This week, we start to retrace my steps from this year’s Iceland Tour & Workshop, as I travelled that beautiful country for 12 days with an amazing group of photographers, and my partner for this tour, Tim Vollmer.
This year’s tour ran from Sept 22 to Oct 3, with the first and last days being all about getting people into and out of Reykjavik, so it’s 10 full photography days. Actually, for those that are already in town early enough on the 22nd, we head into town for some shooting anyway, as kind of a bonus day. The main attractions for me are the beautiful Hallgrímskirkja Church and the Harpa center, although just walking through the town is really nice too.
The population of the entire country is only 323,000 according to Wikipedia, and 118,000 of them live in Reykjavik. It’s probably the smallest capital city I’ve visited though, which is part of its charm. It doesn’t feel much different to the Argentinian city of Ushuaia, where many expeditions to Antarctica kick off from. Iceland is actually attributed as the northern-most capital city in the world, and Ushuaia the southern-most city, which I thought was a fun fact.
Anyway, as I try to trim down the number of photos that I show, we won’t look at any from the Harpa center, although it is a beautiful place, but let’s start with a few from the Hallgrímskirkja Church, which is a Lutheran (Church of Iceland) church, and at 73 meters the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest structure, after a bunch of radio towers.
As we approached the church from the back, just a 10 minute walk from our hotel, we started to explore some various angles. It was great seeing the group starting to get into their photography after their trips over to Iceland. There was plenty of excitement, and a bit of fumbling with newly packed camera bags etc.
I really liked my long exposure from directly in front of the church at the start of last year’s trip, but I wanted something from a different angle, so I shot it from the side as we see here as a few of us rounded the side of the church. As it’s a beautiful yet grey building, and there was lots of beautiful texture in that wonderful Icelandic sky, I couldn’t resist taking this on into Silver Efex Pro for a black and white.
And talking about Icelandic skies, although I did some long exposures again, I really couldn’t resist leaving this normal exposure in too, as the sun poked around from the edge of the church, causing a lovely starburst, and this wonderfully dramatic sky (below).
One thing I’ve noticed when people talk about sunbursts or starburst shots, is that everyone seems to think that you need a very small aperture to make this happen, but this really isn’t the case. This was shot at f/11, but I’ve had starbursts at f/8 and I think even f/5.6 if I recall. It’s really just about putting the sun in just the right place to cut it off a little, causing the light to spread into a dark area like this. The number of spikes is affected by the number of leaves that make up the aperture ring I believe.
On the morning of September 23, we headed out of Reykjavik, towards the Reykjanes Peninsula. On the way, as we did last year, we stopped at a location where they dry fish, as we can see in this shot (below). I didn’t share any shots from this location last year, but I figured I’d show you this today.
As you might imagine, with frame after frame of these fish just hanging there, and the floor covered in bits that have dropped off, it’s not the most aromatically pleasing location we visit, but it’s a lot of fun, and can be a source of some pretty neat photos that help to tell the story of Iceland.
For this shot, I’ve bumped up the Clarity in Lightroom quite a way, for a slightly rugged, gritty look, and I desaturated the blues, because although there was a tiny bit of color in the sky, I wanted to remove attention from the blue strings which are used to hang the fish. This is the main thing that put me off my photos from last year. It just doesn’t look great in my opinion, so I got rid of that color this time around.
As we get over to the south-western tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula, we visit a couple of places that I was looking forward to getting back to. Actually, that’s a kind of redundant statement, as I was looking forward to visiting all the locations again with this year’s group. The first we’ll look at from this area is this shot of the geothermal power plant, with the abandoned vent steaming away in the foreground (below).
Here I enjoyed the play of the lighter foreground steam, and the steam from the power plant, contrasted with the darker clouds in the heavy sky. I really do love these Icelandic skies, and although it rains a lot, it’s almost worth it for these skies. I also included a large patch of the rugged foreground to the right in this shot too, to give us a sense of the location.
Just a little further along, there is an area full of boiling mud pools, and a geyser, that was shooting up water every five minutes or so. Tim was adamant that this is a hot spring, not a geyser, and I can’t say I am armed with enough information to argue with him, but if we waited, we were treated with this shoot of black muddy water spraying up into the air, and in this shot, with the somewhat rare feature of some blue sky (below) behind it. I’m really not a fan of blue sky, but I like the color contrast that it lends to this image.
Also, just across from this very geothermal area, are the sea stacks that I also shared with you last year, shot in almost exactly the same way. I seem to have been at a slightly different angle, but my tastes almost forced me to frame this in much the same way as last year, although I feel it’s just a tad better composed, and I like the movement of the water I captured here.
I find that the best shutter speed to capture a breaking wave like this is 0.8 seconds. Really long exposures look great too, but to capture a little movement in the sea, and the dynamic force of the waves in the same frame, 0.8 or 1 second seam to work very well for me.
Unfortunately when we got over to the other tip of the peninsula where we’d photographed the old boat at the back of a farmers field, although the boat was still there, the farmer has now fenced off the field, and is not letting photographers in any more. One member of the group got a great shot with a long lens, but we couldn’t get in for similar shots to last year, which was a shame.
Just across from that location though, is a lovely old church, which I shot here through the gates to the church from the adjacent cemetery. I opened the gates so that they would not obscure the church and did a 60 second exposure here, so that the clouds would move across the sky for this slightly surreal look.
And that brought us to the end of our first day in the field. The following day, September 24, we headed out to the beautiful Öxarárfoss waterfall. Although I also shot the falls from a few more, different vantage points this year, I think this classic composition is still one of my favorites (below).
There’s just something pleasing to me how the water falls down along the left third, sweeps over to the right of the frame, and then runs along the bottom of the frame to the left corner. I also really like processing these Icelandic falls very darkly like this. The dark rock makes a wonderful contrast for the white water, especially with a long exposure.
This was 1.3 seconds, which is long enough to make the water go really silky. You only need a 1/25 of a second or so to capture the movement, but I like it to be really smooth, and sometimes go even longer, as I did with this next shot at 3.2 seconds (below).
Waterfalls are always best shot when it’s cloudy. In full sun they are very contrasty and rarely pleasing to look at. We had a quick burst of brighter light for this shot, causing a bit of a rainbow above the falls as well, which I included, but I’m finding that I’m really not a rainbow person. They are great to look at, but I rarely like my photos with them in.
I ran this photo through Color Efex Pro to bring out a bit more detail, and show those greens how they really are. With all the rain, the greens are always so spectacular in Iceland, so I like to give them a little bit of help to really relay that to the viewers of my images.
These falls are at a place called Thingvellir (Þingvellir), which falls on the rift between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates. The top of the falls is essentially the North American plate and the bottom of the falls is the Eurasian plate. In this next photo, from just down the road, we again see the rift with beautiful clear water running through it (below).
This is another long exposure, at 30 seconds, to totally smooth over the water, and this also gives us nice shadows from the rocks in the water. It was raining when I shot this, so the long exposure also allows the raindrops to smooth over, which another reason I chose to go long for this one.
And that takes us to the end of the first three days for this travelogue series. We headed back to Reykjavik for another incredible meal in one of Rekjavik’s top restaurants, before moving on to the highlands. I like to keep these podcasts to a maximum of 10 images, so we’ll finish there for this week, and pick up the trail on September 25, when we headed into the Highlands and started day four with a visit to Geysir, where, you’ve guessed it, there’s a beautiful geyser, that is actually where the English word geyser came from.
Something Big is Coming!
Before we finish today, I wanted to let you know that something big is coming on October 15! I can’t share any details yet as it’s a day early at the time of release of this episode, but by the time many of you listen to this, it will be happening! Unfortunately, this is very time critical, and may be over by the time many of you listen to this, but if you are an early bird, visit https://mbp.ac/5dd and see what this is all about. If you love photography, you will love what you find.
Also note before we finish, we have now set the dates for the 2015 Iceland Tour & Workshop, so do check that out too if you are interested in joining us, at https://mbp.ac/iceland2015. It really is an amazing tour, so I hope to see you there.
Details of the 2015 Iceland Tour and Workshop: https://mbp.ac/iceland2015
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