Faroe Islands Q & A

Majestic natural scenery with waves crashing on coastal cliffs, Gasadalur, Faroe Islands
Majestic natural scenery with waves crashing on coastal cliffs, Gasadalur, Faroe Islands. Photo by Paul Zizka

The Faroe Islands, a group of rocky, volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, are gaining increasing popularity among photographers and adventure travel enthusiasts, due to their rugged hiking terrain, spectacular bird watching and interesting cuisine. We sat down (virtually) with 5 of Aurora’s photographers – Paolo Sartori, Paul Zizka, Brandon Huttenlocher, Sergio Villalba and Jose Azel – to find out what it’s like traveling to this outdoor playground.

Aurora Photos: What first drew you to explore the Faroes?

Paul Zizka: First and foremost, a sense of curiosity and a passion for isolation. The green, the ruggedness and the wild weather keep me going back.
Brandon Huttenlocher: The remoteness and my curiosity, wondering what else is there after seeing a few other photographers’ images.
Paolo Sartori: I traveled there before the big boom of the Faroes on Instagram. I’m always fascinated about remote and diverse places so when I saw a photo of the Mulafossur waterfall, I said, “Ok, let’s go!”.
Sergio Villalba: I have now been to the Faroes 3 times…once for windsurfing and twice for surfing. My first time was 2008.
Jose Azel: I was lucky to have visited the Faroe Islands in 1990 when I was given a magazine assignment. Since I was into mountain biking at the time, I suggested I take my bike. The editor agreed. It was the first time I flew with a bike and while it was a bit of a hassle, in the end it was worth it.

Professional Windsurfer On The Freezing Water Of The Faroe Islands
Professional Windsurfer On The Freezing Water Of The Faroe Islands. Photo by Sergio Villalba

AU: What was your favorite island or area to shoot, and what was your favorite geologic feature?

Paul: I am big on ruggedness, and in the Faroes, the further north you get, the more rugged the landscape gets. The northern halves of Eysturoy, Kalsoy and Vidoy are particularly dear to me. The sea cliffs and sea stacks in the far north are incredible!
Brandon: I really liked Kalsoy and Mykines! The sheer cliffs that jet straight out of the ocean are ridiculously impressive.
Paolo: In the Faroes every village is something unique and beautiful…if I have to pick a single place, it’s probably Saksun. The small house above the beach is totally insane.
Sergio: All of them have this amazing, remote feeling. Streymoy and Vagar, though not the most isolated, have the most stunning places.

Scenery of Mulafossur waterfall on coastal cliff at sunset, Faroe Islands
Scenery of Mulafossur waterfall on coastal cliff at sunset, Faroe Islands. Photo by Brandon Huttenlocher

AU: One of the most iconic areas on the island is Mulafossur waterfall; how long did you spend waiting for the perfect shot? How many other photographers were standing next to you?

Paul: I’ve made perhaps 5 or 6 visits to that location over the years, and I’ve shot it on my own as well as surrounded by several fellow photographers (in the context of workshops). I’ve probably spent 10 hours gazing at and shooting the falls in total.
Brandon: I think I ended going there a total of 4 times throughout my time in the Faroes at all times of the day/night. As soon as I got my rental car I drove straight there, and I finished my trip there just before heading back to the airport. My first time, there was a photography workshop group; however, when I was there in the middle of the night, I was alone.
Paolo: The day we went there, it was raining like hell and there was nobody around. I waited almost an hour and when I realized that the rain wasn’t going to stop…well, now I know my camera can still work under a storm!
Sergio: I’ve been to this place several times, all of them on exploration trips. It’s one of those corners that are so perfect that seem to be designed on purpose by someone else. Anytime of the day (or the night) is ideal to get a nice shot. Since it was waves that we were in the search for, I always visited the Faroes in the middle of winter, so I had most of the spots to myself.

View of Klaksvik town from tent and feet of relaxing tourist, Faroe Islands, Denmark
View of Klaksvik town from tent and feet of relaxing tourist, Faroe Islands, Denmark. Photo by Paolo Sartori

AU: The Faroes are sparsely populated, though that population is very diverse. Due to the small size, and the isolation of island life in general, what was the locals attitude to you? What was their attitude to you as a photographer? Are they tired of you over-running their country?

Paul: As with many Scandinavian people, they are reserved at first. Eventually though, they open up and have been extremely friendly and helpful to me. Having said that, they are currently experiencing an unprecedented boom in tourism. Time will tell whether the Faroese government can manage that new growth in a way that the locals do not get disgruntled with it all.
Paolo: There wasn’t that much instagram-based tourism just a few years back. I didn’t meet many people in the villages, but those few ones were really friendly.
Sergio: As in most other cold places, people tend to be a bit cold in the beginning, but I don’t think it has to do with me being a tourist or a photographer. Since I always visited the Faroes in winter, I never bumped into another tourist. The Faroese rely on their oceans to make a living; the soil is waterlogged all year long, so too tough to grow crops. They’ve been making big efforts to promote tourism. However, their tourist infrastructure is pretty small compared to other popular destinations; I don’t think they could welcome big crowds of people.

Salmon farm rings floating on calm water, Faroe Islands
Salmon farm rings floating on calm water, Faroe Islands. Photo by David Henderson / Caia Images

AU: The Faroe Islands are one of the 10 biggest salmon producers in the world, and many an image of the islands contains the tell-tale rings of salmon farming. There was also a long history and culture of whaling there. It seems many gourmet restaurants have opened recently. What was your favorite food?

Paul: The fish is excellent. I’ve particularly enjoyed the halibut and haddock!
Paolo: The best food was salmon, of course. There are a number of good restaurants, especially in Torshavn, but in general they are really expensive.
Sergio: You can get some crazy good food there but you have to pay the price. Fresh salmon, dried whale or even sushi is mental, but most of the time you find yourself eating gas station hotdogs since there’s no restaurants or shops in most towns.

4x4 car driving along road on seashore, Faroe Islands, Denmark
4×4 car driving along road on seashore, Faroe Islands, Denmark. Photo by Paolo Sartori

 You’ve managed to capture the islands ruggedness, yet also add a sense of allure and invitation. How did you travel around? Bike? Hike? 4 x 4? Climb? Ferry? Sail? Strap a saddle to the largest sheep and hope for the best?

Paul: I first experienced the Faroes through extensive hiking, which was incredible. Since then, I’ve explored more thoroughly and further afield via ferries and the incredible road network.
Brandon: My main mode of transportation was this tiny little rental car that felt more like a go-cart. Most islands are connected via underwater tunnels or bridges. I did take a ferry over to Kalsoy. They do some boat trips which are pretty awesone getting you out on the water and able to look back at the island and the sheer cliffs straight out of the ocean. But the best and most fun transportation in the Faroes is the helicopter! Its extremely cheap and scenic. I flew from the airport to Mykines island for about $30USD (round trip). Just do your research about it, as you can only do a 1 way trip each day.
Paolo: I was moving around in a Land Rover Defender, sleeping in a roof mounted tent. It was perfect because it allowed me to stay on location by night.
Sergio: Car, lots of hiking and occasionally a chopper. The weather’s so rough you need to make sure to check the forecast properly every morning before you hit the road.
Jose: The bus system is extensive and goes throughout the island. There are no official bus stops, at least not at the time, and I all I had to do was flag on down if I wanted a ride. To satiate my thirst for adventure, nothing beat biking on their narrow roads. They have many tunnels under their steep mountain terrain; speeding into these somewhat dark, narrow tubes on a fast downhill provided me with an adrenaline rush! Fortunately, the sparseness of automobiles kept encounters to a minimum.

AU: Is it EVER sunny there? Seriously. Epic photos guys, but the sun has to shine sometimes right?

Paul: In my experience, never for very long. I’ve been to the Faroes at different times of year and fickle weather seems to be the norm. That’s fine by me. I find the ever-changing, moody weather fits the landscape perfectly.
Brandon:  If it is sunny, you’d better not blink, because it’ll be gone before your eyes open again! Oh, and the wind. If you enjoy the wind, this place is for you. I watched the water from the Mulafossur waterfall blow back up and not even touch the ocean one afternoon is was so windy.
Paolo: I’ve been there for a week, and I got a couple hours of sun in total. On the last day I was talking with a local, and when I complained about weather, he said “oh, you are lucky, we had good weather this past week!”
Sergio: Absolutely! Even in winter, I believe they enjoy more sunny days than UK or Belgium. The sun doesn’t rise high enough to reach the deep valleys though.

The Town Of Tjornuvik In Streymoy, The Faroe Islands
The Town Of Tjornuvik In Streymoy, The Faroe Islands. Photo by Sergio Villalba

AU: What was the most interesting thing you learned about the Faroe Islands / your favorite experience / experiential wisdom you’d like to pass along to future travelers?

Paul: The Faroes are truly a place like no other. I highly recommend you get there before the crowds do. It’s really only a matter of time. And get out on foot. Even when the place starts getting the visitors it deserves, there will be many pristine stretches of shoreline to explore for those willing to put in the work.
Brandon: Take the helicopter. Watch out for sheep while driving. Embrace the excessive amount of wind and gloomy weather.  You’re not supposed to camp in cars like most people do in Iceland (we wont tell anyone I did this). Its an incredibly safe country. Oh, did I mention the wind?
Paolo: For me the most interesting part was the people living there. For most of us that are living on the mainland would be really hard to stay there for more than a couple weeks. We are used to have relatively easy access to almost anything; driving a couple hours from home I can be on a 4000m peak in the Alps or on a sunny beach in the Mediterranean. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to live on a remote island with only 10 other people, hours away from the nearest hospital…
Jose: Several impressions have stayed with me ever since my visit there. First and foremost was the stark beauty of the landscape: treeless and bright green, often with a clear blue sky and expansive views of the ocean. Perhaps I got lucky and had a fair number of good weather days. The other lasting mark was the quaintness of the buildings. So many seemed too perfect to be real. Almost none needed paint and the villages that lined the shores of the many coves and bays were incredibly picturesque.

Majestic natural scenery with coastal cliffs under dramatic sky, Kalsoy, Faroe Islands
Majestic natural scenery with coastal cliffs under dramatic sky, Kalsoy, Faroe Islands. Photo by Paul Zizka

To see more images of the Faroes, click here.

Or, check out more from their personal sites below:

Personal Project – “Oregon Outback”

David Hanson is in the middle of a long-term documentary photo project near his Oregon home. Sherman County is a rural, sparsely populated county in the eastern rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. It’s only two hours from Portland but light years away in terms of culture, politics, and way of life. The main artery through the county is Highway 97, which runs north-south down the east side of the WA-OR Cascade Range. In Sherman County, the towns along Hwy 97 are spread out at nine-mile intervals because that is an appropriate distance for a horse to travel in a day.

Ranching and wheat farming remain the backbone of the economy in Sherman County.  Kids actually stick around and take over their parents’ ranches. But other than high-tech windmills on the wide-open landscape, not a lot new has come to the towns, and much of the old has gone. There are empty storefronts and the high school recently shuttered due to lack of funds. Most people have to travel to The Dalles (45 minutes) for groceries and medical care. David is beginning to collect images of the daily life in these ranches and small towns that are both timeless and fading.

You can see more of David’s work on this project here:

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Personal Project – “Woodsmen”

Too often, we vilify industries involved in our natural resource management, judging those involved, without knowing much about their lives or even the industry itself. This holds doubly true for industries with a checkered past and those that seem to belong more to the yesteryear than the present.  Michael D. Wilson spent time talking with and photographing loggers and folks in the lumber industry, people we often don’t think about, but who have been vital to local economics in our home state of Maine. His beautiful portraits, best seen as large prints or in the ‘zine he put together for his solo show in Portland, Maine, grant us some insight into their lives and work, and humanize this oft-maligned industry, continuing a cultural, historical and financial pillar in the region.

From the time the first sawmill opened in South Berwick in 1634, to the 1830’s, when Bangor was the world’s largest lumber port, through the mechanization of the industry in the 20th Century, to the current day’s focus on sustainability, logging has been part of the fabric of Maine.  In an industry constantly changing and reinventing itself, the one constant has been the Woodsman.  The faces pictured here represent in many ways Maine itself – hardy, resourceful, and determined.  Keenly in tune with the land, they continue to provide, as their predecessors did, the foundational materials for building and maintaining strong communities. – Michael D. Wilson

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National Parks Final Four

After a rousing Sweet Sixteen round, in which we saw a few upsets, it’s time for the Elite Eight, Final Four and ultimately, the championship to see which of the US National Parks our expert photographers voted as the top park! For a recap of the first round, click here.

Echo Rock on the left and Little Rock Candy Mountain to the right, Joshua Tree National Park
Echo Rock on the left and Little Rock Candy Mountain to the right, Joshua Tree National Park

#1 Yosemite Stays Dominant Against #4 Joshua Tree

I always tell people Yosemite is one of the ultimate National Parks. I try to make it a point not to repeat travel destinations because there is so much of this world to explore – but I make an exception for Yosemite. I’ve traveled there three times and will continue going back. Seeing the Valley for the first time, and all subsequent times. It’s hard to imagine nature created features like El Capitan and Half Dome, but they’re there, they are real and they are ready to explore! – Matt Andrew

You’d think with species like the teddy bear cholla cactus and the Joshua Tree, named by Mormons who thought the yucca species appeared to be praying, Joshua Tree would have more of a chance. However, the always epic and impressive Yosemite defeats the boulder-filled-wonderland.

Obadiah Reid stands on a cliff edge taking photos in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Obadiah Reid stands on a cliff edge taking photos in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

#3 Glacier is Cooler than #7 Grand Teton

Glacier…It’s easy to avoid crowds (once you are off going-to-the-sun road). However, it’s impossible to miss the grandeur and beauty. That awaits you around ever bend in the trail. – Brian W. Downs

By virtue of this brilliant cinematography, Glacier advances!

Bar Harbor Head Lighthouse at sunset, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA
Bar Harbor Head Lighthouse at sunset, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA

#5 Acadia is the Cinderella of the Bracket, Beating #1 Denali

You can be the first person to see the sun rise on the East Coast of the United States from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.  Or, the LAST person to see it rise in Denali. A 20,000 foot high mountain just seems like you’re showing off. And midnight sun? What are you compensating for, Denali? No offense, but no thanks!

A storm over Canyonlands National Park from the GreenRiver Overlook area at sunset.  Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah, USA
A storm over Canyonlands National Park from the GreenRiver Overlook area at sunset. Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah, USA

#2 Hawai’i Volcanoes Burns #6 Canyonlands

Volcanoes is not just my favorite national park, it’s my favorite place in the world!  The other-worldly landscapes, rugged terrain, unforgiving hikes, and amazing views are all completely unique to this park.  It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been and there’s something about being able to see the power of the landscape that really puts you in your place; it makes you feel small. – Joshua Rainey

Absolutely Canyonlands National Park in Utah! It has some of the most stunning and unique scenery on the planet. Sweeping vistas and every shape of rock you can image. To top it off, you can explore it all on dirt roads with almost nobody else around.  – Dan Ballard

Family watching mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) on Hidden Lake trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Family watching mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) on Hidden Lake trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA


#1 Yosemite Ekes out Victory Against #3 Glacier

No question, its got to be Glacier NP.  While I live close to Yosemite and love it, Glacier offers so much more for photographers.  Not only does it offer amazing landscapes like Yosemite, but it also offers a true wildlife experience as well.  You can photograph Grizzly Bears, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats….  and landscapes all on the same hike.   Once you get away from the road it is as close to true wilderness as you can find in the lower 48.  Its like Alaska without the flight. – Josh Miller

Unfortunately, Glacier couldn’t compete with Ansel Adams’ favorite national park, where everything seems to be epic, from giant sequoias to waterfalls to Half Dome.

Lava from Kilauea Volcano pouring into ocean at†Kamokuna illuminates a cloud of steam
Lava from Kilauea Volcano pouring into ocean at†Kamokuna illuminates a cloud of steam

#5 Acadia Tops #2 Hawai’i Volcanoes

My favorite national park is Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park because it’s one of the few places on earth that creates a new world every day! – Matt Gragg

New-world-creation is indeed exciting, and everyone knows that lava beats both paper and rock. However, bears beats lava (and Battlestar Galactica). With a varied ecosystem boasting many bears, whales and moose, it’s a no-brainer! We get the feeling Hawai’i Volcanoes will revamp and be back, stronger than ever next year.


Grand view of Yosemite National Park at sunset.
Grand view of Yosemite National Park at sunset.
Bioluminescence in the water under the Milky Way along the rugged coast of Maine.
Bioluminescence in the water under the Milky Way along the rugged coast of Maine.

It call comes down to this…#1 bracket behemoth Yosemite vs #5 seeded Acadia! Sure, Yosemite was the 5th most visited national park in 2017, the Dawn Wall climb in 2015 went on to inspire many and bring climbing more into the mainstream, and many black bears reside in the park. However, the 2018 best US National Park goes to Acadia….because, favoritism. And no, we’re not the least bit abashed. #Maine4Life.


Sweet 16 National Parks

So many national parks burst with beauty that it’s almost impossible to have a favorite…and yet, that is the exact task we’ve set for our photographers. Because we love competition for the sake of competition and bragging rights, and inspired by the NCAA basketball tournament currently going on, we have compiled a list of 16 (of the 60 eligible) National Parks, seeded them, put them head to head and let our photographers decide. Which one will emerge as Champion?

In the play-in round, the majesty and awe-inspiring epic landscapes of Banff and Yoho barely eked by Pacific Rim park. Hailing from Canada’s west coast, Pacific Rim National Park is Chris Kimmel’s favorite national park.   “The rare coupling of old growth temperate rainforest and rugged Pacific coastline make it a magical destination for surfing, kayaking, hiking, beach-combing, and storm watching.”
However, as Marko Radovanovic put it, “there is no place like these two parks, where you can feel like you’re living in a postcard. At times I wonder, is this real?”


#1 Seed Yosemite beats #8 Seed Saguaro

Saguaro National Park was unique for me coming originally from the east coast. I was on assignment for NatGeo, and I had never been around that many prickly things before. Unlike the soft grassy-roll-around-in  landscape I came from, this landscape seemed to attack at every turn. But at night it is magic! – Joanna B. Pinneo

There won’t be any #1 upsets in our bracket…Yosemite, the 3rd most popular park by yearly visitors, and enjoying plenty of movie stardom thanks to a film about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s epic and historic climb of Dawn Wall, moves on to the next round, where they’ll be facing….

#4 Seed Joshua Tree defeats #5 Seed Death Valley

Death Valley is my favorite park because i got married there (or will in 1 week). – Colin Meagher

Joshua Tree National Park has it all for me with world class rock climbing, camping among huge boulders and desert hiking in an incredibly interesting arid ecosystem. I love the solitude you can find without much effort by wandering the maze of trails in the evocatively named ‘Wonderland of Rocks’.  – Andrew Peacock

Sentimental favorite Death Valley can’t compete with the varied yet alien landscapes of Joshua Tree. Plus, U2.

#3 Seed Glacier, unhappy with it’s low seeding, easily defeats #6 Seed North Cascades

North Cascades National Park – Because its the most beautiful park no one knows about… Wait on second thought I really like another park more.  Death Valley, or Yellowstone.  Yea, Yellowstone everyone should go there.   – Alasdair Turner

Unfortunately, no one visits North Cascades, ever, to see it’s beauty, so Glacier National Park, which straddles the continental divide and is the home to glaciers and grizzly bears.

#2 Seed Yellowstone faces a surprising upset against #7 Seed Grand Teton
I would say that having spend several months exploring Gran Teton National Park for a National Geographic assignment makes that place special. You will have a hard time beating the views of the mountains as they rise from the valley floor, the backcountry rock climbing, or the herd of elk in the chill of the autumn mist  as they migrate south and of course, the Snake River and it’s native cut throat trout. – Jose Azel

Despite being the first national park, established on March 1st, 1872, being the home to incredible sights AND grizzly bears, and the fictional home of Yogi Bear, the huge crowds of tourists drive our photographers out to the quieter but still spectacular Grand Tetons.


#1 Seed Denali easily defeats #8 Seed Everglades, despite great pun work

Denali, because the scale is just so vastly different from anything in the lower 48. It’s BIG. On my first trip there, we were told we had to hike 3 or 4 miles from the road AND be out of sight of it. We figured that couldn’t be that difficult, but wow, was it ever! We hiked all day and eventually found a little hill to pitch our tent behind and due to the heavy fog that descended, we couldn’t see the road. But in the morning, we discovered that on the other side of the hill was a (thankfully unoccupied) bear den. – Dan Shugar

Everglades…BECAUSE IT’S MARSH MADNESS, BABY!!!#sorrynotsorry – Mike Basher

#4 Seed Arches loses in the battle of ‘A’s to #5 Seed Acadia

Acadia is my favorite National Park because it has some of the darkest skies on the east coast, and the fall colors are spectacular! – Adam Woodworth

The Utah desert in general is a pretty exciting place to go, especially when you are trying to get a bit of warmer weather either early in the spring of late in the fall. However the way the rock arches have formed at Arches National are intriguing and absolutely stunning to take in and definitely make it one of my favorites – Ben Girardi

#3 Seed Grand Canyon upset by #6 Seed Canyonlands, in the battle of….Canyons

My favorite national park is the Grand Canyon, because of its sheer enormousness and beauty.  I love the fact that it holds some of the most complicated and unaccessible terrain in the lower 48, yet at the same time the canyon’s beauty is highly accessible to the general public through the developed sections of both the rims.   Oh AND I love it because it’s where I first truly, madly fell in love with the great outdoors when my parents took me to visit the South Rim at age 12 – it absolutely took my breath away back then, and still does today. – Sunny Stroeer

I think Canyonlands needs an honorable mention. Its a quieter park, but because its broken into a few different districts there is a ton to explore, especially if you like 4×4 wheeling. Don’t take the part for granted though, its raw, untouched and unforgiving. It will eat you up and spit you out if you aren’t careful and heed ranger advice, but that’s what makes Canyonlands special. It’s vast and doesn’t have the Disneyland effect a lot of other parks have in the summer. Also, its an International Dark Sky Park. From the park’s website, “The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park status to Canyonlands National Park, an honor reserved for the darkest of dark skies and most stunning starscapes.” Yeah, its pretty amazing. – Matt Andrew

Again, the sentimental favorite, and 2nd most visited National Park, loses to the park from Utah. Better luck next year, Grand Canyon!

#2 Seed Hawai’i Volcanoes says “Aloha, and aloha” to #7 Seed Banff / Yoho

Despite being the location Instagrammers flock to in droves, Banff and Yoho are both eliminated, simply because this was supposed to be a US National Parks contest. Canada, stop interfering in foreign countries contests!

With the bar not being set too high, all Hawai’i needed to advance was this vote from Sean Davey: “You can see live lava flowing, and, well, it’s the only one of these that I’ve ever been to!”

Come back next week to see the results of the Elite Eight, Final Four and find out which National Park is crowned Champion! While you’re waiting, be sure to check out some of our favorite national parks images here!

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