14 Days on the Lofoten Islands – A Travel Documentary

Julia

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554
Location
Dresden, Germany
Hello everyone! I had the chance to visit the Lofoten Islands, far above the Arctic Circle, for 2 weeks in June this year (2018). It took me quite some time to sift through the images, and process all the things I've seen and experienced. Since I was on the lookout for some travel advise before I left, I decided to not just post images here but also give you some background as to what we did, and how we experienced this gorgeous part of the world. Hope you enjoy!

Warning: Image Heavy Thread!
TOC:
2. The Beaches
3. What to do on rainy days
4. Munkebu Hike
5. Kvalvika Beach
6. Midnight Sun (The End)
-----------------------------

Part 1: Travelling

As someone who is not very fond of airplanes, I had the crazy idea to just drive to the Lofoten. I am from Germany, and 3.5 days didn't sound too much when we planned the trip, but boy – did that stretch! In Germany, you can at least go as fast as is safe with your car, but as soon as you hit Denmark, the speed limit comes down to 130km/h, and Sweden – through which we traveled for 2 days – is even worse. And the streets are just straight on, which gets very boring very fast. Swedish "highways" – Taken with a drone (DJI Spark)

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On the upside, the landscape was very pretty, albeit quite mosquito-heavy in mid-Sweden. On our third day, we crossed the Arctic Circle – it's easy to miss, just a sign by the road. But since we were traveling during the Midnight Sun, it meant it would not get dark anymore – the sun would not set for weeks and weeks, but just skim along the horizon. It's easy to read and accept these words, but wait until you sit at a beach at 1am in the morning and watch the sun paint the sky in amazing colors!

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At the end of our very long trip we finally arrived in Ballstad, which is somewhere in the middle of the Lofoten islands (for those of you who were there already, we were only about 20 minutes from Hauckland Beach). Our house, rented via AirBnB, had promised us a "secluded private beach" and we were knocked off our feet when we finally saw it:

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I had no idea that Norway had those colors ! Normally you only see moody pictures of the landscapes up north, but this was almost tropical. Ok, that illusion was shattered really quickly when we held our hands into the water – in June, it was still ice-cold with air temps only around 5-10C.

Part 2: First Hiking Impressions

Of course, we had come for the photos and that meant hiking to good photo spots. Somehow, I had not fully realized that and so I was puffing and huffing while we scaled steep mountains. We'd actually just had one hike during those two weeks where there was a proper trail to follow – otherwise you literally have to make your way up mountain-sides, through mud-basins, over rubble and huge mounds of boulders. This was what we had to scale for our first hike (meaning: start at sea level and make it up to the ridge):

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Fun fact: this image was actually taken at 1:53am when we returned from a hike, but it was the only time this mountain range was lit from this side. But the hike rewarded us with an amazing view of the town we were staying at:

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And if there's one thing I want you take away from this first post: bring warm clothes to wear in layers! You get really hot while climbing from 0 to 300 meters almost vertically, but once up on the heia, the flat area on top of the mountains, the weather can change in an instant. The wind cooled us down quickly, and rain was followed by a bout of snow. Bringing additional layers and a light down-jacket can make the difference between staying for a photo or having to return because you're freezing.

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In the image above, you can see a massive mountain range across the fjord, with snow falling from the clouds on the left. We could literally watch as a light dusting of snow started to cover up those mountains.

Oh, and one more super useful tip: if you assume you brought spare batteries and memory cards for, say, your drone (or your camera), go and check before you leave! We had left the drone's memory card at our temporary home and were crushed that we couldn't get any video footage of the breathtaking view around us. Don't be like us ;)

tbc...
 
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Julia

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Location
Dresden, Germany
The Beaches

After that exhausting hike on our first full day, it was beach time. Cuz that means no steep hills, nice flat trails, and – water! If there's one thing that will always get me out with my camera at the ready, it's water.

We were only about 20 minutes by car from Hauckland beach, which seems to be quite the popular destination. When we arrived, a few rain clouds were just passing through, so it wasn't crowded at all but the landscape was stunning and breathtaking.

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I mean, this is what I remembered from my last visit to Norway: snow-capped mountains in the (not so far) distance, mighty mountain ranges all around and crystal clear fjords. Just those colors – I never had seen those colors so far up north.

The hike from Hauckland beach to Uttakleiv beach is super easy – you basically just walk around a mountain. Uttakleiv faces to the north-west, so it's also the best place to see the midnight-sun (as we learned later in our trip). But first, struggled with the size of the landscape – I swear, I never took that many panoramas in my life! Everything is so huge, you simply can't fit it into a frame. We even discovered a new Yoga pose, "The Photographer".

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To give you just a bit of reference, here's my travel buddy taking some drone footage above Hauckland beach. The massive mountain ranges and sweeping slopes almost disguise him (and yes, I had asked him to buy a bright yellow jacket for visibility on photos, but they didn't have that for guys... go figure ;) ).

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And here, try to spot my travel buddy in the next picture. He's sitting on the rocks to the far left, taking some drone footage.

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Even on this sunny day, the clouds were moving quickly which was great for the play of light and shadow on the far mountains. But again: bring layers. I ended up wearing my shirt, a fleece, my rain/wind-jacket and then my down jacket on top. Being exposed to the north means that Uttakleiv beach got hit by the full force of the wind and boy, was it chilly!

During this trip, I mainly used my Oly 12-40 (on this day with a screw-on polarizer because colors!), but I ended up breaking out the super inexpensive, but incredibly powerful, Samyang 7.5mm fish-eye (it's also being sold under the brand Walimex or Rokinon). I picked a use one up for just 150 Euros because I didn't want to splurge on the Pana 7-14mm. While my main camera was my EM1.1, I also brought my old, banged-up E-PL5 and so it was easy and convenient to grab some wide-angle shots. I especially enjoyed going low and capturing some less-frequently seen perspectives.

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My travel buddy has the same lens, so we made use of it again when hiking over the mountain range back to Hauckland beach (this ended up being the easiest hike on our entire trip :) Even though I was always exhausted from the constant up, up, up I did find the energy for happy jumping poses. I always look horrible on photos, so I decided I'd just have silly photos of myself from this vacation :D

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My travel buddy, on the other hand, always looks pretty decent, LOL. He turned out to be a great (scale) model. I might take him with me again the future, he's very useful ;)

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When we had left Hauckland beach, it had been in the shade cast by the mountain range, but by the time we returned, the white beach was bathed in light and offered us some gorgeous motifs.

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And yes, some people actually hopped into the water on a dare by their friends or family, but they were very quick to come out again. I guess the windchill at an air temp of 5C must have had something to do with it.

Next up – what to do on rainy days...
 

Julia

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Dresden, Germany
What do you do on rainy days?

Let's specify this first – I'm not talking about the occasional rain drop or low clouds. I'm talking about pouring rain, which turns the non-existent hiking trails into mud-baths. And maybe add howling wind into the mix that just blows you about.

We were lucky – we only had 1.5 such days and they were actually a welcome opportunity to edit the photos we'd taken on the previous days and stuff ourselves with pankakes. But on the second day, cabin fever set in and despite the low clouds and occasional downpour, we ventured outside. We had created a Google Map in preparation of the trip and there was a category we called "Drive-up spots" – meaning those were photo spots you could just drive to without any (or almost no) hiking.

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On our way, we passed a fjord that was in its ebb state, so we waded in as far as was safe. It was fun to explore perspectives that you can't get when its full of water, and the moody sky and fast moving clouds added to the motif (long exposure failed due to the strength of the wind).

As always, Norway impressed us with the sheer scale of the mountains and landscape – they don't do small there.

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This is actually a very popular view of Reine, towards the west end of the Lofoten, but the clouds were just too thick to get a nice image.

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For a while, we got stuck in a downpour which made us find the only restaurant we'd seen in over 50 miles. When we ventured on, it was dry(er), but the clouds were so low I thought I just needed to reach up with my hand to touch them (I actually tried ;) ). And even though the next photograph might not look impressive, it's one of my favorites from the entire trip: I knew that a humongous mountain range was hiding in that swirl of clouds, and just prayed that my autofocus would work while I took the images for this panorama (and the wind kept blowing me about).

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And two hours later, this is what was revealed when the clouds lifted:

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It's really hard to describe how excited I was for this motif and seeing these images come together at 3am in the morning was just the best reward for staying out on this inhospitable day.

I especially loved this triangle shaped mountain on which the clouds got stuck – we actually sat on the beach and watched the spectacle for half an hour. We would have loved to do some time-lapses, but again – the wind was so strong, it just kept moving the tripod (despite attaching the backpack to the bottom).

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(If you look closely, you will see that the radio tower isn't visible in the panoramas – I used Affinity Photo to remove it there, but my skills aren't developed enough yet to take it out of the picture above ;) )

And then the sun came out. And I mean – wow! You just stare at the water, watching the waves, and suddenly to your left, everything starts to glow! Talk about scrambling to get the shot!

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With all the amazing landscapes, it's easy to forget to look for the details, but there are a ton of clams on the beach, and something remnants of other critters I'd rather not meet in person.

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After about an hour of sunshine, the clouds lowered themselves back onto the landscape like a blanket, but we decided to chance a trip to Nussfjord. It's like a museum village, with the little huts often rented out to tourists. Usually, you'd have to pay an entry fee, but since we arrived late, we could just stroll through the village. I wasn't all that impressed, but I loved how the clouds had wrapped themselves around the mountain range next to the village.

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And let me finish today's report by imploring you to check your ISO settings after such a day – I had mine bumped to ISO 800 because of the lack of light, especially later in the day when the clouds had moved in again. And it came back to hurt me the next day, when we had perfect weather and I kept photographing at too high an ISO and then had to denoise my images. Don't be me ;)

Next up: You just gotta hike...
 

Bristolero

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Alaska/New Zealand
The Beaches

After that exhausting hike on our first full day, it was beach time. Cuz that means no steep hills, nice flat trails, and – water! If there's one thing that will always get me out with my camera at the ready, it's water.

We were only about 20 minutes by car from Hauckland beach, which seems to be quite the popular destination. When we arrived, a few rain clouds were just passing through, so it wasn't crowded at all but the landscape was stunning and breathtaking.

View attachment 672105

I mean, this is what I remembered from my last visit to Norway: snow-capped mountains in the (not so far) distance, mighty mountain ranges all around and crystal clear fjords. Just those colors – I never had seen those colors so far up north.

The hike from Hauckland beach to Uttakleiv beach is super easy – you basically just walk around a mountain. Uttakleiv faces to the north-west, so it's also the best place to see the midnight-sun (as we learned later in our trip). But first, struggled with the size of the landscape – I swear, I never took that many panoramas in my life! Everything is so huge, you simply can't fit it into a frame. We even discovered a new Yoga pose, "The Photographer".

View attachment 672102

To give you just a bit of reference, here's my travel buddy taking some drone footage above Hauckland beach. The massive mountain ranges and sweeping slopes almost disguise him (and yes, I had asked him to buy a bright yellow jacket for visibility on photos, but they didn't have that for guys... go figure ;) ).

View attachment 672106

And here, try to spot my travel buddy in the next picture. He's sitting on the rocks to the far left, taking some drone footage.

View attachment 672103

Even on this sunny day, the clouds were moving quickly which was great for the play of light and shadow on the far mountains. But again: bring layers. I ended up wearing my shirt, a fleece, my rain/wind-jacket and then my down jacket on top. Being exposed to the north means that Uttakleiv beach got hit by the full force of the wind and boy, was it chilly!

During this trip, I mainly used my Oly 12-40 (on this day with a screw-on polarizer because colors!), but I ended up breaking out the super inexpensive, but incredibly powerful, Samyang 7.5mm fish-eye (it's also being sold under the brand Walimex or Rokinon). I picked a use one up for just 150 Euros because I didn't want to splurge on the Pana 7-14mm. While my main camera was my EM1.1, I also brought my old, banged-up E-PL5 and so it was easy and convenient to grab some wide-angle shots. I especially enjoyed going low and capturing some less-frequently seen perspectives.

View attachment 672109

My travel buddy has the same lens, so we made use of it again when hiking over the mountain range back to Hauckland beach (this ended up being the easiest hike on our entire trip :) Even though I was always exhausted from the constant up, up, up I did find the energy for happy jumping poses. I always look horrible on photos, so I decided I'd just have silly photos of myself from this vacation :D

View attachment 672104

My travel buddy, on the other hand, always looks pretty decent, LOL. He turned out to be a great (scale) model. I might take him with me again the future, he's very useful ;)

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When we had left Hauckland beach, it had been in the shade cast by the mountain range, but by the time we returned, the white beach was bathed in light and offered us some gorgeous motifs.

View attachment 672107

View attachment 672108

And yes, some people actually hopped into the water on a dare by their friends or family, but they were very quick to come out again. I guess the windchill at an air temp of 5C must have had something to do with it.

Next up – what to do on rainy days...
Julia,
This is about the most spectacular set of travel pics I've seen on the forum. The last in this series, the FE with the 2 sun stars is my favorite.
Thanks for sharing,
Eric
 

mumu

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Messages
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Loved the write-up and the photos. Thanks very much for posting it!
 

saladin

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jason
Straight to the homepage "feature" for this thread, imo. Absolutely fantastic.

Congrats, Julia.
 

Julia

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Joined
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Messages
554
Location
Dresden, Germany
You just gotta hike

The Lofoten islands are basically peaks of mountains above sea level. Which means that the roads lead you around the outer edge of the island, but if you want to get to a high vantage point or see what's inland, you gotta hike. No way around it, even for someone like me who hates hiking (I love getting great pictures, I just don't enjoy crawling up mountains).

The day started pretty amazing, though – sunshine greeted us and even though we'd been up until well past midnight to edit photos, we couldn't wait to get going. On our way to our hike, we passed through one of our favorite fjords and Hamnøy and Reine – and what had been shrouded in clouds the day before presented itself in blinding colors:

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The separate islands of the Lofoten are connected by high-arching (and often single-lane) bridges and tunnels. The bridge visible here had a traffic light to ensure you wouldn't run into anyone on the single lane. For other bridges, you just had to wing it...

Another thing that impressed us were the huge "fields" of drying stock-fish. The season was just coming to and end, but the huge stacks of the drying fish were everywhere.

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And if it wasn't for the snow on the mountains in the background, you could surely be forgiven to think that this location was somewhere much further down south ;)

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But then it was time to get to the real hike – we wanted to make it to the Munkebu hut and back (total of about 10km), having read that the views along the hike would be breathtaking. And of course, at the very beginning, yours truly was still rested and full of energy. Little did she know...

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Thanks to the rainfall of the previous days, the "trail" (remember, there aren't any on the Lofoten) had turned into a mud-bath and if you are short, like me, it gets really challenging to hop from stone to stone with a heavy backpack and waddled up in several layers to stay warm. It surely was entertaining for my company...

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Nonetheless, all the exhaustion was worth it. The Munkebu hike was my favorite, despite the thickening cloud cover: as you are hiking up, you pass by several mountain lakes. The upper ones feed the lower ones and the views were so beautiful that I just couldn't even...

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(See the little bit of the city to the left? That's where the hike starts. May I also direct you to the mud in the foreground...)

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The last image that I took before the light faded was this one – and it really made the entire trek worth it:

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Next up: Stay out past your bedtime
 

Julia

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Location
Dresden, Germany
Stay out past your bedtime

One thing that we really messed up was time-management. We were so used to go through the day based on our normal timeline that we actually wasted photo opportunities. Of course, with the Midnight Sun staying up in the sky all the time, you don't have the magnificent colors at sunset and sunrise, but at around midnight, you really got some nice warmer tones that added so much to the landscape. And it was only on this hike that we noticed this because we happened to be late :)

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Our destination was Kvalvika beach, which can be reached only by foot or boat. The photo above was taken close to midnight when the sun met a few rain-threatening clouds.

The hike itself isn't far (about 5km one way from the car park), but you really have to know your limits, and I say this as a person who (a) doesn't enjoy hiking and (b) sits in an office all day. Sure, you can make it back and forth, but you just lack the energy to go off exploring on tangents along the way, even if you see something that might be interesting. That was a valuable lesson for me: there's no point in going until you meet your limits because if you're there to take pictures and not train for an iron man race, your photography will suffer.

But that doesn't mean I didn't muster the energy for more silly images ;)

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Another tip: only jump off rocks which are significantly smaller than you, otherwise you'll wonder mid-air how on earth you're going to land this jump without breaking a leg ;)

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The beach itself was huge, amazing, and cold. We were bundled up in all possible layers, but you had to keep moving in order to stay warm in the cold wind. The size of the beach was also impressive: with the drone from 180m up, we couldn't get it into a frame. And we were only on the smaller part of the beach!

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These beach photos also took a lot of editing, since this beach isn't being cleaned (due to not being accessible by car). That means that everything that goes overboard on the oceans ends up here. It was shocking for me to see the amount of trash that was washing ashore – it's one thing reading about pollution but another one to see it in such a remote part of the world.

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After a few hours, just before midnight, we had to head back. We wanted to stay, especially since the heavy cloud-cover was lifting and the best light was coming on, but we were just too cold. Despite all the layers, the constant wind had frozen us to the core, but Kvalvika beach put on a touch of color for us to bid us farewell.

As did the valley and mountains along the way to the car park:

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We were really crushed – if we had started our hike at a later time, we would have been able to enjoy the light directly on the beach. We simply hadn't taken all factors into account, and it was hurting us now. So, if you ever visit a place where you can enjoy the Midnight Sun, rearrange your inner clock.

We found that leaving for hikes in the late afternoon, arriving at our destination at about 8-9pm, and only starting the return journey around 1-2am was perfect. It was enough light out that you didn't need flash lights, and you got the perfect color temperatures for the images.

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And just to prove my point, here's an image taken at about 1:15am with the sky just afire with color.

Next up: Bidding Norway goodbye...
 
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Julia

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Location
Dresden, Germany
Bidding Norway goodbye

Our last day in on the Lofoten islands was, in some ways, the most extraordinary. It was actually one of the few days when the clouds were receding throughout the day so we knew we finally had our chance to really see the Midnight Sun.

We started the day with what was supposed to be a super easy hike – our tour-guide book said it was a "walk" that many Norwegians did as a family on weekends. Well, let me tell ya – those Norwegian families must be the fittest people on earth! I quit after 2/3 of the way because it was literally scaling a mountain vertically, and I was worried about getting back down. My knees were still hurting from the previous hikes, and I decided on err on the side of caution. Nonetheless, even from 2/3 up, the views were amazing.

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And while the Panasonic long lens didn't get to be the main lens on this trip, it did come in useful quite a bit to get close to some of those impressive mountains and focus on a fraction of that landscape that can be overwhelming at times.

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(The snow-capped mountains in the far distance? That's mainland Sweden!)

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The highlight of the day, literally, would be the Midnight Sun, though. We had put on every bit of clothing we had brought since we wanted to enjoy hours on the beach without having to turn in early on account of freezing. This time, we drove to Uttakleiv beach and we were lucky – the weather was on our side, and the beach was accessible (through a tunnel) again. The night before some Hollywood movie had been shot there so the tunnel had been blocked off, and so was the sun.

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At just after 10pm, the sun cast a warm glow on the moss covered stones along the beach and you can see the line-up of motor-homes in the background. The place was incredibly popular, but we hiked down the beach and crossed a little creek, that freaked out everyone else. Granted, I slipped and almost face-planted in the icy-water, but at the investment into my hiking boots and hiking pants paid off and I stayed dry. No risk, no fun ;)

Speaking of fun, we had to break out a little glas orb I had given to my travel buddy for his birthday, and even though the wind almost froze my fingers off, it was so much fun to play with it:

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The photo above was taken about half an hour after midnight. The sun never went any lower in the sky than it was then.

And while I was still taking my chances at the creek, trying to find a composition that worked, my buddy walked into the frame. I don't think I've been so thankful for someone strolling into my picture:

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Speaking of strolling: we were always wondering how the light situation was affecting the wildlife, and at least the ever-present sheep were grazing happily in the early hours. This photo is – except for cropping – straight out of the camera.

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And while this panorama of the "sunset" might not look terribly spectacular, it is special to me because it was taken at one minute past midnight :)

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Thank you for coming along with me on this recap of my little trip!

The End.

PS: THANK YOU to everyone who has left me a thumbs-up or a comment – I appreciate it so much!
 

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