Back in April I spent ten days in the Faroe Islands with my good friend and workshop co-leader Andrea Livieri as we scouted out some locations for our workshop there next year. The Faroes are an incredible place situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean midway between the Shetland Isles and Iceland, they have a little of both culturally, but the landscape is completely unique. The defining characteristic of the islands is sheer cliffs that drop dramatically hundreds of meters in to the ocean. The angles and shapes of these cliffs often make it seem as though the islands have been sheared in half giving them an incredibly dramatic feel and making them unlike pretty much anywhere else I’ve seen in the world.
There are 18 major islands, but most are quite close to each other and accessible either by tunnels or bridges. We spent our time there exploring seven of them, staying in accommodation on Vagar and Bordoy. The flight in is amazing as you see the islands and their incredible cliffs through the windows of the place and land at the airport which ends at the biggest lake on the island. We arrived late in the afternoon and could see that the light and sunset was going to be great so headed straight out to the closest location, the village of Gasadalur, a small collection of houses at the foot of a mountain and overlooking the ocean with a waterfall plunging over the cliff in front of it. The light was indeed amazing and we spent a good hour moving along the cliffs and then down to the water’s edge capturing the changing light.
That proved to be the end of the good weather for quite a while though as after that we had a couple of days of unrelenting rain. We spent some time exploring the different locations on Vágar, Streymoy and Eysturoy but it was hard to get any shooting done in such consistent heavy rain. The rain eased a little while we were in the village of Saksun, but not really enough to get any serious shooting done.
After a few days the rain eased and on one evening we hiked out to the rock pinnacle of Trollkunfingur, the “witches finger”, but he haze and flat skies still weren't great for photography. On the following day we decided to do two of the big hikes we’d planned on the same day to make sure we fitted them both into the trip. In the morning we hiked out to Sorvagsvatn, the so-called “floating lake” , an easy 30 minute hike along the edge of the lake to reach the cliffs which gave us a view over the lake and the ocean below. It’s an incredible scene, one which the first time I saw I thought was an optical illusion as the different levels of the water - the lake is 40 meters above the ocean, held in by the thin strip of land which slopes up to the cliffs - completely trick the eye. To capture the scene best requires walking up to the edge of the cliffs which really forces the perspective of the over-hanging cliffs and makes the lake look like it really is about to flow over the edge of the cliffs. It’s pretty scary place if you suffer from vertigo, the drops here to the ocean are a long way straight down, and being buffeted by the strong Faroe Islands winds means you have to take a lot of care when approaching the edge to shoot.
Sadly, we were again unlucky with the weather as it was incredibly hazy which totally killed any contrast and flattened out the landscape, but the place is so amazing it’s impossible not to shoot.
After hiking back we headed to our accommodation for a quick lunch and to load up on calories for the big hike we were doing in the afternoon. Drangarnir is the tip of part of the island of Vágar which overlooks the two Drangarnir sea stacks, Storí Drangur and Lítli Drangur, and the islet of Tindhólmur, which looks as though someone has cut it in half. It’s a long hike, around 2 hours to get there, and the trail is often not marked and is just a sheep trail along the edge of the cliffs. It’s not dangerous, but it’s quite tiring, particularly after we’d spent all morning hiking as well. By the time we reached the end of the hike the haze had got really strong making it really complicated to shoot, which is such a shame as it’s a breath-taking location. We were also unable to fly our drones as the wind was so strong. We could tell that the sunset wasn’t going to be much good as the haze was so strong and there were very few clouds, and as we didn’t fancy doing the long walk back in the dark with just torch light, we decided to do our shooting in the afternoon and head back just before it got dark. Shooting in hazy afternoon light requires a different mind-set, and I tried to do some shots which used the bright hazy sky as an element of the image, as well as doing some long exposures of Storí Drangur.
The next day we drove over to the town of Klaksvik on the island of Bordoy, where we were planning to stay for a couple of days to shoot the more north easterly islands. On our first night the weather finally turned and the haze started to recede a little as more clouds blew in. We headed up to the view point of Klakkur, the highest point of the island with an incredible panoramic view over the long thin islands of Kalsoy and Kunoy and the fjords between them. It’s a pretty straightforward hike, quite steep in places, but relatively short and in 30 minutes we were at the viewpoint. We were finally blessed with some good light and interesting skies, although the haze was still present and obscuring distant details. The view here really is epic works well with a multi image panorama to take the full sweep of the islands and fjords in. The best light was when we first arrived because as the sun set the haze made the scene quite flat so I switched to shooting telephoto abstracts of the different peaks and islands.
Over the next couple of days we had a wide variety of weather, from sun to run, the one consistent factor being the incredible high winds. We caught the ferry over to the island of Kalsoy to hike up to Kallur lighthouse but the wind and rain was so harsh it was almost impossible to get a shot, and photographing the church at Vidareidi on Vidoy was challenging between burst of showers.
It stopped rain for the last couple of days and although the wind still kept up we were able to get some moody shots with the dynamic lighting breaking between clouds when we visited Funningsfjordur and the pretty village of Gjógv. The hike up to the the ridge on Hvithamar above Funningsfjordur is another short but steep hike and the wind blowing along the fjord and up over the ridge was so strong that it was almost impossible to stand up at times. We did manage to get some shots as the light broke through the clouds though.
Our final evening was spent back on the island of Vagar, at the lovely Hotel Vagar which will be one of our bases on next year’s workshop. It’s really well situated for many of the locations, and it looked like the evening was going to give us some great light we had a choice of where to shoot. We decided on the village of Bøur, which overlooks the islands of Tindhólmer and Mykines, and as the light broke through the clouds in strong rays we weren’t disappointed. It’s a great place for telephoto images, although the ever-present high winds mean you have to be careful of shake, even with a tripod.
If you’d like to join myself and Andrea Livieri shooting in the Faroe Islands, we’ll be returning there next April with a small workshop group and heading out to many of the locations we shot on this blog. There’ll be a little bit of hiking because the best spots here all require a little bit of work to get to. If you’re interested, there are full details on the workshop webpage.