I’m on an oil and gas photography assignment in Norway and there is a storm brewing up. I cling to the side of the supply vessel I’m on, as a huge wave crashes against it. I’m wrapped up in a huge oilskin coat, which is over a thick down one where a camera nestles around my neck as I had been photographing the pretty Norwegian coastline.
The coast fades away completely and we are out at sea, the North Sea.
We are talking very cold temperatures here, we are in winter and it gets dark by about 3.00ish. As the afternoon progresses it becomes rougher and rougher and by early evening it starts snowing, huge whirling flakes that settle on everything immediately. Kristian calls me on the intercom and tells me to go and stay in my cabin. I have taken 2 sea sickness pills and am grateful.
I stagger to my cabin and lie on the bunk clinging to the side as it feels as though we are on a vicious roller coaster. It is impossible to move. I see the porthole rise high and bang down and feel instantly sick but a trip to the bathroom is not an option. My camera bag is tied to the desk that is anchored to the floor but my suitcase slips and slides all over the floor.
We are supposed to reach a rig in the middle of the ocean. I am on the boat to take pictures of the activity on the vessel, photograph the rig from the sea and the offloading process before being transferred on to the rig by winch. The captain of the boat calls me up to see how I am faring and to tell me that we will probably have to turn back as although the winds will die down shortly they are forecasting a severe snow storm in the next 8-12 hours.
I groan inwardly as this means I will not be able to accomplish what am here for. When you are on a photographic assignment and you are absolutely unable to take any pictures, even if it isn’t your fault, it is just awful. Half an hour or so later there is a call on the tannoy, telling us that there will be a window in the weather so we are going to attempt to reach the rig after all.
As the pitching and rolling subsided slightly, in the early hours of morning I saw the twinkling lights of the rig in the distance. As the morning progressed to my utter amazement the sea calmed down and I was able to photograph the containers as they were swung up over the side in a clear sky.
Just as I thought that my photography assignment was going quite well, Kristian, who was watching me taking the photos told me that I would not be able to be transferred onto the rig. ‘The wind is coming up again making it potentially dangerous and above all we’ve run out of time and we have to get back to port as quickly as possible as there is very heavy snow storm is on it’s way.’ He said. I learnt that weather patterns could change quite drastically and very quickly. I was quite excited though as I love taking photographs in the snow!
This was not the first photographic assignment I had been on where the carefully orchestrated plans go pear shaped. I had kept the client informed of the changing events by internet and they turned out to be more anxious about my well being than getting the pictures. It was finally decided that I would go to Bergen and wait until I could be transferred by helicopter. Sooner or later it would clear.
On arrival, I was driven to the airport in blinding snow, where I took the last flight out to Bergen. I was lucky as I learnt that the later flight was cancelled. In Bergen I checked in to the airport hotel and watched the swirling snow come down thick and fast. There was an icy wind and it was already settling quickly on the ground. It snowed all night and all the next day. Very few planes landed and took off and the all helicopters were grounded until further notice.
The following morning the heliport was stuffed with people all waiting to go offshore as Bergen is a hub for many different companies and rigs and I was at the back of the list. Having been told it would not be for at least 36 hours, I took a bus downtown and photographed the city, which is very picturesque and absolutely stunning in the snow. I found a hotel overlooking the port and town that allowed up on the roof to take some great shots before taking the cable car right up to the top. People were already on skis and as the sky turned dark blue and the lights came on, it was a beautiful sight.
I spent 2 days photographing everything, the port, the views, and the skiers, the rifts of snow in front of the helicopter terminal and the hundreds of rig workers waiting to leave before I eventually left myself. There was still snow on the rig and it was bitterly cold. I was told that I couldn’t stay longer than a night as beds and weather were particularly problematical, but I managed to fulfil my photography assignment shooting a lot of it in the dark which was quite beautiful and before I left, the sun came out again so I had a pretty good diversity of pictures. Better than any I got off the coast of Scotland which I had always done in summer.
Going on a photography assignment in the North Sea off the coast of Norway in winter can be a rewarding experience providing you have a bit of guts, very warm clothes and of course some patience!