We’re still in Iceland this week, with the third part of a travelogue series to cover my first tour there a few weeks ago, from August 25 to September 5, 2013. We had an amazing time, with beautiful light and beautiful scenery, and a great group to travel with. It was a very special trip to kick off my Iceland tours with.
We pick up the trail on the morning of August 31, as we changed vehicles to a large off-road bus, and made our way to the Þórsmörk Valley. We forded probably around fifteen rivers to where we’d leave our bus, and hiked another 20 minutes to the valley. As amazing as the locations we visited were, this was probably the only spot that many of the group had problems making something of, including me. We could see it had potential, and I’m looking forward to revisiting next year, but probably one of my best shots from this location was with my partner for this tour, Tim Vollmer, sitting on a rock at the edge of the valley (below).
That evening, we drove a quite a way east, to where we’d spend the following four nights, and we were treated with a beautiful view of the Aurora, which was an amazing experience, and a bonus, as I hadn’t expected this so early in the season. I had initially selected a few shots from this night, but we were treated to an even more spectacular show a few nights later, so we’ll look at a couple of photos from that night at the end of this episode.
The next morning, we visited the Jökulsárlón Lagoon, that is filled with icebergs from the Vatnajökull glacier. During our stay here, we would make multiple visits to the lagoon to shoot the icebergs and the nearby beach, to photograph the ice that often washes up on the beach. It’s always nice to visit a location multiple times, and as is often the case, my best shots of the ice on the beach were from the second day. Here’s a shot from our first day in this area though, of a hole in one of the icebergs in the lagoon. You can also see the glacier and mountains in the background here.
To maintain the beautiful blue in the ice, I just brought out some of the detail in this shot with Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro. I usually just add a little bit of the Details Extractor and Tonal Contrast filters, as I did here. Note too that composition-wise, although it’s rarely a good idea to put something like that hole in the iceberg smack in the middle of the frame, sometimes it can work quite well. Remember, rules are good to help guide your compositional decisions, but there are really no rules in photography that should be followed to the letter.
Later on the same day, we called in to a derelict farm just down the road from our hotel. Tim told us that when people leave a building like this, they have to just vacate them, rather than demolishing them, so there are some great opportunities like this. Again, this was one of those times when I was seeing in black and white. I knew that there was enough texture in that heavy sky to really pop in black and white, so as I did here (below), I was including a lot of sky in my images.
Working with a group of fourteen photographers, we can of course get in each others’ way sometimes, but we set some rules, like approaching a location together for a while, and then we just use a little common sense and try to be aware of where other people’s cameras are pointing as we shoot, and in general, we all manage to get our shots. I say this now, because I remember waiting for one of the group members to walk just a few paces back, before I was able to get this shot.
The following morning, we went back to the beach where the ice from the lagoon sometimes gets beached, and I got a couple of shots that I was happy with, this being the first (below). This was just a lone block of ice, probably about the size that would be classed as growler in actual iceberg technical terms, because they seem to growl as they rumble along the hull of an ice-strengthened vessel. This is a sound that disturbed me on my first voyage to Antarctica in 2011, but learned to enjoy on my three consecutive expeditions down there in 2012. It almost became a lullaby as I lay in my bunk at night, and the bang as we hit a growler with the bow, then the rumble as it worked its way down the hull, became an almost comforting sound.
For this shot, I used an ND8 and an ND400 filter stacked together for almost 12 stops of darkness, so that I could get the shutter speed down to 30 seconds. I was shooting almost straight into the sun here, so I had to stop all the way down to f/22, and used ISO 50 to get even just 30 seconds, but it was enough to make the sea smooth over, to this satin look that we see here. I place the reflection of the sun directly behind the ice, so that it created almost a halo, and again, this is one of the times when I decided to bulls-eye the main subject, smack in the middle of the frame.
In this next shot (below), I got some nice clouds, and beautiful texture in the ice, so despite the fact that I would lose some of the blue, I decided to go black and white again, as I felt it suited this shot more than color. I love looking at this shot full screen, and am looking forward to printing it too, because the light and texture in these chunks of ice is really special. It’s one of my favorite shots from the trip.
Because there was slightly less reflection in this one, I was able to bring the aperture down to f/18, and left the ISO at 50, for the same shutter speed of 30 seconds. I shot another image shortly after this that some people in the group preferred, but this is my favorite. You can see all 50 of my selects in my Iceland Portfolio though, that is linked under the portfolios menu above.
After the morning shoot we hired two Zodiacs, the inflatable boats that we use down in Antarctica, and had an exciting ride out to the face of the glacier. This was heaps of fun, as there was a high enough wind that the water was very choppy, so we were thrown around a little, and took a lot of spray too. We were provided with full body suits so that we didn’t get wet, but we had to be careful with our cameras, especially those that didn’t have fully weatherproof gear. I didn’t select any of my images from this ride for my final selection, but there was a beautiful rainbow, and it was a wonderful experience. A few people took photos of the group as we walked back from where we boarded the Zodiacs, and there was a grin as big as the Cheshire Cat on everybody’s face.
After lunch, we drove down the road some, and stopped at the beautiful old church that we see here (below) with grass growing on it’s roof. There are grave mounds and crosses in the grounds of the church, and a beautiful tree with berries, seemingly doing OK in the short Icelandic summer.
Not far from the church, is the glacier at Skaftafell, which we walked up to on the side of the valley, to get this incredible view (below) looking out across the glacier. You can see the streaks of moraine, and also in this shot, you can see the four people that were hiking across the top of the glacier. Again I brought out some of the detail with Color Efex Pro, but I actually had to place a control point over the people to tone down their bright colors, even though they are still quite bright.
Continuing the adventurous theme, the following day on September 3, we drove out to the Hoffell farm which is about 19 kilometers from the lovely seaside town of Höfn, this time for an ATV ride. All Terrain Vehicles are like four wheeled motorcycles or buggies and they are heaps of fun to ride. There are rules to be followed to ensure our safety, like no overtaking until we are told otherwise, and you should never overtake the leader, but once we left the glacier at the furthest point of our drive, we were allowed to play a little, overtaking and racing a little on our way back to the farm. We had a great time with this, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.
After the ATVs, we drove further north, trying to spot some reindeer to photograph, as they apparently come down from the highlands in September because the hunting season is over, but our search was in vain. We couldn’t find any reindeer, but we did find some lovely horses in a paddock, which we took advantage of as we see in this shot (below). The tough Icelandic horses have beautiful manes, and the wind adds the drama for some lovely shots.
That night, we were treated to that second Aurora show that I mentioned early, so let’s look at a couple more shots before we finish. Here (below) we can see the curtain like Aurora spreading across the sky in green and yellow, but with a beautiful purple tint along the top. It’s not very prominent here, because the Aurora are so bright, but you can probably also just make out the Milky Way, running vertically down the right third of the photo.
Settings wise, I used the same settings that I used for photographing the Milky Way while in Namibia earlier this year. The aperture was set to f/4, ISO 3200 for 25 seconds. 25 seconds is the point where the stars just start to elongate, so unless you are doing longer star trails, it’s better to keep your shutter speed at or below 25 seconds.
Shortly before this particular shot, I had actually dialed back the ISO a little, because the Aurora were so bright they were starting to over-expose. With two nights before this being the first time I’d ever seen the Aurora with my own eyes, realizing a childhood dream of mine, I was standing here looking up with tears in my eyes. This really was such an awesome experience. In this next shot (below) it almost felt as though the entire sky was on fire. I was awestruck.
As far as processing these images goes, these are some of the few shots from the trip that didn’t go through Color Efex Pro. These are RAW files, that I enhanced slightly in Lightroom. I start with a good base, as usual, exposing to the right, so that the Aurora were just under the point where the brightest part would start to blow out, or become overexposed. Then I added +25 Contrast, +12 Highlights, +30 on the Whites slider and +50 Clarity. This all gives the image the pop that it had as I looked up at this scene with my own eyes.
Note too that I shot this, as with most of my images, with the White Balance set to the Daylight preset. As you know, I just don’t like Auto White Balance, and with this much green in the shot, much of it would have been cancelled out, and I definitely didn’t want that. I also didn’t need to do any additional noise reduction. At ISO 3200 the 5D Mark III does just fine.
So, that’s it for this episode. We’ll wrap this up next week with the final part, with all images from the final day as we drove all the way back to Reykjavik, stopping at a number of iconic locations, getting some lovely shots to finish the tour with.
Iceland Portfolio: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/portfolio/iceland/
Music by UniqueTracks
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