A friend and former colleague of mine, Maria, asked me a while back if I could take some pictures of her and her fiancée before they get married in a week.

I accepted the challenge while stressing that a) I really am not a people photographer and b) I have never done a photography session, let alone an engagement shoot – but sweet as she is, Maria insisted.

We selected the Ekeberg Park in Oslo for our location and because I wanted the afternoon sun, we decided to start around 6pm to get the softer light.

I have to admit I was pretty nervous, being worried that this was going to become a terribly awkward affair. But it actually turned out to be a super fun experience both because Maria and Halvor were really up for being silly and fun in front of the camera, and because the light became so beautiful as the evening went on.

In the end I managed to get some pictures that I was actually pretty happy with (it helped to have a super photogenic couple to photograph!). Here are some of my favourites:

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WM 2 S

WM 3 S

WM 4 S

Thank you Maria & Halvor for a fantastic evening in the park!

Wedding Invitation

Is it outrageous to ask a friend to have a swing at their wedding invitation? I hope not, because a couple of months ago I did 😀

Here’s what I had to consider:

  1. The wedding is taking place in one of the most stunning parts of Norway, Lofoten
  2. It had to reflect a couple that is easy-going, and a match made in heaven

I started with a clean canvas, no pre-defined requisites but my initial thought was to stick to a few ground rules:

  1. No lace
  2. No excessive use of hearts
  3. No excessive use of squiggly letters, or calligraphy (unless hand painted of course)
  4. No monograms
  5. Plenty of love

Considering the stunning wedding location I wanted to incorporate it into the invitation somehow. So here’s what I did:

I snagged a picture of Lofoten from the internet. Then I pasted the picture into Illustrator and traced the landscape with squares that I added anchor points to (and later stylized with rounder corners). I also wanted to bring in the houses, the coordinates and of course the invitation text itself.

This is the final outcome:

C&O Wedding invitation

And the best thing is – they chose to use it! I am forever grateful, and very honored that they gave me the chance, and decided to keep it.

♥ To the beautiful couple and their happiness, ever after ♥

 

 

Winter

..while dreaming away about a holiday already had (more to come on that), winter arrived in Norway.

November. 

Nov night WM 2

It’s also known as the least favourite month of the year. A dark reminder of what’s to come. Decembers’ pathetic little brother. The worst of the winter season squeezed into a miserable month of rain, heavy clouds, darkness and finally accepting that it is time to venture into the deep dark corners of the closet, bring out anything filled with down and saying goodbye to t-shirts for at least six months.

Forget the sunglasses. It’s dark when you go to work and dark when you leave.

November is glum. But all of a sudden, in the middle of the misery, the sun makes a rare guest appearance while the ground is still covered in frost. When this happens, November might just be the most beautiful month of all:

November WM 2

Frosty WM copy

Frost WM copy

Night WM copy

Lysaker Sunrise WM 2

Continuing with the mountain tour we quickly packed up our stuff the next day, leaving the Taiq Plateau behind and heading even further into the Jebel Akhdar mountain range, towards the tallest mountain in Oman – Jebel Shams (peaks at 3000 meters). On the way, at the base of Jebel Shams we made a brief pit stop at the abandoned village near Wadi Ghul:

Abondoned Village WG 2 WM copy

..and did a little walk inside the village to enjoy the views. This is also a nice place to take a look at the traditional machineless falaj irrigation systems that are still used in Oman to water crops. You can just make out the falaj channels running between the small fields in the picture below:

Abandoned village WG WM copy

After visiting the abandoned village we headed back up into the mountains towards. The windy-wiggly roads on the way up offer some gorgeous views along the way:

Road towards Jebel Shams WM copy

Jebel Shams Road WM copy

Jebel Akhdar 11 WM S

As you continue along the road you will notice the elevation rising and the temperature dropping.

And then at about 2000 meters above sea level you will reach one of the most spectacular places in the Middle East – the ‘Balcony’ of Wadi Ghul. Also known as the Grand Canyon of the Middle East:

Paddy on cliff WM copy

I could not believe my eyes when we got to this place. Do not go there if you are afraid of heights. Some of the drops are up (or down..) to 1000 meters. We are talking sheer cliffs and balconies. It is one of those sceneries that are so majestic that the magnitude is impossible to capture in a photograph (at least with my wide angle lens):

Wadi Ghul WM copy

On our first afternoon at the Balcony and near the summit of Jebel Shams we decided to do the Wadi Ghul rim walk – a trek just under the lip of the canyon. We regretted getting there so late (about 2 hours before sunset, and we had to set up camp too) because it was truly a spectacular walk:

Wadi Ghul goat WM

You can chose to start at A – a little mountain village by the cliffs edge and end up at B – beyond the furthermost ridge in the picture above if you have time on this walk. We would have, had it not been for the fact that we also had to find a camp spot and put up tents.

The little scruffy village which is the starting or end point of this trek is also worth checking out for it’s crazy beautiful location:

Wadi Ghul village WM copy

And friendly (hairy) goats:

Wadi Ghul Village goat copy

The sun was just about setting so we had to abandon the canyon trek and the village to set up camp. We chose a location that was not far from the road, but far enough to be undisturbed:

Tent in Jebel Shams WM copy

The next day we got up at sunrise, ready for the biggest trek of our trip – to the summit of Jebel Shams at 3000 m.

Wadi Ghul valley WM

The trek itself is relatively tough – but totally worth it because it is so spectacular:

Wadi Ghul 11 copy WM

Jebel Shams 1 WM

On the walk you alternate between being at the very edge of the cliffs dropping into the abyss and a little bit further in. All along the way the path is marked with red, white and yellow painted flags on trees and stones:

Jebel Shams marked tree

Unfortunately my fiancé and I never made it to the summit as he got ill about two-thirds up the way.

..And that’s when we felt a dribble. Little raindrops painting the rocks. In fact, so little that I wasn’t sure it was even rain. I mean, look at the sky on the picture above.

How wrong we were. After about 10 minutes the skies opened up and the little dribble had become an epically torrential downpour. Horizontal rain. We took shelter under a tree to desperately pack our camera kit into the dry bag. Every single item was wet.

He put down his ruck sack for about 20 seconds. When he picked it up the ground below had become a feisty stream. In fact all around us the ground was turning into streams. That’s when we remembered all the flash flood warnings we had heard. At the same time we realised why the locals had ran past us with their donkey at the speed of lightning. With sandals. 

That’s when my partner realised what was making him feel ill was a particularly aggressive 24 hour stomach bug. 

So there we were. On the top of a mountain, one man down. Rain coming from every direction. Skies were black. We had to get down.  So we tracked the donkey tracks in the mud on a walk down the mountain that was so miserable we could only laugh. So we laughed and jogged down the slippery slope and jumped over rocks in rivers that had been dry river beds on the way up. All the while making little pit stops for my partner who I have to say was being a real trooper.

By now were hoping that the car was not washed away at the base of the mountain. We also hoped that no flash flood was going to whisk us across the cliff face and into the abyss. Nor our friends who were even worse off than us, as they actually went to the summit. It didn’t.

We got down the mountain. And then my man realised that he forgot to put his compact camera in the dry bag. He poured water out of it. There was some swearing too.

All in all an eventful day. A little bit too eventful to follow up with camping, risking even more rain, so we decided to treat ourselves to a night at the Jebel Shams Resort where we were greeted by incredibly friendly staff, a clean warm bed and this stunning sunset:

Jebel Shams sunset WM

 

 

 

Oman – Jebel Akhdar

After being stunned by the beauty of the Dhofar region we headed north – flying to Muscat and then renting car no. 2 to drive into the Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams mountains.

JA Pano 2 copy

The first place you will pass en route heading southwest from Muscat is Nizwah (6 in the map). We hit Nizwah about mid-day. By then the temperature had reached a sweltering 38°C so we didn’t stick around. Driving north-west from Nizwah you will get into the Jebel Akdhar / Jebel Shams area. It becomes pretty clear that you are heading out of the more populated areas of Oman as the scenery becomes more untouched and the villages more scattered.

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Jebel Akhdar (7) – the green mountains:

What a place! The driving up into the mountains (Birkat al Mawz) is relatively rough, not because of the quality of the road (which is great) but because of the steepness. Signs everywhere ensures that drivers don’t make silly mistakes like using the brakes instead of the gears to slow down, down-hill (if you do there is a serious risk of overheating and subsequently killing your brakes). And as if that isn’t enough, a police check-post at the base of the mountains will ensure no one drives further without a suitable car (in other words don’t turn up with a 2wd – your journey will probably stop there).

But once you do get through, the scenery is stunning and, if you turn your eyes to the ground there are some interesting critters along the way too:

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After following the wiggly-windy road for about one hour you will arrive at the beautiful Saiq plateau. This place is like something out of a Nat Geo spread. The jagged, triangular mountains stretch as far as the eyes can see. Olive and pomegranate plantations are scattered across the mountain sides. But the most spectacular sight is that of the villages that perch on top of the plateaus and cliff edges:

Jebel Akhdar Green WM copy

Jebel Akhdar 1 BW WM S

JA Panorama copy

And as a bonus (for geeks like me) the granitic rocks are covered with interesting marine fossils of all shapes and sizes:

Fossil copy

It’s worth mentioning that the temperature cooled down significantly as the we got higher up in the mountain. The Saiq Plateau is at about 2000 metres above sea level. From Nizwah and up to Saiq we experienced a cool 16°C drop in temperature (from 38°C down to 24°C) – making it perfect for camping!

We decided to set up camp about 10 minutes from Saiq. If you want to do the same you should chose your camp site more carefully than we did. Or alternatively, bring blow-up sleeping mats. The sharp, jagged, granitic rocks kept us awake for a healthy portion of the night.

But I would have done it again, because it was such a beautiful and peaceful experience. And for much of the night the skies were clear offering some great opportunities for night time photography:

Jebel Akhdar 5 WM copy

Jebel A Night WM copy

The morning after, our marathon Oman-tour continued – the next stop was Jebel Shams with Wadi Ghul (8 in the map).

 

Oman – East of Salalah

5. Wadi Darbat and East of Salalah (you can check out the map here)

On our third and final day in Salalah we covered Wadi Darbat and the mountains east of Salalah. In any guide book covering Oman, be sure that Wadi Darbat is described as a green oasis. It really is incredible. Unfortunately when we visited the place, at least one month had passed since the rainy season (also known as Khareef season in Salalah). So it was not as lush as it’s full potential. Nevertheless, it was still green! In the dry season you can walk along the river bed quite far up into the hillside. We were there during the peak of day, so we only walked about 1,5 hours into the Wadi before the heat got too intense.

Wadi Darbat copy

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There are two things you will meet immediately as you enter Wadi Darbat. The first thing are the intricately crafted weaver bird nests hanging from virtually every tree close to the parking lot:

Wadi Derbat 4 copy WM

The second thing (and maybe not to everyones taste.. so, beware..) are huge Golden orb weavers that also hang between virtually every tree by the parking lot. I kid you not, this picture is to scale. So unless you are completely unfazed by these (harmless) giant spiders, you are advised to look up when passing between two trees to avoid a nasty surprise. Note the tiny male by the hind leg of the female:

Wadi Derbat 3 WM copy

Shortly after passing the eight legged wadi guardians and weaver birds nests, you will notice that there are birds everywhere! Swifts soar above, in and out of the cliffs you can see in the two first pictures (they are bigger than they look – the cliffs that is), flycatchers (I heard, but didn’t see the African Paradise Flycatcher), Oriental white-eyes, sunbirds, numerous raptors (unfortunately we were there a week or two too early for the eagles, but we did spot a few other interesting birds of prey) and Cinnamon breasted buntings (such as the one below) to mention some:

Cinnamon BB copy

There are also hundreds of butterflies in all different shapes and colours like these Plain Tigers (Danaus chrysippus):

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Wadi Derbat 2 WM

and Blue Pansies (Junonia orithya subsp. cheesmani):

Blue Pansy WM copy

We didn’t take the time to look around for too long due to the heat, however, I am pretty sure this is a really great place for herp-o-philes too. I did spot a couple of nice lizards but unfortunately the only shot I got was of this little fella which I believe is an Oriental garden lizard (Calotes versicolor):

Oriental garden lizard copy

Next time I go to Oman I will definitely revisit Wadi Darbat. But I will also make sure to get there right at sunrise because the heat didn’t only make walking around a challenge, it was also a killer for photography due to heat haze. Having said that though, I loved the place and strongly recommend going there if you too are a wildlife nut (like me).

If you hit Wadi Darbat early you will probably have some time left in your day. We used that time to explore further east and northeast, first hitting a spectacular cliffy view in Jebel Samhan:

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When you stand there looking out across the plains below it is like looking down from a plane:

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Then we visited the Taiq sinkhole, another stunning place which I am sure looks absolutely out of this world during or straight after the Khareef. Apparently, if you venture into the sinkhole it is quite an interesting place for reptiles. We didn’t this time, as we had a plane to catch. But I will definitely do that next time.

Taiq sinkhole copy

The drive in Jebel Samhan offers some interesting scenery, tons of Kestrels and a lot of camels:

Dhofar kestrel WM S

Camel BW WM

Baobab tree WM copy

And that was it for us as far as the south goes.

I’ll finish off Salalah with a picture that I hope can give an idea of how stunning this place really is:

Green Salalah WM copy

After all that I couldn’t believe we still had ten days left of our holiday. Check back if you want to read about the rest of our trip, numbers 6 – 12 in the map below:

Oman-Map

Incredible Oman – Dhofar

I recently got back from the holiday of a lifetime, a roundtrip through Oman.

Oman exceeded any expectations I had. What a spectacular country! This is definitely the place to go if you like trekking, camping and generally just being outdoors. Aside from incredible scenery, the people in Oman are very friendly, generous and welcoming.

Because we had such an awesome itinerary (I take no credit whatsoever for that) I thought I’d share some tips on places to be and sites to see if you ever plan to visit this beautiful place. We were there for two weeks, but if I could I’d stay even longer.

In the map below is our route. Keep reading to get some more details and photos from each place:

Oman-Map

1. Muscat:

Our starting and end point. Upon arrival all we did was catch another flight in the early morning down south to Salalah. The airport was all we got to see, and if you ever have a stop over in Muscat like we did I would recommend paying the little fee to get into the lounge because the chairs are comfortable and there is free wine 🙂 – I’ll get back to Muscat again at the end of the trip.

2. Salalah:  

Oh my days what a place! My experience so far with the Middle East has been that everything is flat and very dusty. And if it isn’t irrigated it isn’t gonna be green. But Salalah IS green. It has FORESTS, mountains, stunning beaches and amazing wildlife. If you ever go here, hiring a car is a must. We did, and it was definitely worth it.

We had three days in Salalah. The first day was spent lounging at the hotel beach of the Crowne Plaza where we stayed. Worth the money for the location but not for the facilities. Expensive, and advertised as a five star hotel, which it probably was in the 80s. Our main problem I guess was the marble floor polishing activities that were going on from 6 am until 12 am every day. Those polishing machines are LOUD. So loud the sound travelled up to the fifth floor where it was probably definitely amplified by the ceiling and funnelled into our rooms.

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Salalah Beach WM

3. Dhofar and Jebel Samhat area: 

The second day we took advantage of our hired car and drove north into the Jebel Samhan / Dhofar mountain area. This was a beautiful drive, but I probably wouldn’t bother spending too long driving far into up north into mountains (unless you are looking for the incredibly rare and elusive Arabian Leopard which you probably won’t find because not even scientists can) and instead explore the more of the east and west of Salalah instead. This is what we did.

But we did spend a few hours driving in the mountains, which was great too:

I did not expect cows, but they were everywhere!

Cows in Dhofar WM S

And some good views along the road as you make your way into the mountains:

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This is also where the Frankincense plantation is located. To be completely frank I’m not that fussed about Frankincense trees, but if you are this is the place to go. There is a cultural and historical aspect to the Frankincense which is why it is definitely an interesting stopping point, should you ever find yourself in the Salalah / Dhofar area.

Here is what a Frankincense tree looks like (you can read more about that here):

Frankincense tree

What really caught my interest in the plantation was this gorgeous butterfly, a Plain tiger (Danaus chrysippus):

Tiger WM

And this little fellow too – a Carter’s Semaphore Gecko (Pristurus carteri):

Francinscense gecko WM

If you are prepared to do some driving it is possible to see some of the north and the west of Salalah in the same day. This is what we did, leaving the Frankincense behind and hitting the westward way. Being ever the sceptic I was, well.. sceptical about heading even remotely close to anything that had to do with Yemen.

This isn’t a country with a great reputation these days. But my fellow travellers convinced me that our route and Yemen was separated by mountains and several border controls (plus it was three against one so the odds were against me). Anyway, I am very happy they managed to persuade me because what came next was one of the highlights of the trip.

West of Salalah (4. Fizayah):

West of Salalah towards the Yemeni border the landscape is more rugged, mountainous and cliffy (is that a word, cliffy?). There are some beautiful places to see along the way, like the Mughsayl blowholes – and the adjacent beach:

Mughsayl with brushes WM copy

Day 1 drive 3 WM S

Mughsayl cliffs WM copy

All of the above from the Mughsayl blowholes.

Even further west, you will find yourself driving through a rugged mountain range:

Mountains to Fizayah copy

..After which you will hit cliffs once again, where you will also find the raggedy, windy road that leads towards Fizayah fishing village:

Fizayah road WM copy

Past Fizayah, further down the road is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Very tranquil and completely secluded behind sheer cliffs dropping into the sea. There was no signs of humans, not even a footprint in the sand before we got there.

IMG_9979 WM S

A definite must see.

Next post: Wadi Darbat and heading north.

Reaching for the stars

The other day I got the newest addition to the lens collection, the Sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6. This is an ultra wide angle lens which makes it perfect for this winter’s main photography activity – searching for the Milky Way. Or when the Milky Way is out of season (apparently there’s a season for that too) – searching for starry nights.

I’ve learnt a thing or two over the past few months. One of them is that there is a relationship between how wide your lens is and how long you can keep your shutter speed open without getting star trails. The wider the lens, the longer the stars use to travel across it (creating star trails), the longer the shutter speed you can use (without getting them).

There’s a handy little online calculator for this, found here.

And so the starry season begins (there had to be a benefit to the everlasting darkness of Norwegian winter):

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There are two essential pieces of kit for capturing stars with your DSLR (or apparently even an iphone):

  1. A tripod – you MUST use a tripod unless you are a robot
  2. A remote control (especially if you have a wide-angle lens so you can use bulb to get a shutter speed longer than the 30s default setting)

If you’re interested there are some great tips on the world wide web including some pretty inspiring photographs.
Yep.. I’m not there yet. Not even in the same galaxy (don’t pardon the pun) – but I got a loooong dark winter ahead to practice 🙂
Got some tips? I’d love to hear them!

The other day I made a seahorse:

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Nothing groundbreaking, it is literally just geometrical shapes warped and snipped and anchored together. I am a simpleton. I don’t do 3D or gradients or shading. I like lines and circles and warped rectangles. And sometimes, if I have to, I’ll stretch to switching swatches and adding a whirl or two (it had to be done for the tail).

There I was with my seahorse, and had to figure out something to do with it. So I did the following:

  1. Made three more copies of my seahorse and changed the colouring on them
  2. Added them to symbols
  3. Made a circle and rotated the yellow and orange seahorse symbols 20° around the circle with copies (I learned that from the internet)
  4. Did the same with a heart I found in symbols (that I modified so that it looked more squiggly)
  5. Made one copy of the purple seahorse, reflected the copy and rotated the pair 45° around a bigger circle
  6. Did the copy+reflect routine on the blue seahorses and place two in the middle and two in each corner

There you go – instructions to make a psychedelic seahorse picture:

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Challenges accepted!

It’s called procrastination

Today after work I had a plan:

  1. Organize myself: Get rid of old stuff and start a new and simpler life
  2. Go through the thousands (more than 10,000) photos on my mac; delete the ones that have no purpose and transfer the rest to somewhere safe
  3. Items number one and two would take too long to have an item number three

So I made this instead:

Ugler

It took hours.

Recently I discovered Adobe Illustrator. Now I am never going to get anything done ever.