• Weathering the Storm in Lofoten with Daniël Laan

    August 1, 2021

    August 2021

    Daniël Laan is a landscape photographer from the Netherlands with a liberal take on the art of photography and image-making. His images are often dark, moody and ominous because his goal is to create art that makes him feel “lighter”. From his childhood years on, his fascination and appreciation of the natural world shaped Daniël’s life today. That's why he’s a big proponent of the Nature First philosophy and donates 10 percent of what earnings to conservation efforts. The discovery that photography has a cathartic effect on Daniël, came about in 2009, when he started taking photography seriously. Before that, matte painting and drawing were his primary creative outlets. That shifted to landscape photography shortly thereafter.

    Daniel Laan 

    In late February 2019, Isabella Tabacchi and I hosted our annual tour to the magical Lofoten. The Norwegian archipelago is known for its picturesque fisherman’s villages and vivid displays of northern lights, but this time around, we were met by challenges caused by an approaching storm. That meant a radical change of plans to work with the weather rather than against it while still offering an amazing experience to our workshop participants.

    On this artic adventure, the challenge thrown at us came in the form of a developing hurricane that was slowly moving inland from the Norwergian Sea. The trouble started on day 1 of everyone’s arrival when flights got cancelled or rerouted. Due to a malfunction on the plane, me and my buddy who joined the workshop were flown back to Bodø, a Norwegian village that serves as a hub to the entire Scandinavian Arctic. Don’t get me wrong, the arrangements made by the Widerøe airline were great despite the delay.

    We and our fellow passengers of the tiny turboprop aircraft were booked in a nearby hotel and the next flight to Lofoten was booked for the morning after. Now this is a prime example of why it is important to always arrive early when you’re hosting a workshop. So plan to be on location at least a day before you’re expecting guests and you’re one step ahead of inclement weather.

    Daniel Laan 

    The best moment of the storm was undoubtedly the sleepless night in our own private holiday home in Ramberg. It was the night the storm briefly unleashed hurricane force winds upon the snow-covered Lofoten. All our party felt the floor of the house being lifted up briefly at one point in the dead of night. But, what bends doesn’t break. These houses have seen many storms and are made of sturdy materials. We had a few nervous laughs at breakfast and got in the car for the morning shoot at a scenic hotspot in the town of Reine. 

    Those storms can make for truly fantastic lighting conditions. Especially when the clouds move away for a few moments for a glimpse of the rising sun. Sure it was still very windy, but we were caught off guard a bit by an insane gust at the height of being in awe of the brief light. It was all fun and games watching those clouds swirl, but then a hundred-mile-an-hour wind knocked a couple of us off our feet.

    My Guru backpack holding my gear tumbled a few feet through the snow. Luckily for both the Guru and our group, the railing at the edge of a cliff prevented potential (heart)ache. After this experience we drove to Skagsanden beach. With the wind buffeting the coastline, we waited for the perfect moment to catch a wave breaking on the rocks to illustrate the raw power of the Atlantic. We used rain sleeves to keep most of the water out of camera and lens, but it’s pretty inevitable that salty water leaks in anyway.

    Daniel Laan 

    Food for me is always a challenge when shopping abroad. Since I’m on a plant-based diet for primarily environmental reasons, deciphering the ingredients can sometimes take a while. I somehow developed a lactose intolerance during the years I was off it and this time I made a boo-boo buying the wrong energy bar: the result was less fun than the story is in hindsight. On the other hand, it never hurts to ask about food allergies in Norway. All restaurants I’ve been to have been truly accommodating, even during trying conditions like the one we faced on this adventure.

    At one point things got particularly demanding. It was right after the visit to Skagsanden when photographing out in the elements was still fun. We drove further to the north and a queue was forming to cross the bridge. Most, if not all bridges were closed due to the high winds. And as we were driving a full-sized van, we heeded the dangers. A digital sign kept us updated on the measured wind speed. It was subsiding, but still read 33 MPH. We had some supplies with us to sit out the storm, but after a while of waiting and snacking, the allergy started to kick in with no restroom in sight. We drove back a bit to find a truckstop where everybody could be relieved.

    Dusk was settling in however, and we were all looking for a bit more substantial sustenance after this long day of primarily waiting it out. The challenge now was to also entertain the participants while checking the traffic advisory for bridges opening.

    Daniel Laan 

    Everytime I visit the magical white world of Scandinavia, I discover new challenges as well as fresh photographic opportunities. The best advice I can give is to have a flexible attitude, but also to communicate your flexibility well in advance of any workshop you might host yourself up there. It’s better to downplay expectations of clear night skies and possible northern lights than to offer certainty of aspects you cannot control. Norway, but Iceland and Finland too have much more on offer than just a glimpse of the green lady, so it’s best to incorporate those photographic opportunities in the workshop. Even so: if you leave wiggle room both in timing and location of your shoots, you free your mind to do what you do best: shoot amazing landscapes that you did not expect to find. In the end, that’s truly what your participants are looking to learn from you.

    The true challenge is not to weather the storm, but to have your customers realize that they’re really looking for originality and vision in their work. What better opportunity is there when the elements force you to get outside your comfort zone? Moody landscape photography is my bread and butter, as I visualize the viewer to be in some sort of fantasy world. It’s no secret that I am heavily influenced by the aesthetic of the Lord of the Rings and Magic: the Gathering.

    My goal is never to improve upon the light on the landscape, but to actualize a vision that I carry within. That’s why I don’t record the landscape, but use it as a canvas to paint a mental picture that I can share with the world. I’m currently writing my second book which treads way into detail about this approach. Also coming up are new tours to Lofoten, Iceland and the Dolomites of which I’m as much excited as before the pandemic.

     You can find Daniel's work, books and workshops at his website.

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