Today we complete our four part series of travelogue episodes covering my September Iceland Tour & Workshop with Tim Vollmer and our amazing group of photographers.
We pick up the trail on September 29, 2014, when we started our day in the Jökulsárlón lagoon. It rains a lot in Iceland, and the group was getting used to working in soggy conditions. But this day was set to bring us some high winds as well. So high that our driver would be prohibited from driving our bus from around lunch time, but we decided to go into the lagoon for a few hours in the morning.
Even in this first photo (below) you can see the texture in the water from the heavy rain, despite this being a 0.4 second exposure. I was attracted to this scene because of all the beautiful curves in the ice, almost like Guadinian architecture.
As we photographed this scene, there was a guy in a kayak that kept getting in the way. Doug Kaye, who you may know from the This Week in Photo and All About the Gear podcasts, was loving it being a street photographer. He was trying to include the kayaker in as many shots as possible, and I was getting frustrated because he kept paddling into my scene just as the ice moved into what I considered the optimal position.
It was at this point that the waterproofing on my rain proof pants finally gave in too. By the time we finished this couple of hours shoot, I was wet through to my underwear, so I wasn’t too disappointed when the wind started to pick up more, and we had to retreat to our hotel for the afternoon.
We actually spent a few hours going through images together in the hotel dining area, and then borrowed the hotel’s projector for a critique session. Everyone submitted three of their images from the tour so far, and the entire group spent a few minutes each commenting on them. I always love doing this when time allows, and the group always find it useful too, so nothing was wasted despite rain and high winds stopping play.
On the morning of September 30, we headed out for a fun All Terrain Vehicle ride to the face of a glacier. Scenery-wise it’s pretty, but this is more about letting rip on the four-wheeled ATVs, and just having a lot of fun. It rained the whole time of course, so instead of the sandwiches that we often take with us for lunch, we arranged to go back to the hotel for some hot soup and freshly baked bread, which made a welcome change.
Then in the afternoon, we went back down to the beach where there was usually ice, as we saw in last week’s episode. We had been surprised to see that there was no substantially sized ice there when we visited the lagoon the previous day, so everyone was happy to see a lots of beautiful ice on the beach as we approached in our bus on this afternoon.
A few of you that listen to the This Week in Photo podcast, which I guest on sometimes, emailed about a photo that I’d mentioned during a guest spot a couple of weeks ago. I’d said that this next photo was probably one of the best landscape photographs I’ve ever made, and although that feeling is starting to fade a little now, I’m still very excited about this photograph (below) which I’ve called “Jewel on the Shore”.
I had found a beautiful group of growlers, which you might remember from a previous episode are car sized icebergs that get their name from the sound that make as they roll along the hull of a ship. As you can see, there were various textures, and one was a beautiful translucent blue. I framed the scene, initially with my tripod at full height, and started making long exposure shots. The sea would come in and wash around my boots every so often, so I was initially trying to shoot this with all of the foreground flooded with water.
I looked at the images more closely on the back of my camera, and realised that the horizon of the sea over the top of the ice was distracting, so I lowered my tripod to about kneeling height, and as I started to make a few more frames, the clouds opened up a little, and the sun started to shine directly between the two large growlers on the right, illuminating the small piece of deep glacial ice in the middle of the group, and that started to reflect the light down onto the black stony beach like a prism. I couldn’t believe my luck!
I continued to make a few more 4 second exposures, but now I was hoping that the water didn’t flood the scene for the entire time, and this was the frame that I consider the best of the batch. The light is perfect, the colour in the ice is beautiful, and the dark sky over the left of the frame really all came together perfectly. I’m really proud of this shot, as you might have realised.
We spent a couple of hours on the beach, and I got a number of other shots that I’m happy with, and the group were all having an amazing time. Then, we continued the adventurous theme for the day, and went over to the lagoon for a Zodiac ride. Zodiacs are the large rubber boats that you might have scene used to ferry people to and from shore from large ships in Antarctica, and we spend a lot of time cruising around in them down there too.
On this afternoon, we loaned some even warmer overall style clothing from the Zodiac tour company, and split into two groups, one with me and one with Tim, to go out for around 90 minutes around the lagoon. Although you can see the face of the glacier in the distance, it’s not always obvious from the shore that we usually shoot from, but the lagoon is quite expansive, so there’s much more out there than initially meets the eye, like this first iceberg photograph (below).
During our 90 minutes, we were treated to varying skies, but as we approached this beautiful blue iceberg, the sky behind was so incredibly Icelandic. As we drew closer in our Zodiac we noticed this beautiful fissure in the Iceberg, with light shining through a very thin wall of ice on the far side. This particular berg will probably split apart within a few days of this, so I always consider us lucky when we get to see such beautiful natural features like this.
And if you thought the ice in the last photo was blue, take a look at this one (below)! I’ve taken some of these shots into Color Efex Pro, and although I’ve enhanced the detail, I haven’t added any colour at all to these photographs. This is very much the colour that we saw in the lagoon. It really is amazing.
One member of the group said that they’d saved the cost of a trip to Antarctica now having done this Zodiac tour, and although Antarctica really has to be experienced to full appreciate it, I totally agree that I also felt very much as though I was back down there a number of times.
As you can see here, the sky opened up a little too, and changed depending on the angle at which we shot, but the majority of the time the lagoon was in shade, meaning there was a lot of contrast between the ice and the sky in the background. This photo is processed only in Lightroom, not Color Efex Pro. I pumped the Clarity up to 100, and increased the Shadows slider to 48, and the Blacks slider to 25, to bring out more detail in the iceberg, and also bringing out a little more texture in the clouds.
Looking back the other way again for this next shot (below) you can see that I have that dramatic sky again, but this time, the light on the iceberg was a little brighter. Because the sky was so dark, the foreground water that I included here too was not really reflecting much, so is nice and dark as well, helping the iceberg to really stand out.
After an amazing Zodiac tour, we made our way back to the hotel for another wonderful dinner, and some great conversation. Although we’d hoped for some Aurora while at this location, it didn’t happen on this tour. We keep our eye on the forecast, and although there’d been a big solar storm giving great shows about a week before our tour started, we were out of luck this year.
The following morning, October 1, was our second to last day, and we had a big drive all the way back to Reykjavik, with a number of great stops planned along the way. One unplanned stop though, resulted in this photo of another wonderful Icelandic sky (below).
You wouldn’t really notice it looking at the original of this photo, but it was obvious as we drove along that there was something special going on up there, so I had our driver stop the bus for a few minutes while we all captured this. Processed in Silver Efex Pro, the detail in a sky like this really pops out. Someone mentioned that this almost looks like a view of a wave crashing on the surface of the water from underneath.
The highlight of this drive back to Reykjavik though, is a stop at the wonderful Skógafoss waterfall that we see here (below). Whenever we approach a location like this, we try to advance as a group, so as not to get in each others’ way, but of course we cannot stop other tourists simply walking into the scene. I actually got another shot where a couple hugged in front of the falls for a while, which was nice. The white spot in the top left of this scene though is a sheep.
Again, I processed this nice and dark, as I like to work my Iceland waterfall shots. I have a few with rainbows in too, and still couldn’t resist creating a moody black and white out of them. The sky was great on this day, nice and dark, but with the falls illuminated nicely, so the contrast is perfect too. Another great visit to these beautiful falls.
With Reykjavik as our base for the last day of shooting on October 2, we drove north, to the spectacular Hraunfossar falls (below). We added this last day for this year based on Tim’s recommendation, so I’d not visited them yet, but was really pleased that we did add this.
The falls are not high, but expansive. You could literally shoot for an entire day here, and not run out of angles and ways to pick out details. Here I was using my 24-70mm lens at 55mm, but other times I went really wide, and I also used my 70-200mm for a more intimate view a number of times too. As I mentioned before as well, I had not expected to see this fall colour in Iceland this year, but it was really nice to get this, adding some splashes of colour to some of our scenes.
A few minutes walk up from the Hraunfossar falls are the dramatic Barnafoss falls (below). As you can see, the water is gushing through the ravine with great energy. There’s even a point just above the centre of this photo where the water is forced through a hole in the rock, which seems to cause even more turbulence.
I chose a shutter speed of 0.4 seconds for this shot, to record a bit of movement in the water, but also so that I’d maintain some of the texture as well. I think this helps to accentuate the movement and force of the water pretty well.
I processed this in Color Efex Pro, to bring out the texture in both the rock and water, and I actually quite like the little splash of colour from the flowers on the rock in the right foreground there too.
We went back to Reykjavik for one last wonderful meal as a group that evening, and that concludes this travelogue series, but no MBP Tour is really finished, until we hear a comment from each of the participants. I recorded this on the bus as we headed back to Reykjavik.
[List to the Podcast to hear the participant comments.]
OK, so that’s it! Before we close, just a quick 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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Dear Martin, thanks a lot for sharing your experience and the beautiful pictures with us! However, it appears to me that this year, you have visited the same region of Iceland as in last year.
I have been to that wonderful country a couple of times and had the chance to see some areas in the west and the center. There definitly are unbelievable landscapes especially in the far northwest (the Westfjords) as well as as in the north around Myvatn.
Maybe you could consider going there…. I would be curious about what the shots you will be able to achieve there.
Thanks for your feedback.
Of course, I would like to visit some of the northern areas too, but you have to realize that this is not a personal trip. When you organize a tour there are other consideration to be kept in mind, such as lodging and access. Generally once you arrive at a winning formula, you continue to refine it, making each trip better for a while. We may well set something up earlier in the season and go up north in a future year, but anything else would probably be in addition to this tour, not instead of, at least for a few more years.
Martin, I like your “favorite” photo, but my favorite still remains Gentoo Point.
Thanks Chuck! Yeah, that one is still a favorite too. 🙂