to look in, but the outside views are interesting

Some want to look in, but the outside views are interesting

So much to see, just depends on where you focus

So much to see, just depends on where you focus

Most of the afternoon had passed by the time we walked around the fortress and opera house.  The train north to Bodø was scheduled to leave late in the afternoon, so we walked from the Opera House to the nearby central train station, where we had our bags stashed in a locker.  (yes, some places still let you keep your stuff in lockers)

More on the overnight train to Bodø in the next post...

Norway 2 - First Night in Oslo

Oslo seems comfortably small, but the downtown is vibrant, with a mix of old and modern.

oslo_musician

We walked around town that first night, listened to some street performers, gawked at the royal palace and found a great Asian place for dinner.  The idea was just to stay busy so our bodies become acclimated to the local time zone, rather than pushing right on to our final destination in the Lofotens.

A stranger 'stands guard' in front of the royal palace.  Yes, officially at least, Norway is ruled by royalty.

A stranger 'stands guard' in front of the royal palace.  Yes, officially at least, Norway is ruled by royalty.

Norway is ruled by King Harald V, though as you might imagine, his rule is titular only.  However, he does remind me of an interesting modern techno aspect to his name.  The name Harald has figured prominently in Scandinavian royalty for millennia.  A former King of Denmark & Norway, was Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson.  

Rumors as to the origin of the Bluetooth name stem from a bad tooth, blue as a way of saying dark ( as in dark chieftain), royal blue clothing and more...  Regardless, he is said to have united Denmark and Norway. 

When Ericcson, Intel, Toshiba and Nokia planned technology to unify communications between disparate devices (computers, phones, printers, etc...) Bluetooth as a moniker to celebrate th unification of these devices.  In his honor, the current Bluetooth technology symbol is comprised of Runic version of the letters H + B, Harald Bluetooth.

The real royal guard at the royal palace.  This one was a woman.

The real royal guard at the royal palace.  This one was a woman.

For those of us coming from the U.S., food is extraordinarily expensive in Scandinavia and Norway is no exception.  I don't know if it's stems from the exchange rate or perhaps a high level of expensive importation into the northern countries.

Whatever the cause, eating dinner at a decent, though not outstanding restaurant easily runs over $100 dollars for a couple.  Our first dinner at an Asian place hit the card at about a buck twenty.  That's with only a beer each and no desert.

Royal Palace guard

Royal Palace guard

If you then consider being on the road in Norway for 10 days or so, this sort of trip is not for the financial faint-of-heart.  Thankfully, I'm married to a woman who's travel philosophy includes the mantra; 'Just don't think too much about how much it costs.' 



Norway 1 - Oslo Bound

 

The Lofoten Island archipelago is wildly raw and breathtakingly beautiful. The islands have been rated one of the most desirable areas to visit in the world and the town of Reine rated the most beautiful village in the world.  

Looking from Tind back across the town of Å towards (lake) Ågvatnet behind the hill

Looking from Tind back across the town of Å towards (lake) Ågvatnet behind the hill

I'm not one to act on ratings.  In fact, my desire to visit stemmed from a travel article & photo I saw years ago.  This trip was a fulfillment of that desire, the realization of a bucket list item.  ...and whether or not you choose to believe ratings, The Lofoten Archipelago is magical.

Our ultimate destination was far north of the arctic circle.  Therefore, traveling to the Lofotens is more than a one-day travel affair, especially coming from outside of Europe. 

Arctic map view from CIA World maps online; Lofoten Islands and Arctic Circle markings added

Arctic map view from CIA World maps online; Lofoten Islands and Arctic Circle markings added

We landed in the fog at Amsterdam's Schipol, before transferring to the Oslo flight.  This had us arriving at our Oslo hotel about 24 hours after leaving our house on the east coast of the U.S.

Landing at Amsterdam Schipol

Landing at Amsterdam Schipol

Whenever getting to a destination involves multiple days, it's worth making the journey itself interesting, not focus just on the destination.  My wife & I did this with our journey to the Lofotens.  This is part of the reason we stopped over in Oslo;  it's a chance to see a new city and acclimate to the new time zone.

More on Oslo in the next post...