More than most travel destinations in the world, Norway can take your breath away, inspiring awe and disbelief from a mere picture. Sure, that mountain will always be higher, that boulder bigger, that fjord crystal-clearer in your memory than on a simple JPEG file. But if you know where to go, when to go, and how to capture that perfect shot, you’ll come home with an envy-inducing album of photos that will take make your friends ooh and ahh - just be sure to tell them it was even more amazing in person.
Time of Year
Any time of year is a good time for photography – it just depends on what type of photography. If you want to experience the midnight sun, head up to Northern Norway between May and July. When the sun never dips below the horizon, you can expect stunning shots of bright skies deep into the nighttime hours, and the extended “golden hour” when the sun starts sinking just a bit, but not all the way, and the light is otherworldly.
If you want to capture the phenomenon known as aurora borealis - aka the famous Northern Lights - you’ll have your best chance between September and March, when extended periods of darkness make it easier to spot the dancing curtains of greens, yellows, and even reds that arch their way across the heavens.
No matter when you go, just be aware that weather in Norway can be unpredictable. A bright, sunny summer’s day can quickly grow dark with rain clouds, while a storm can just as quickly dissipate, giving you exactly the view you wanted. The main lesson here is to be patient: as the common saying goes in many places with volatile, constantly changing climates, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes!”
Any photographer worth her salt will tell you it’s just as much about having the right gear as it is about finding the right shot. You may not be a professional, but you can up your chances of taking a brag-worthy photo by bringing along not only the right camera, but also the right equipment. Just as important are keeping it clean and ready, and carrying it in the right (weatherproof) bag. Filters can reduce glare on a bright summer’s day, while a tripod and remote control can keep a camera steady when you’re going for that perfect shot of the Northern Lights.
A wide-angle lens will take in as much as possible of that stunning panorama, allowing you to capture one unbroken shot, while a zoom lens will take up-close-and-personal photos of wildlife from a distance (without disturbing any of the critters you may want to keep still while you shoot). Even more important than simply choosing the right equipment is knowing how to use it: familiarize yourself with your camera’s features – especially the night features – before you embark on a photography adventure. The last thing you want is to have a perfect image in the viewfinder, but end up with a shot that's still too blurry or too dark.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to use a flash. It never ends well.
Many of Norway’s most spectacularly photogenic destinations are not for the faint of heart. They can involve long hikes across rough terrain, overnights at high altitude, intense journeys via river raft or skis at heart-stopping speeds - or simply, long exposure to extreme temperatures.
First thing’s first: don’t do anything that would put yourself in danger. Many of these pristine, untouched spots have little in the way of guardrails, or any guard presence at all. Most Norwegians have shared a special bond with the great outdoors since childhood and know how to handle themselves. Think like a Norwegian and don’t wander from clearly marked paths, dangle over the edges of cliffs or balance on one leg to strike the perfect yoga pose. Travel with a guide or employ a hiking buddy when making your way through uncharted terrain, and take more food and water than you think you need.
Where and What to Photograph
Jagged and majestic, cut through with winding inlets and wide bays, dotted with picturesque villages, Norway's fjords are truly every photographer’s dream. The best way to see them, of course, is from far away, so you can captures those looming peaks that rise up above water level, along with the colorful wooden houses that are a hallmark of so many Norwegian towns.
To get out on the water for that perfect shot, your best bet is the Hurtigruten, the traditional Norwegian coastal steamer that chugs faithfully up and down the coast, carrying mail, supplies and a great deal of giddy passengers chasing the views of a lifetime. Once you disembark, however, there are always plenty of local boats for hire that will take you farther up the fjords than the Hurtigruten can reach, giving you the chance to see – and photograph – even more remote, untouched natural wonders.
Wherever you go in Norway, some truly majestic creatures aren’t far away. If it’s marine mammals you’re into, increase your chances of spotting them on a whale-watching safari. Norway’s waters teem with humpback whales, orcas, minke whales and sperm whales at varying times of year, and boat tour operators keep track of their movement (along with the weather forecast) to give you the best chance of seeing one up close. Keep your camera ready, though: when and if they breach, you’ll only have seconds to capture it. If you get the shot, you'll have a lifetime to remember the experience.
Back on dry land, you’re more likely to spot wintry mammals like the lynx, moose, reindeer, or Arctic fox in northern Norway. Take a tour with an expert guide who is also well versed in photography; local guides will know the terrain and when to stop, go, and listen. They'll also be able to pick out the best spots to wait patiently for a wild animal to pad along on silent footsteps. Layer well in these situations, as you may have to wait a while to get that perfect shot. When you do, it’ll be worth it.
Peaks, Boulders, and Cliffs
Norway’s most popular attractions are also its most photographed, so don’t expect to be alone when you climb to the top of Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue), or Kjeragbolten (the Kjerag Boulder). In fact, this trio of photogenic sites can get downright crowded in summer, when long lines form so that each traveler can pose for that perfect shot—seemingly alone—in the wide wilderness.
In these situations, it’s best to be polite and patient - after all, you’re all here for the same thing. Be ready to wait and use the opportunity to rest and have snacks, or simply marvel at the panoramic views before you and below you that a camera simply cannot capture. When it’s your turn, find your pose quickly and be aware of your companion’s shooting location so you can look directly at the camera. When the time comes to reciprocate, be as patient with your companion as he or she was with you. And remember to be safe: no picture is worth the risk.
Norway is simply teeming with gorgeously picturesque towns, and they’re as beautiful up close as they are from far away. You can photograph them from the decks of the Hurtigruten or a smaller local boat, or from atop a mountain where they’ll appear like quaint Santa’s workshops down below. Once you’re in town, grab your camera and wander without assistance from maps and smartphones to find the best shots. Resist the urge simply to go where all other Instagrammers have gone - you may miss something even more photogenic that’s just around the next corner.
Norway has many elegant cities and quaint villages, including Ålesund, with its grand Art Nouveau architecture, Bergen, with its colorful wharfside buildings, and the Lofoten archipelago, with its too-cute-to-be-true fishing villages. The arctic town of Tromsø is a renowned jumping off point for viewing the Northern Lights, while Oslo has many architectural wonders, including its famed National Opera House. Even if you don’t venture far from the city, you’re bound to find snap-worthy views no matter where you go. It’s just a matter of keeping your camera with you, and your eyes – and heart – wide open.