This week we continue our travelogue of my recent Iceland Tour & Workshop with Tim Vollmer, and 14 amazing photographer participants as we traveled around this incredible country.
We pick up the trail on September 27, day 6 of the tour, as we drive out to the Seljalandsfoss (Falls) where we would change buses for one that could ford bigger rivers than our bus, and drive into the valley at Thorsmork (Þórsmörk).
Of course, we ensured that we had some time to shoot the falls before driving into Thorsmork, and here is a photo of the falls to kick off this episode.
As you can see from the perspective that this image was shot from, you can actually walk up and behind the falls. Once again though, this comes with its own challenges, as you are basically being rained on most of the time as you shoot.
As I mentioned last week, although I generally advise people to use a rocket blower to blow away light rain or spray from the front of the lens, when it gets this wet, you just have to keep wiping the front of the lens. Rather than turning the camera away from the spray here though, I got my composition set while getting spray on the lens, then wiped it, covered the front of the lens with a cloth, and then started my 2 second timer before removing the cloth a split second before the exposure was made.
Again, because the wind is constantly causing the streams of water to register differently in your image, and because the sky is constantly changing too, I like to make at least three or four frames to give me some choice in a situation like this. The exposure here was 0.4 seconds at f/18, a little smaller aperture than I like to go, but the sky was bright and I was using an ND8, three stop neutral density filter if I recall. Had I changed to my ND400, I would have needed to increase the ISO to get a good shutter speed, so I opted for the smaller aperture with the ND8.
As an aside, people often ask why I don’t use a Variable ND filter, and I actually have one, but I stopped using it pretty much as soon as I bought it, because with wide angle lenses like this, the just don’t work. As you dial them down trying to get any real darkness out of them, they create a nasty black cross over the entire image. Plus, it’s more difficult to calculate long exposures, because you can’t actually dial-in an exact number of stops, so you end up shooting more trial and error shots, and with long exposures that wastes too much time.
Anyway, we headed in to Thorsmork after this, and although the valley is absolutely stunning, I really didn’t get anything that I can share with you. The fall color was beautiful, but just didn’t really work for me. It’s a beautiful drive though, and I really enjoyed the day, as we forded river after river.
Here’s one shot (below) as we stopped on our way back out of the valley, and this to me is just typical of the terrain that you see across most of Iceland. Moss covered mountains and valleys, with the black volcanic pebbles, and babbling brooks.
This was a 1.3 second exposure at f/14, to make the water nice and silky, and I took this into Color Efex Pro to bring out some of the texture and enhance the greens. I often use the Foliage filter in Color Efex to make the moss look as vibrant as it really is in Iceland. As good as our cameras are now, they still don’t quite capture those bright vibrant greens as well as they appear to us in the field.
Because we had to change buses at a certain time when leaving Seljalandsfoss (Falls) earlier in the day, I ensured that we had a little more time after leaving Thorsmork, to shoot them again.
Here’s a shot very similar to the one I made here last year, but I really like the way the wind is catching the water this year, making the streams of water bend a little as they fall, and again, I processed this very dark, really just leaving the water to take centre stage.
The white spots that you can see on the side of the cliff are actually birds, a type of gull I think. They’re just sitting up there, laughing at photographers and tourists standing around getting wet below.
Then having switch back to our regular bus, we had a bit of a drive over to the town of Vik, where you might remember I made a photo of a beautiful little white church up in the mountains behind the town last year. We all shot that again but the light didn’t quite catch it the same as last year, so that’s still my winning shot of the church.
We spent the night in a hotel overlooking the bay, and then the following morning went down to the beach to photograph the sea-stacks and the basalt cave, that you might remember from last year too.
Here’s a view (below) from the same location looking in the opposite direction down the beach. As you can see the waves were high, causing a lot of spray, almost like mist, which I really like. As Jay Maisel says, “Never trust air you can’t see”, although I think he used that phrase with a slightly different meaning. 🙂
The black beaches here in Iceland really appeal to me, and work very well with the white waves like this. This was a 1/40 of a second exposure, again f/14, so there’s just enough movement in the water to give it a bit of dynamism, but not enough for a long exposure silky feel to the water.
The view to my left as I stood at this spot though, was these monumental sea stacks. I recognised these instantly in one of the closing scenes from the new Noah movie with Russell Crowe, which I watched on the plane on the way over to Iceland. I won’t go into detail though, or I’ll spoil the movie, although I imagine most of you already know the story.
This was a 1/100 second exposure again at f/14, as there was a lot of spray on the waves, which I wanted to freeze just a little bit more. If you click on these images on the blog to view at their full size, for the web that is, you’ll see that the sky is just teaming with birds.
I actually did a few long exposures here, but they all looked like a child had scribbled all over them with a pencil, and that was of course the birds flying around the sky! I ended up not using the long exposure shots, but because of that, I was doubly pleased that I did some normal exposure shots too, or it would have been a waste of these beautiful waves.
Here’s a wider shot too (below) with the light catching the water left from the waves on the beach, and some beautiful rays radiating out of the low sun through the clouds. Again the sky is just full of birds, and this is another shot that I can’t wait to make some time to print. This will love incredible on Breathing Color’s Vibrance Metallic, I’m sure.
Scenes like this had me shooting like crazy for the entire time we were at this beach. I recommended that the group also go into the basalt cave that is actually on the left in this shot (above) but I didn’t go in there this year. I regretted that decision later of course as I saw some photos from the rest of the group. It’s always wonderful to see what everyone captures as we travel, and see the wide range of images, some that make it hard to believe we were in the same place at the same time, but this feeds our creativity, and one of the best things in my mind about joining tours like this.
After spending a number of hours on the beach, we had to leave for a longish drive over to Jökulsárlón, the lagoon with icebergs and ice on the beach, where we’d spend a full three days. Weather-wise, this day was probably the best we had. Not necessarily the best for photography, because I prefer my dramatic Icelandic skies, but as you can see in this next shot, we just had to stop the bus and all file out to make some images of these beautiful reflections (below).
I shot this at 19mm with my 16-35mm lens, trying to get as much reflection in as possible. It was actually really difficult to get a good reflection without getting your own shadow in the frame, because the sun was directly behind us. Some people lay down to avoid this, some people did fun self-portrait shadow style images. I used a remote release and knelt down so that my shadow was not in the shot, but this did leave my camera’s shadow in the frame, which I removed in Photoshop with content aware fill later.
When we arrived at Jökulsárlón in the afternoon, the sky was still clear which causes a lot of contrast, and is really not ideal, but staying with the reflection theme, here’s a shot of some of the icebergs in the lagoon (below). It’s always fun just spending time trying to isolate small parts of the scene that we find interested.
Over the three days that we visited this lagoon and the nearby beach with ice, amongst the group that vertical structure to the left of the frame became affectionately known at “The Cathedral”. It’s amazing how much these icebergs move around as well. After a zodiac ride in the lagoon on our last day here, The Cathedral was in a totally different location to this.
After a few hours photographing the icebergs, we went out on the beach just outside the lagoon, where ice washes up and gets left on the beach during high tides, making for wonderful photographic subjects. Here’s one example (below) of the sort of fun we have with these “growlers” on the beach. In technical terms, a growler is an piece of iceberg about as big as a car. They’re called growlers because they make a growling sound as they rumble and roll along the hull of a ship when you run into them.
Here you can see that I aligned the sun with the edge of the ice to form that starburst effect, just adding an additional element of interest to the shot. This is a long exposure at 15 seconds, so that the bit of water that is visible between the ice is smoothed over a little.
It was a wonderful afternoon, despite the weather :), and the group got some incredible photos of both the lagoon and the ice on the beach here. To close today, with our tenth shot for this episode, here’s a simple detail shot from this afternoon. One thing the bright sunlight is good for, is illuminating the ice to the point that you can actually see the light coming through it. Here I included a line of the black pebbles that the ice was sitting on, to give us an idea of the environment in a semi-abstract image.
OK, so we’ll wrap up there for today, and I’ll see you back in the lagoon at the start September 29, our second day there, when we return with the final episode in these travelogue series next week.
Reminder that we are now taking bookings for the 2015 Iceland Tour & Workshop, so if you’re interested, do check that out at https://mbp.ac/iceland2015. It’s an amazing tour if you can make it, so I hope to see you there!
Iceland Tour & Workshop 2015: https://mbp.ac/iceland2015
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