• September 25, 2015

Husband and Wife Team Photograph the Solitude of Sweden’s Wild Landscapes

Husband-and-wife photography team Erlend and Orsolya Haarberg are perfectly comfortable with silence. So comfortable, in fact that they would go weeks at a time without seeing another human being while hiking, camping, and photographing in the magical and mystical landscape of Swedish Laponia. And they liked it that way.

A landscape in Swedish Laponia.
Tangled strands of the Rapa River flow below the slopes of Sarek National Park, one of six reserves that make up Sweden’s Laponian Area World Heritage site.
Photograph by Orsolya Haarberg

On assignment for National Geographic in the largest wilderness area in Europe, the Haarbergs were the perfect people to make the magical and mystical images that appear in the October issue of the magazine.

“Its very nice to work as a team because we support each other on these trips, and it’s always nicer to travel in two than alone,” said Orsolya in a recent interview.

“And as our approach to nature photography is quite different, we are not competing at all. We are just trying to make a body of work that works together.”

See how Orsolya and Erlend hike with all their equipment, plus more imagery from Laponia in the video above.

A bird in Swedish Laponia.
The Siberian jay is a year-round resident of Stora Sjöfallet National Park, where the birds are known to hikers and foresters as fearless campsite companions, always on the watch for scraps of food.
Photograph by Erlend Haarberg
A landscape in Swedish Laponia.
Footprints of a glacier can be seen from above Muddus National Park, where peaty string fens form in glacier-dug lowlands when the frozen ground melts in spring.
Photograph by Orsolya Haarberg

The Laponian World Heritage site is located just above the Arctic Circle and is one of the largest wilderness areas in Europe. The site encompasses four national parks and two nature reserves and is jointly managed by Sweden and its native Sami people.

To capture its glory throughout the year, the Haarbergs made several trips over various seasons—very rarely encountering other people in the park. And if they did see another hiker they often purposely went out of their way to avoid them, not wanting to disturb the mental peace they say they’re able to achieve through their solitude.

“After a while you’re just getting this calmness, and then you don’t need anyone to disturb the balance you manage to obtain during this trip,” said Orsolya. “We feel really comfortable alone.”

It also helps that as husband and wife, they are used to spending long, quiet periods of time together. Although, as Orsolya said, even that can be a challenge when the weather is bad and they can’t leave the tent for extended periods of time. “I can’t stay more than a day in the tent without getting a backache, so we need to find balance on these days and also keep our motivation to be out there.”

A landscape in Swedish Laponia.
A forest-fringed lake mirrors the sky in Muddus National Park.
Photograph by Orsolya Haarberg
A moose in Swedish Laponia.
Only the indigenous Sami people may legally hunt moose in Laponia. As a result, the animals grow larger there than in other regions of Sweden.
Photograph by Erlend Haarberg

Because they traveled in all seasons, they had to be comfortable with rain, as well as extreme cold. But ironically, they said that traveling in the winter was easier than in the summer, as they could pull their gear on sleds instead of hauling everything on their backs.

And that gear included tents and camping equipment, photographic equipment, clothes for various weather conditions, and, of course, enough food to last up to five weeks.

A bird in Swedish Laponia
A female rock ptarmigan yawns in a snow-covered landscape, Sarek National Park.
Photograph by Erlend Haarberg
A landscape in Swedish Laponia.
The Unna Tuvva and the Stuor Tuvva lakes, photographed from the mountain Vietovare. Veiled in melting snow and ice, Laponia warms in the summer, inviting city dwellers to venture above the Arctic Circle.
Photograph by Orsolya Haarberg

“It was a real adventure to do this,” said Orsolya. “You are dependent that your equipment works on these trips, and you need a lot of luck. You can’t be sick. You can’t fall on the mountaintop. You can’t fall into the river. Which happened.”

(She laughed when telling me about slipping on a rock during a river crossing made while carrying 77 pounds of gear and four weeks worth of photos. Luckily, her cameras survived.)

I asked how they were able to work while carrying such heavy loads, and Orsolya told me that they usually sacrifice food for photo gear while packing. They exist on a basic diet of oatmeal, crackers and cheese, chocolate, nuts, and instant outdoor meals for dinners.

“It becomes really boring after a while, we lose a lot of weight on these trips,” she said.

A landscape in Swedish Laponia.
River, string bogs, and pine trees are seen from above in autumn in the Muddus National Park.
Photograph by Erlend Haarberg
A landscape in Swedish Laponia.
An autumn storm sweeps dramatically into the Rapa Valley, spotlighting Mount Nammatj. Like much of Laponia’s landscape, the peak has been sculpted by glaciers.
Photograph by Orsolya Haarberg

But their sacrifice and physical labor is worth it, as the images they bring back are almost surreal in their beauty. They appear almost as paintings—awash in color, rivers branching out like arteries across a vast horizon, sun streaming golden light on silent rock. It’s difficult to imagine the splendor and serenity of such a place—especially as it’s somewhere that most people will never, ever go.

“We have returned many times because it is a difficult area to work [in]; you just need to spend a lot of time so that it will show you those hidden secrets that you want to capture in images,” said Orsolya.

“There are not many areas that are still so untouched and wide as Swedish Laponia. You really slow down on these trips. You just get in such a special mood there.”

See more work from the Haarbergs on their website, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

There are 39 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Maria
    October 26, 2015

    great examples of wild spaces still left in our earth. Will use it with my students to show an example of a “pure” ecosystem or biome.

  2. Bips
    October 17, 2015

    The photographs narrates one of the most awesome and magic dripping places of our planet earth. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. tootsie
    October 12, 2015

    hope we can sustain in preserving mother earth ist a gods gift to humanity superb aerial photos what a wonderful world

  4. Ulla
    October 12, 2015

    I loved being reminded of this beautiful area where I have backpacked several times. Thank you, NGS!

  5. Stig
    October 12, 2015

    Thank you, the photos are amazing..!!

  6. Devdutt
    October 11, 2015

    WOW Fantastic photos ! Bravo

  7. Bob
    October 11, 2015

    A stunning and rugged landscape. Great images. I really liked the one with the Siberian Jay.

  8. Mary Lou
    October 11, 2015

    I’ll never, ever get there to see for myself. Thank you for so excellently capturing this wild place. Now I can have images of it in my heart.

  9. GlenAlan Graham
    October 11, 2015

    Awesome photos — some almost surreal — of a little-known portion of God’s great creation! My son and his family are currently living in Sweden, and just a few weeks ago were above the Arctic Circle. I shall ask him if they visited this Laponia.

  10. Philip O.
    October 11, 2015

    Thank you for sharing. Absolutely stunning! What camera and lenses did you use? What are the settings that produced these stunning images? It will be great to learn.

  11. Sharon
    October 11, 2015

    Beautiful shots of God’s amazing earth!! Looking forward to more of your amazing photos.

  12. Fred Geers
    October 11, 2015

    Wonderfull surroundings in wonderfull pictures; well done!

  13. giovanny
    October 11, 2015


  14. Atul Sharma
    October 11, 2015


  15. Fornik Tsai
    October 11, 2015

    Amazing moment.

  16. Frank Melo
    October 11, 2015

    Great sacrifice from the couple to allow us to see earth magnificence!

  17. Donna
    October 9, 2015

    Breathtaking photos!

  18. Stefan undvall
    October 8, 2015

    Absolutely stunning pictures! Have been to all the places in the article and just might have been one of these hikers/skiers that were avoided.
    One small comment on Henriks clarification. It is true that there is hiking trails and cabins in the other national parks. But large areas in these parks, like western part of Padjelanta, are free from trails and are actually often less visited than Sarek National Park. Moreover is there no hiking trails or bridges at all in Sjaunja nature reserve, only two snowmobile trails. The inner parts of Sjaunja is by far the most remote and least visited area in Laponia World Heritage site and probably in all of Sweden.

  19. Noer
    October 8, 2015

    WOW !

  20. Mats Jansson
    October 7, 2015

    I live in Sweden but could hardly imagine there is such magnificent nature within our borders. Thanks to the photographers!

  21. Henrik Harr
    October 7, 2015

    Great article, but a clarification is in order regarding the inaccessibility of Laponia: It’s only Sarek that lacks roads, bridges, cabins, etc. The other parks (mainly Stora Sjöfallet and Padjelanta) and surrounding areas are connected by a network of seasonly manned tourist cabins offering accommodation, food, saunas, guided tours and more.

  22. Lars Halfdaner
    October 7, 2015

    Fantastic pictures! I’ve been trekking some of these places. Amazing landscape.

  23. jose chavez
    October 6, 2015


  24. Katie O
    October 1, 2015

    STUNNING work!!! WOW!!! Incredible photos, phenomenal dedication. These two are my heroes!!! Wow!!! Flawless execution. I am in awe! I can’t get over this story!

  25. Hanif Mahmud Khandaker
    September 30, 2015

    Very Nice.

    September 29, 2015

    liked it

  27. mehran
    September 28, 2015

    very nice

  28. Ami Chakrabarti
    September 28, 2015

    My favourite things, nature, travel & photography. Inspired.

  29. John
    September 27, 2015

    Beautiful photos, love the silence, and yes, the jay shot is angelic. Thank you.

  30. Jyoti Chakrabarti
    September 27, 2015

    Wonderful couple and their wonderful work. Looking at their photographs transported me to another world. Thank you Nat. Geo. convey my best wishes to them.

  31. Lucía
    September 26, 2015

    I´ve loved watching all of these pictures, I found them magic. Actually I feel like I want to go there now and explore all of those places!, thank you for working so hard.

  32. Yasmin Abdel Monem
    September 26, 2015

    Magical & wonderful photos, especially the one with the Siberian jay; it’s absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing this great photography!

  33. Wouter
    September 26, 2015

    Wonderfull pictures of the great Swedish landscape and nature!

  34. Tracy McCane
    September 26, 2015

    WOW. This story captivated me.

    September 26, 2015

    wow wonderful creation of God captured in the lens by diligent eye

  36. kavita kalra
    September 26, 2015

    congrats! so compatible partners and dthanks for sharing nature’s such an audible silence with us.

  37. Anne
    September 26, 2015

    Fabulous images ( especially the jay in Stora Sjöfallet nationalpark) of a beautiful corner of our world. Thank you!

  38. Elizabeth
    September 25, 2015

    Thank you for your photographic share. How fortunate that you both can both work & live on the land in its vast

  39. jemma
    September 25, 2015

    Fantastic pictures. That Jay shot is once in a lifetime!

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